Alberta's new political hierarchy revealed in question period

The Alberta legislature got off to an awkward start Tuesday as the speaker and some of the less experienced cabinet ministers fumbled through the first question period since the May 5 election.
Medicine Hat MLA Bob Wanner was elected Speaker of the Alberta legislature on Thursday. (Topher Seguin/Canadian Press)

The Alberta legislature got off to an awkward start Tuesday as the speaker and some less experienced cabinet ministers fumbled through the first question period since the May 5 election.

The last time the legislature sat in March, former Progressive Conservative leader Jim Prentice was still premier and Rachel Notley was leader of the third party.

Today, Notley is premier and 70 of 87 MLAs are new to the legislature.

While all those new MLAs have the potential to transform politics, they also appear to face a very steep learning curve.

As question period got underway Bob Wanner, the NDP MLA elected speaker Thursday, made several pleas for people to be patient during pauses as he figured out what he needed to do or say. 

Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd and Environment Minister Shannon Phillips, two cabinet rookies, relied on notes to answer questions from the opposition.

Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley appeared unprepared for questions from PC MLA Mike Ellis about the government's plans for protecting police officers after the fatal shooting of Edmonton Const. Daniel Woodall last week.

New role for Brian Jean

Those who did appear comfortable in their new roles included Wildrose Leader Brian Jean, a former Conservative MP, Finance Minister Joe Ceci, a former Calgary alderman, and Health Minister Sarah Hoffman, a former Edmonton public school board trustee.

Brian Jean asked his first questions as leader of the Official Opposition on Tuesday. (CBC )
The Wildrose campaigned on a platform of zero tax increases. So it came as no surprise that Jean's first set of questions as leader of the Official Opposition were about Notley's fiscal plans.

The government plans to introduce an interim spending bill to cover essential services until a full budget can be passed this fall. Jean challenged Notley to commit to tabling the budget no later than early September.  

"May I remind all members in the house that the last time the legislature passed a budget here was over a year ago, under Premier (Alison) Redford," he said. "In fact that was three premiers ago."

The exchange was tepid, especially in contrast to the fired-up answer Notley gave later to Jean's Wildrose colleague Leela Aheer,  MLA for Chestermere-Rocky View.

Aheer suggested NDPers view pipelines as "job killers" because they help create processing jobs outside of the province. Notley jumped up to take the question, which was directed at the energy minister. 

"For too long, Albertans have been trapped in a discussion where, when you stand up for our air and our land and our water, you are accused of being a job killer." Notley responded.

"And what that does is that contributes to the very record which is actually inhibiting our ability to access markets. "

For McIver,  question period highlighted the dramatic change of fortune for the former Progressive Conservative dynasty. McIver is now leader of the third party in the Alberta legislature. 

He unintentionally provoked laughter when he told the house he had friends making more than $125,000 a year who wouldn't be able to afford tax increases proposed by Notley's government.

"Some are in one-income homes with children and are currently just making ends meet after paying for the normal expenses," he said.


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