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6 highlights from the Alberta spring sitting

After 14 weeks of questions, debates and public backlash, the spring sitting of the Alberta Legislature wrapped up Wednesday.

Here’s what happened.

21 new bills

Twenty-one new bills were introduced, and 13 were passed.

Legislation focused on overhauling Alberta’s health-care system, creating a Crown corporation to research mental health and addiction, and redefining the province’s relationships with federal and municipal governments.

Among the more contentious pieces of legislation passed were The Provincial Priorities Act (Bill 18) and The Municipal Affairs Statutes Amendment Act (Bill 20), both of which grant the province more authority to intervene in municipal affairs and strike down deals made between Alberta entities and the federal government.

New election date

Provincial elections will now be held in October after The Emergency Statutes Amendment Act was passed. 

Premier Danielle Smith said the legislation will prevent ministers from having to navigate an election during natural disasters, which are more common in the spring and summer months.

Alberta’s next election will now be Oct. 18, 2027.

Limited debate

According to the Alberta NDP, the average time for debate on a bill has dropped to half of what it was under UCP predecessor Jason Kenney.

Over the NDP’s four years in power, the special time limit was invoked four times. From 2019 to date, it has been used 54 times.

Eighteen of those times were in this spring’s session, drawing ire from the Opposition New Democrats.

Local elections

Edmontonians and Calgarians will see political parties added to municipal ballots during the next election as part of Bill 20.

Despite multiple surveys showing the majority of Albertans are against the idea, a pilot project will be launched in the province’s two largest cities for the next election.

Other changes to local politics included in the bill are the banning of electronic tabulators and the reintroduction of union and corporate political donations.

No tax cut

While the province is calling the sitting a successful one, political analyst John Brennan said a major piece of policy was missing.

“Danielle Smith made the tax cut promise on May 1, 2023,” Brennan said. “She said, ‘Because Albertans need the help now.’

“Well, here we are a year and a day later, and we still don’t have the income tax cut.”

When the 2024 budget was introduced, the province said it couldn’t afford the promised tax cut; instead, the two-point reduction would be phased in starting in 2026.

Brennan said it’s not a question of affordability, as more than $5.2 billion in surplus dollars was spent on repaying debt and putting cash into the Heritage Savings Trust Fund.

“They could have brought in the income tax cut, they chose not to,” Brennan said. “To govern is to choose, they made that decision.”

Government house leader Joseph Schow said he’s proud of what the government has done, saying this session was spent “fulfilling multiple platform commitments and fulfilling the strong mandate received by Albertans.”

Rate of Last Resort

Under the Utilities Affordability Statutes Amendment Act, Alberta’s Regulated Rate Option will be renamed the Rate of Last Resort.

In addition, default electricity rates will be set for each provider every two years. 

The province said the legislation will reduce rates for Albertans who can’t sign a competitive electricity contract or have limited providers.

Affordability measures

Brennan said recent surveys show inflation and costs of living are top issues for Albertans. He’s surprised, he said, the province hasn’t faced greater backlash over the lack of affordability measures introduced.

“I thought they would pay somewhat of a political price for that because that’s something people voted on, that’s something people remember,” Brennan said. “It amazes me that Albertans haven’t held them to account on that.”

Schow dismissed questions Thursday about affordability measures, or lack thereof, passed in the spring sitting.

“The legislation we introduced over the last 14 weeks was what we felt needed to go through this time,” Schow said. “Affordability is always top of mind. We are continuing to look after that, and there could be legislation in the future, but we’ll deal with that as it comes.”

The fall session is expected to begin Oct. 28.

With files from CTV News Edmointon’s Chelan Skulski and The Canadian Press 

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