Braid: Session ends with UCP slamming through contentious bills, with a little help from Quebec

The UCP government often tried to diminish controversy by saying the bills largely clarify existing powers. Then why pass them at all?

Get the latest from Don Braid, Calgary Herald straight to your inbox

Article content

Rarely has an Alberta government flexed so much muscle during a legislature session.

The UCP even does it literally, as Premier Danielle Smith revealed during debate Tuesday.

“In the extra time that the members take between votes there was actually a pushup contest last night, and the honourable member for Calgary-Shaw ended up winning it with 54 pushups,” the premier said.

Advertisement 2

Article content

The pushup champ was Rebecca Schulz, minister of environment and protected areas. An impressive feat.

Smith cited this flurry of fitness as an example of caucus unity, although the legislature itself was bitterly divided during the session.

The NDP accused the UCP, often convincingly, of passing bills that blanket every Alberta council and public agency — from schools and universities and health care — with unprecedented provincial power.

The government sharply limited debate time to get these bills through. They had all passed third reading by late Wednesday night and now await Royal Assent.

Bill 18 requires councils and agencies to have provincial approval for any deals with Ottawa.

The initial version of Bill 20 gave cabinet authority to fire local councillors. After fierce reaction, that was amended to say the province can only call a recall vote for a councillor.

And Bill 21 allows the government to quickly assume control during an emergency when municipalities are overwhelmed.

That bill also moves the next election date into October 2027 rather than May of that year. The stated intention is to avoid an election campaign to coincide with wildfire season.

Article content

Advertisement 3

Article content

But the bill also gives the government five more months of unchallenged power.

The government often tried to diminish controversy by saying the bills largely clarify existing powers.

Then why pass them at all? In many cases, it’s because they allow Smith and her cabinet to make decisions directly, without going to the legislature.

Bill 18 is more radical. It creates an entirely new power by cutting off hundreds of authorities from bi-lateral agreements with Ottawa, and the funding that comes with them.

Smith explained her reasons in the legislature, while revealing that Quebec has been an active adviser.

“I just want to give my thanks to the officials in Quebec for assisting us as we went through the drafting of this legislation,” she said.

Then she explained why Ottawa’s use of “housing accelerator” funding was the last straw.

Federal housing announcement in Calgary
Honourable Sean Fraser, Minister of Housing, Infrastructure and Communities, alongside George Chahal, Member of Parliament for Calgary Skyview and Jyoti Gondek, Mayor of the City of Calgary as the Government of Canada made a housing announcement at City Hall in Calgary on Tuesday, November 14, 2023. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia

“Let’s go back again to why this is necessary,” she told the house.

“We watched (while) the very first province to get a deal with the federal government on housing accelerator funds was none other than Quebec — in November, $900 million through a joint matching program.”

Advertisement 4

Article content

The money went directly to the province because Quebec has long outlawed direct civic deals with Ottawa.

Now, she said, Quebec is working with the cities that most need the money.

“Contrast that with what happened in Alberta,” she continued.

“The prime minister flew in, did a press conference without contacting us . . . and announced $230-some million dollars for the city of Calgary.

“They then also announced a similar amount for Edmonton.

“They did another announcement including six municipalities of various sizes.”

The province had no input, she said. Municipalities were forced to upend their areas of jurisdiction “to get a handful of federal dollars.”

She demands that the Alberta government, like Quebec’s, be granted the money directly.

Her complaints go far beyond the municipalities. In the universities, she claims, “Ottawa specifically funds programs, initiatives and research that furthers their ideology . . . often contrary to Alberta’s interests, like the plastics ban.”

Smith now faces allegations of destroying academic freedom.

The premier isn’t deterred. She continues to wrench Alberta into a shape very similar to Quebec’s standing in Confederation. But many Albertans are alarmed.

Our muscular UCP politicians are surely happy to be out of the legislature for summer, dumbbells and all.

Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald

X: @DonBraid

Recommended from Editorial

Article content