Viewed as a forerunner to a spring election, the Alberta legislature resumes Tuesday for a short session that could last no more than three weeks.
Premier Jim Prentice is expected to call an election shortly after introducing a tough-times budget on March 26.
The premier has issued a warning that Albertans will feel the pinch, saying the governing Conservatives are considering a combination of spending cuts and new revenue streams to help handle a $7 billion revenue loss caused by dropping oil prices.
The government also has unfinished business to deal with as MLAs head into the session.
Bill 10, controversial legislation to allow students to set up gay-straight alliances in schools, was shelved late in the fall session so that the government could consult with Albertans. There is no guarantee it will resurface this spring despite Prentice saying he will revisit the issue before the start of the spring session.
Opposition parties are also expecting a ruling from the speaker on whether Prentice interfered with an independent committee of the legislature causing it to reverse its decision to restore funding for the the government’s spending watchdog, the auditor general.
“This is an open-and-shut case, the premier breached the privilege of the members of this assembly,” said NDP leader Rachel Notley.
And then there’s the increasingly heated relationship developing between some of the province’s biggest unions and the premier’s office.
On Monday, Prentice said he will meet with the heads of Alberta’s public sector unions in the next ten days. The meeting was requested by several unions, including the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, the United Nurses of Alberta and the Alberta Teachers’ Association because of their concerns over expected government cuts.
View from the floor
The view from where Prentice sits will be dramatically different from when he left the legislature on Dec.11. Since the fall session he has acquired nine Wildrose MLAs, including leader Danielle Smith, who had been his most vocal opponent.
Heather Forsyth will be in Smith’s seat as the interim leader for the Wildrose party – a first for her and the first time she will be face her former Wildrose colleagues.
“Their crossing of the floor has deeply disturbed Albertans they have found it somewhat distasteful and revolting,” she said, quipping that she doubts she will even glance up at her former colleagues in the chamber on Tuesday.
It might not be a long session, but there are signs it could be a loud one.
Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman said she expects the next three weeks to be lively but predicts not much will actually be achieved.
The government’s house leader, Jonathan Denis, has offered few hints what legislation will be tabled, a departure from the fall when he outlined bills prior to that session.
Instead he said the legislative agenda “will reflect our commitment to more effective governance from a common sense, conservative perspective,” adding that upcoming legislation will improve business services, focus on the environment, municipal and education issues.
Those issues no doubt will come up during a provincial election. The only question left now is not if, but when Albertans can weigh in, too.