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Being kicked out of the legislature means never having to say you're sorry

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Opposition leader Rachel Notley, on the steps of the Alberta legislature building yesterday. Image: David J. Climenhaga

Apparently, being kicked out of the Alberta legislature means never having to say you're sorry!

Judging by the smile on her face yesterday morning as a crowd of more than 800 registered nurses furious at the prospect of having their pay cut substantially by Premier Jason Kenney's hard-right government roared its approval, being exiled from the legislature looks like a liberating experience for Rachel Notley.

Footloose and fancy free -- for the moment, anyway -- Notley can say what she thinks, over and over again if she pleases.

Saying it yesterday out in the cold sunshine on the steps of the legislature building, the Opposition leader looked the happiest she's seemed since the NDP lost the general election last April to Kenney's United Conservative Party.

With Kenney's government mired in a genuine scandal of its own making -- firing Election Commissioner Lorne Gibson by legislative fiat while he was in the midst of an embarrassing investigation into what appears to have been widespread barefaced cheating by Kenney's supporters during his 2017 UCP leadership campaign -- Notley pounded the premier on a wide range of policy issues.

She ranged from Kenney's firing of Gibson, to his government's "$4.7-billion no-jobs corporate handout," to the assertion the life-long politician "is the last man on Earth you want messing with your pension," to the undeniable fact it will be nurses who must pick up the slack when the UCP's health-care cuts take hold.

"And your reward? If all goes according to plan, for doing your part for Alberta, you get a 5 per cent wage cut! That's what this premier is pushing for!"

"While he flies around on private planes, you work harder," Notley said. "While his staff stay in luxury hotels in London with champagne bars and vitamin-C showers, you have to take a pay cut. And while he gives away $4.7 billion to big corporations, you lose control of your pension!"

"And if conditions get so bad that you or your patients feel they need to call the health advocate's office -- you know who picks up the phone? The former president of the United Conservative Party!"

Well, if Notley won't be allowed back in the legislature anyway by Speaker Nathan Cooper until she apologizes to government house leader Jason Nixon for calling him a liar in the house, she can focus on attacking the government's startling recent record as forcefully as she likes, without having one hand tied behind her back by the rules of parliamentary decorum.

Nixon's fib -- implying Bill 22, the Reform of Agencies, Boards and Commissions and Government Enterprises Act, doesn't mean Gibson is being fired, just because it eliminates his job -- nevertheless by tradition can't be called a lie inside the house.

When Notley wouldn't apologize and withdraw the statement on Tuesday, though, out she went.

But when the time comes for her to return, of course, she will only need to apologize once.

No wonder Kenney -- whose motto seems to be, "when the going gets tough, the tough get out of town" -- has been holed up in Texas, leaving his cabinet and caucus to distract from the growing opprobrium it faces over his use of Bill 22 to put an end to Gibson's aggressive efforts to enforce the law.

Despite a stream of announcements -- including Bill 26, Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen's blatantly unconstitutional effort to ban unions on factory farms otherwise known as the Farm Freedom and Safety Act -- the UCP hasn't had much success yet making the smell of something rotten go away.

Kenney is due back in Alberta tomorrow. The way things have been going, he might want to take an extra day or two to soak up the sunshine in the Lone Star State, where he's been living Davy Crockett's famous aphorism: "You may all go to hell and I will go to Texas."

That was a political story too, although in the famous 19th-century American frontiersman and legislator's case, he'd just lost an election.

Defeated in his bid for re-election in 1835, the Tennessee congressman was reported to have said: "I told the people of my district that I would serve them as faithfully as I had done; but if not, they might go to hell, and I would go to Texas."

He did. His Texas itinerary, alas, ended in tears on March 6, 1836, at the Alamo.

Well, never mind the American history lesson. Back to Notley:

"The Speaker kicked me out of the house for refusing to apologize for calling out the government house leader for lying," she told the nurses. "He said they were not firing an officer of the legislature. The words were in black and white right in front of him and this issue is too important to fudge.

"All of us have to tell the truth, in every corner, about what this government is doing.

"I refused to apologize for standing up for the truth, for what is right and true, and for the very democratic principles we hold most dear.

"So I'll keep telling it like it is. If this premier wants to do an end run around our democracy, if he wants to shut down investigations into his party's corruption, all while cutting our health care, cutting your hours, cutting your wages, and stealing your pensions, I will call him out for being the corrupt premier he is! For exercising the most unconscionable abuse of power in the history of this province and this country …"

Well, perhaps Notley is channelling the hero of the Alamo a bit herself.

As Davy Crockett also said, a little less famously: "Be sure that you are right, and then go ahead."

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 at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: David J. Climenhaga

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