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Shoreline, True Grit, photo-bombing, certainty and the Deity: Random observations from Alberta's Throne Speech

Party crasher Jason Kenney (David Climenhaga photo)

Alberta's New Democratic Party Government delivered its third Speech from the Throne yesterday afternoon, read by Lieutenant Governor Lois Mitchell but written, of course, by political aides to Premier Rachel Notley, who looked relaxed in the Legislature despite her doubtless nerve-racking visit earlier this week to the now increasingly Trumpified District of Columbia.

There was some news in the speech, too, bien sûr! Most of which, of course, was catalogued adequately enough by the surviving reporters of the mainstream media. Among the major themes:

  • The NDP will eliminate mandatory school fees for instructional materials and busing fees for kids who need to be bused to their designated school
  • The government will seek intervenor status to fight any legal challenges to the Trans Mountain Pipeline
  • It will toughen up laws protecting whistleblowers and preventing conflicts of interest by officials
  • To counter the continuing opioid crisis, Alberta will introduce supervised consumption sites and other harm-reduction measures
  • The NDP reiterated its commitment to public health care, public education and public services

"As we pursue further spending reductions, your government will hold firm to the belief that spending reductions should never happen at the expense of our schools, hospitals and those very things Albertans rely on to weather the downturn and provide for their families," said the speech. And it's a good thing, too.

Herewith, then, a few hurried, random, additional observations by your humble scribe:

About that certainty thing: how's it working out now?

Conservative politicians habitually complain that this or that progressive policy creates uncertainty, and, as we all know, business hates uncertainty.

This has been repeated so often it's taken on the patina of received truth, despite there being precious little evidence to actually support the proposition.

But let's give the right its due and assume it's true. The government's decision to cap electricity rates for families and businesses on the grounds "an electricity bill isn't a jack in the box” will undoubtedly create plenty of certainty.

But don't expect the market-fundamentalist opposition to be very enthusiastic about the sensible idea of capping prices below the average rate families have paid over the past decade. Having created the market policies that led to spiking electricity prices, right-wing parties will fall back on the ever-reliable argument we can't afford to fix it.

Said the speech: "If electricity prices go up past the cap, electricity bills won't. Period."

Similarly, a 25-per-cent reduction in school fees (the subject of Bill 1, introduced yesterday) and moves toward $25-a-day child care (a vaguer promise, likely to be delivered closer to an election) will also tend to create certainty of the sort conservatives are bound to dislike.

Don't worry, though, the uncertainty argument isn't going to go away, it'll just migrate elsewhere. It's bound to be used to oppose the NDP's determination to stick with its promise to deliver a $15 minimum wage, for example.

Things change, and political language changes with them

Grit is a wonderful, descriptive, English word that describes the reaction of Albertans to the hard times that, thanks to nearly 80 years of various sorts of conservative mismanagement, keep comin' 'round again here in Alberta.

Unfortunately, by an accident of political history, it's a term that for generations was associated with the Liberal Party of Canada -- a conveniently headline-friendly equivalent to "Tory." In the past couple of decades, though, it has fallen out of use while 'Tory" has continued to describe modern conservatives, who aren't very conservative any more.

Now Grit appears to have been appropriated by the Alberta NDP, who ended this Throne Speech with a paean to grittiness: "Grit built this province. Grit will build its future.”

Can it be long before New Democrats start being called Grits, or, at least, True Grit Dippers?

Meanwhile, back on the pipeline file, "tidewater" mercifully seems to have run its tiresome course. Henceforth, apparently, the pipelines Alberta wants will all run to the "shoreline."

Who said a change is as good as a rest? As noted in this space in the past, I grew up on tidewater, very close to the shoreline. We called that large wet place "the ocean."

Photo-bombing: alive and thriving in Alberta

What else but photo-bombing can we call the appearance of Jason Kenney, the former Harper-government cabinet minister and candidate to unite Alberta's right at the head of the Progressive Conservative Party, at this affair?

The presence of Wildrose Leader Brian Jean expressing pro forma opposition to the NDP's carbon levy can be explained easily enough. He is, after all, the leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition and, accordingly, is found in the Legislature from time to time in an ex officio sort of way.

But Kenney, who turned up to do the same thing, has been strategically avoiding the place -- especially on days when large numbers of television crews are not on location to lob soft-ball questions.

Life may be hard couch surfing on the road for the undeniably hard-working Kenney, but it would appear some aspects of the accommodations are sustaining, even ample.

Give the man his due: Kenney's slick commentary made the earnest Jean look and sound like a block of wood.

Still rattled by Bill 6? You bet!

When it comes to its own core constituencies, this NDP government continues to be too cautious -- undoubtedly a hangover from the rough ride it got over Bill 6 in 2015 and 2016, the government's fair, sensible and ineptly delivered farm-safety bill.

So the NDP appears to be too attentive to the business crowd’s screams it must go slow on desperately needed -- indeed, in some regards constitutionally required -- labour law reform.

It may have been mentioned in passing in the speech … or maybe not. It was hard to tell. "More work will also be done this year to modernize working conditions for Albertans," hardly sounds like a ringing promise to me, no matter what some NDP political staffers suggest.

After the speech, Labour Minister Christina Gray seemed to say consultations must be conducted before anything is done -- even to legislate sensible policies that have been the law in most provinces for generations, such as first-contract compulsory arbitration in cases where companies try to thwart a new union by simply refusing to negotiate an agreement.

What a lost opportunity! Kenney's silly threats notwithstanding, a conservative government would likely leave this necessary change in place in the event the NDP was not re-elected. Left undone, however, it would never be implemented in such circumstances. Any future conservative government would tell advocates: "You couldn't even get your guys to do it when they were in power!"

Enough blessing, already!

It was under Premier Ed Stelmach, I think, that Alberta Throne Speeches began to include serial calls for the Almighty's blessings. If so, Stelmach, who put in an appearance yesterday looking as distinguished as ever in a very nice grey suit, should be forgiven. He is a sincerely religious person, after all.

Perhaps afraid of sounding like godless socialists, however, Notley’s NDP has continued with this irritating American-style repetition of the Deity’s name. This is civil government we're talking about here for, erm, heaven's sake!

God save the Queen? We can live with that. It's part of our Canadian civil tradition. But God bless all these geographical designations? Enough, already!

Time to find a replacement for Paul Lorieau

Speaking of official songs, can we please find a replacement for the late Paul Lorieau, who not so long ago wonderfully led the singing of O Canada on important Legislative occasions like Throne speeches?

Things are getting a little ragged without you, Paul. We miss you.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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