Alberta legislature session ends early amid controversy

The spring session of the legislature ended three weeks sooner than expected on Wednesday, with Premier Alison Redford's Tories pushing through several bills amid continuing criticism from the opposition.

Opposition says Redford's Tories rushed to avoid scandal

As CBC's Kim Trynacity reports, Alberta's spring session wrapped up early amidst controversy. 1:54

The spring session of the Alberta legislature ended about three weeks sooner than expected on Wednesday, with Premier Alison Redford’s Tories pushing through some final bills amid continuing criticism from the opposition.

Among those bills was legislation regarding a four-year contract with Alberta's teachers.

In a news conference held Thursday, Premier Alison Redford said her party accomplished all that it hoped in the session.

"I think we’ve come a long way," she said, "and I’m really pleased with the agenda we’ve been able to set for Albertans."

Redford said her government was elected to do only three things: "To build Alberta, to live within our means, and to expand market access. And we’ve done that and more."

Critics of Redford point out, however, that the past session was also dogged by a controversial cost-cutting budget, an MLA under investigation, and questions about more than $2 million doled out in severance payments from the premier’s office.

And now, opposition party members are criticizing Redford’s decision to cut the spring session short.

Rushing decisions

Liberal Leader Raj Sherman and Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman said Thursday that Redford’s government rammed through legislation without leaving enough time for debate.

"Redford not only has disdain for any opposition parties or the legislature itself, but she really has disdain for any organization that stands up to her," said Sherman

"Whether it's corrections officers, teachers, school boards, municipal leaders — anyone that stands up to her —she actually has disdain for them."

"It was just a scandal-a-day and all we had to do was get up in the morning and show up and there was our work," added Blakeman. "It was easy to react to because they were just doing so badly."

Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith echoed Blakeman's assessment.

"I don't think they had a good session at all — I think that's the reason why it ended early," said Smith.

"They have continued the practice of introducing complicated legislation at the last minute, [and] ramming it through without allowing stakeholder consultation."

"We won't really know until the fall once they start implementing it what the problems are with the bills."

But Redford disputes the opposition’s claims that the the abbreviated session was the result of her’s government’s failure to fully respond to questions raised in session.

Instead, she blames increasingly severe partisanship in the house for the feisty debates, adding that the passing of important legislation like the four-year teachers' deal were not impeded by the shortened session.

"I've been pretty frank about the fact that I think the tone of debate in the house — particularly in question period — hasn't been that constructive," she said.

"In fact, some of the results that we see with respect to public reaction and comments by people like the ethics commissioner prove the point that the level of debate — particularly in question period — hasn't been what it should be."

Overlooking question period

In addition to the session getting off to a late start, members of the Liberal opposition are also faulting Redford’s attendance rate throughout the sitting, claiming that she was not present for a third of the session and often skipped out on question period, according to their records.

However, Redford defended her attendance rate, saying that her schedule does not always allow her to be in the legislature.

"My view of question period is that it's for ministers to answer questions," said Redford. "I'm happy to be there when I can be — but if I have government business to do, I'll go do it somewhere else."

But Smith said that she disagrees with the premier’s attitude about attendance, arguing that Albertans want to see their elected premier on the job.

With files from CBC's Kim Trynacity and John Archer