Alberta’s NDP seems determined to slow down and drag out the summer session of the legislature into August.
Someone really should tell them they lost the provincial election.
Oh, wait, Premier Kenney does that regularly, as in, “That is why that party was so convincingly repudiated by Albertans just a few weeks ago.”
Or, “It’s a continuation of the fear-and-smear campaign we saw in the last election that was so resoundingly repudiated by Albertans.”
Just by way of a reminder, the legislative seat score in the April 16 election: UCP 63 – NDP 24.
In terms of ballots cast: UCP 1,040,001, NDP 619,149.
Kenney is correct that the NDP did lose “resoundingly.”
But the NDP doesn’t think all of its policies were “repudiated” and argues that not every Albertan who voted UCP was embracing all of Kenney’s policies.
That’s why New Democrats are happily tying together the shoelaces of the legislative session, making sure it doesn’t sprint through Kenney’s self-declared “summer of repeal.”
Day and night
Wednesday, the NDP embarked on a legislative stalling tactic called a “filibuster” over Bill 2: An Act to Make Alberta Open for Business.
This is a bill that will, among other things, restrict holiday pay for workers, and reduce banked overtime from time-and-a-half to straight time.
The government has also enacted a new $13-an-hour minimum wage for youth that takes effect on June 26.
Kenney says this will reduce costs for businesses and “allow job creators to hire more young people who are just starting out in the workforce.”
NDP Leader Rachel Notley says the move is unfair to young people and, when it comes to overtime, the UCP’s bill is an “aggressive grab” at the compensation rights of 400,000 Albertans, many of whom work in the oil and gas industry.
On Wednesday, the NDP launched its “summer of resistance” via filibustering where Opposition MLAs took turns explaining at length their opposition to Bill 2 and why it should be sent to a committee for review.
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The day had dawned like any other, but the legislative session ran into the evening, then into the wee hours of Thursday morning. Most MLAs dragged themselves off to a quiet corner for a few hours sleep, but a skeleton crew of 30 or so members from the two parties gamely traded verbal punches all through the night, fuelling their battle with copious pots of coffee.
Think of it as a sleepover but without adult supervision.
You were probably home asleep, blissfully unaware. If you happened to be awake, you might have watched the legislative proceedings on TV or on your home computer via the legislature’s webcast. If nothing else that would have cured your insomnia.
When the next day dawned the MLAs were still at it. It might have been Thursday for you and me but in the rarefied atmosphere of the legislature it was still technically Wednesday because the debate had continued without break. And so Wednesday dragged into Thursday morning and then bumped aside question period Thursday afternoon. And it kept somnambulantly going until amost 8 p.m..
The NDP’s tactic isn’t about stopping the bill. The UCP is determined to get it passed and eventually the government will win (see election results above).
This is about the NDP publicly dissecting Bill 2 and holding up the entrails for public inspection.
“Albertans deserve to see what’s in these bills,” said NDP House Leader Deron Bilous. “The Premier wasn’t up front with Albertans during the election that he’d be rolling back their overtime and pay it out at straight time.”
Actually, this issue did come up during the election and Kenney defended his plan to reduce banked overtime from time-and-a-half to straight time.
“All we are proposing is that we return to exactly the same rules that existed for, as far as I know, decades in Alberta without any, as far as I know, reported abuses,” said Kenney two weeks before election day.
It might be fair to say, though, that the story got trampled by the bigger issues of the campaign including jobs, pipelines and a certain carbon tax.
Here we are almost two months after the campaign ended debating issues that didn’t get much attention when the campaign was on.
UCP members, some of whom took part in filibusters of their own when they were the official Opposition, didn’t seem overly irritated by the NDP’s tactics this week.
“If the NDP want to spend the entire night hanging out with me inside the legislature, I’m happy to do it with them, especially when I’m getting something that matters so much to my constituents through the house,” said UCP House Leader Jason Nixon Thursday morning.
The NDP isn’t filibustering every piece of legislation. Bill 1, An Act to Repeal the Carbon Tax, was passed on Monday. The NDP presumably realized the tax was not only unpopular but repealing it was the cornerstone of the UCP election campaign.
Bill 1 was pretty clear.
But not Bill 2, argues the NDP.
Same with Bill 8, the Education Amendment Act, that rolls back protections for gay-straight alliances in schools. That Act was introduced Wednesday. Don’t be surprised if it, too, ends up being filibustered into the wee hours this summer.
Notley warned us this would happen. In a speech to the Alberta Federation of Labour after the election, Notley talked of how over the years she had filibustered in opposition with just four seats: “Today, we have 24. So let me just say, my friends: as a former House leader, I can tell you with absolute certainty and absolute clarity, we can filibuster forever.”
Actually, they can’t.
The “summer of repeal” might have met the “summer of resistance.”
The government with its majority will eventually win. It will just take a bit more time and a lot more coffee.