Alberta legislature spring session wraps up Thursday
One of the most dramatic sessions in Alberta history comes to a close
One of the most dramatic sessions in the history of the Alberta legislature was set to wrap up Thursday.
It was a session that started with one premier, ended with another, and will resume in the fall with a new face altogether.
Premier Dave Hancock dismissed opposition criticism that the session ended too early, after seven weeks of sitting days, with little substantive legislation being passed.
"The session always lasts as long as the essential work that needs to be done," said Hancock.
"I think this session is actually a very positive one, when there have been the distractions," he said.
A controversial session
It was a sitting ultimately to be remembered not for the bills but for Redford's resignation.
In the space of three weeks in March, Redford went from being Alberta's 14th premier to being a backbencher after Progressive Conservative party members and caucus mates turned on her over escalating revelations of excessive spending.
Even after she left, the revelations continued. Memos showed that she was using taxpayer money on a planned penthouse on top of the government's refurbished Federal Building.
The suite was to boast grooming areas, change areas, bedrooms, dining areas, a butler pantry, a fireplace and a balcony view of the legislature building.
Questions about the penthouse – nicknamed the "Sky Palace" – were still being raised on the final day of the spring session.
"It was a bad idea that came up a number of years ago," said Hancock. "It was killed a number of times. It's not happening and we're going to make sure that better processes are in place so that bad ideas get killed earlier."
Also of note: Redford's chief of staff was paid more than U.S. President Barack Obama's, and pocked $1.3 million in total severance when they left the legislature.
- Severance to Redford's political staff questioned
- Additional payouts to Alberta premier's staff revealed
Redford quit as poll numbers bottomed out in the low 20 per cent range – just ahead of the NDP and Liberals. The Opposition Wildrose party soared into a commanding lead.
Change in focus
Under Hancock, named premier until the party picks a permanent replacement, the focus of the sitting abruptly changed to one of damage control and fence mending.
He told 1,300 party members at a fundraising dinner that his caucus was sorry for abrogating party values and would work to restore trust.
Hancock's government abandoned a controversial law passed under Redford that stripped bargaining rights and imposed wage freezes and tiny pay hikes on its largest union, the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees. The government agreed to a tentative deal of 6.75 per cent wage increases over three years.
- Province reaches tentative 4-year deal with AUPE
- Contentious pension bills to be reviewed by all-party committee
It also presented – and then pulled – two pension reform bills that unions and other critics warned could gut retirement benefits during economic downturns and create a stampede of early retirements in a labour force already lagging behind Alberta's roaring economy.
After saying for more than a year that the bills had had enough consultation and were ready to pass, Finance Minister Doug Horner agreed to put them over for the summer for more consultation.
There were some accomplishments.
The government passed a budget with a $1.1-billion day-to-day operating surplus, but with long-term debt of $21 billion in the coming years.
It passed a bill to broaden public reporting and investigations on children who are severely injured or die while in government care.
The race to replace Redford culminates with voting in September.
The Opposition has made it clear that all current caucus members will have to answer for their sins of silence during Redford's rule.
"Any person who is trying to lead the Progressive Conservatives has to wear (the fact) that it is a 43-year-old government and has had some really bad practices over the last number of years," said Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith.
"I don't think it can be fixed by any one person."
With files from CBC News.