Marathon legislative session breaks record
Contentious Bill 46 pushed through in the middle of the night
Last Updated: Wednesday, December 5, 2007 | 9:32 AM MT
Bleary-eyed MLAs broke a record for the longest legislative session in Alberta's history Wednesday evening after almost 22 hours of continuous debate.
The session began on Tuesday at 8 p.m. and continued into Wednesday night as the government tried to pass several bills before the fall session wraps up. The previous marathon record was 21 hours.
Some Liberal MLAs brought pillows and blankets for the all-night session.
Some Alberta Liberal MLAs walked into the chamber before Tuesday's evening session with pillows and blankets. At one point overnight, Speaker Ken Kowalski emerged from a side room in his black robes toting a pizza box.
Bill 46, the most contentious bill in Alberta this year, was pushed through in the middle of the night, receiving third and final reading at 3:30 a.m. Wednesday.
The bill is designed to streamline the approval process for energy developments. It splits the energy and utilities board into two new bodies to handle the large number of proposals submitted every year.
Landowners and consumer groups worry the bill will make it more difficult for them to voice their concerns about proposed energy projects such as electricity lines or oil and gas wells.
Energy Minister Mel Knight insists people will still have a right to speak out.
"We'll be able to prove to Albertans that what we've done here is a positive, constructive piece of business to be sure that Albertans' rights are preserved."
The 24 amendments to the bill had to be voted on separately, dragging out the process for hours. Opposition members tried to stall the bill as long as possible but the Tories imposed time constraints on the debate.
The energy minister said the 10 hours of total debate was adequate, considering the government received public feedback on the bill for the last five months.
Energy Minister Mel Knight said Bill 46 would still allow Albertans to voice their concerns about energy projects.
That wasn't enough for Liberal house leader Laurie Blakeman.
"I guess they're just not interested in democracy. They're not interested in hearing what Albertans have to say, that they're going to shove it all through so fast and try and get out of here," she said.
The Liberals said 10 hours are not nearly enough for legislation that will play such a big role in how future energy projects are handled. Leader Kevin Taft said city councils spend more time debating playgrounds.
"There's a kind of rule of thumb that any bill that needs more than seven amendments should go back to the drawing board. This one, the government itself brought forward 24 amendments at the last minute," he said.
"It's a badly flawed bill and the government rammed it through."
Premier Ed Stelmach admitted the Tories had an ambitious fall agenda, especially compared to sessions under long-time Premier Ralph Klein when fall sittings were sometimes not held at all.
The MLAs have been working in shifts. Stelmach headed into the chamber at 6:30 a.m. Wednesday to start his rotation.
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