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Expect fireworks in Alberta's legislature, but no real brakes on radical UCP agenda

MLA Shannon Phillips. Photo: David J. Climenhaga

Alberta's 24 NDP Opposition MLAs were sworn in yesterday and Opposition leader Rachel Notley, not so long ago the province's premier, named the MLAs who will fill her shadow cabinet portfolios.

Meanwhile, Premier Jason Kenney's MLAs will have to wait a few days while their boss gets on with his tax-cutting agenda, which obviously doesn't require their input and which the United Conservative Party leader claims will create 55,000 new jobs although history and economics might lead one to a less optimistic conclusion.

When Notley came to power in 2015, she chose an initial cabinet of only 12 members, tiny by comparison with Conservative cabinets in recent Alberta history.

When Kenney came to power in April, he had obviously concluded a premier should go big or go home and created a cabinet almost double that size, almost as big as the entire NDP caucus.

This made Notley's job of choosing a shadow cabinet easier than her effort to build a gender-balanced and symbolically frugal ministry four years ago. Everybody got a job.

Still, packed as it is with former cabinet minsters who know what they're doing, Notley's Opposition will probably live up to her boast that "this will be the strongest Official Opposition that Alberta has ever seen."

How meaningful that proves to be remains to be seen. The Westminster parliamentary system isn't really kind to opposition leaders, even effective ones, when the government has a comfortable majority and voters aren't paying attention. Just consider the fate of Thomas Mulcair, the federal New Democrat celebrated as the most effective opposition leader in Canadian history.

Kenney has a radical agenda and a plan to get on with it quickly, before his opposition, in society and in the legislature, can organize against his plans. So if he is set on his back foot, it won't be by the Opposition in the question period, no matter how probing their inquiries, but by Albertans concentrated in the Edmonton region who can organize themselves in the streets.

Kenney is counting on post-election lassitude and their hope that his Donald Trump-style "summer of repeal" won't turn out to be all that bad to keep them quiet until it's too late.

Still, it will be interesting -- and possibly entertaining -- to watch fierce critics in action like Shannon Phillips, the former environment minister who has been given the important finance portfolio, and Sarah Hoffman, the former health minister, deputy premier and Edmonton public school trustee, who will be education critic.

Readers can expect Phillips in particular to be a pitbull in question period with the ability to get up UCP noses in a hurry. Expect fireworks when she gets to her feet.

As for all those jobs Kenney's tax cuts for corporations and wealthy people are supposed to create, don't hold your breath.

Yes, there may be a few announcements by Kenney's allies in Big Business of plans they postponed while on capital strike, but those will soon be forgotten like a spring snowfall.

Because the overwhelming evidence is that tax cuts are the least effective way to create jobs -- 20 cents growth on every dollar of tax cut, according to economist Armine Yalnizian, versus $1.50 for every dollar spent on infrastructure. Spending on income supports for the unemployed and low-income Canadians is as effective at creating jobs as infrastructure work, she says.

Don't look for that from the UCP, however, for reasons that should be obvious to anyone who is paying attention.

NDP opposition critics and portfolios

Rachel Notley, leader of the Opposition
Deron Bilous (former minister of economic development) -- house leader, economic development, trade and tourism
Jon Carson -- Service Alberta
Joe Ceci (former minister of finance) -- Caucus chair, municipal affairs
Lorne Dach -- agriculture and forestry
Thomas Dang -- infrastructure
Jasvir Deol -- multiculturalism
David Eggen (former minister of education) -- whip, advanced education
Richard Feehan (former minster of Indigenous relations) -- Indigenous relations
Kathleen Ganley (former minister of justice) -- justice
Nicole Goehring -- culture, military liaison
Christina Gray (former minister of labour) -- labour and immigration
Sarah Hoffman (former minister of health) -- deputy leader, education
Janis Irwin -- deputy whip, women and LGBTQ Issues
Rod Loyola -- transportation
Chris Nielsen -- red tape reduction
Rakhi Pancholi -- children's services
Shannon Phillips (former minister of environment and parks) -- caucus vice-chair, finance
Marie Renaud -- community and social services, francophone issues
Irfan Sabir (former minister of community and social services) -- energy, natural gas
Marlin Schmidt (former minister of advanced education) -- environment
David Shepherd -- health
Lori Sigurdson (former minister of seniors and housing) -- seniors and housing
Heather Sweet -- deputy house leader, democracy and ethics, mental health and addictions

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca

Photo: David J. Climenhaga

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