Alberta legislature fall sitting ends as began, with anger, finger-pointing
EDMONTON – The fall sitting of the Alberta legislature ended Thursday like it began – with insults, accusations, and finger-pointing.
But there was also a little levity.
“To the minister of energy,” said Wildrose MLA Jeff Wilson, rising to his feet near the end of the final question period. His colleagues then joined in as Wilson shouted, “Why are you so awesome?”
Speaker Gene Zwozdesky couldn’t help but laugh, and said while questions in the house shouldn’t elicit opinion, he’d allow it.
Energy Minister Ken Hughes stood up.
“When you’re hunting big game, don’t get distracted by rabbit tracks,” said Hughes.
“This government has been hunting big game for Albertans. We’ve been building the province. We’re building the future. We’re building the relationships and they (the opposition) would have us chase rabbit tracks!” he finished to cheers from all sides.
The Wildrose wasn’t done yet. Congratulating Transportation Minister Ric McIver for building roads, they shouted: “Why are you so awesome?”
And to Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk, he of the famous flowing locks, the Wildrose shouted: “Why is your hair so awesome?”
Underneath the levity, there was a bite of acidity.
Wilson told the house his questions were parodying the softball questions routinely posed by Progressive Conservative backbenchers to government ministers.
In response to the hair compliment, Lukaszuk chided them for spoofing on taxpayer time.
“This is what (taxpayers) are getting from her Majesty’s Misguided Opposition,” said Lukaszuk.
The humour was a striking counterpoint to a six-week session that saw the government pass legislation to protect whistleblowers, reform election finance laws, and create a single regulator for oil and gas projects.
The daily headlines, however, were dominated by controversy for Premier Alison Redford’s party.
There were allegations that the Tories broke elections rules by accepting a $430,000 donation from Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz. The maximum individual contribution is $30,000 and the chief electoral officer is now investigating.
Redford also had to deal with documents that showed her sister Lynn Redford, a health executive for the province, billed taxpayers to attend and host party events.
Health Minister Fred Horne called it a dead issue because it happened when Lynn Redford worked for the now-defunct Calgary Health Region.
The premier also faced calls to step down after documents revealed that as justice minister in 2010, she urged the province to award a multibillion-dollar lawsuit contract to a law firm that includes her ex-husband, Robert Hawkes.
Documents showed that the winning and losing law firms for the $10-billion lawsuit contract were notified of the government’s decision while Redford was still justice minister.
Redford, however, has maintained the deal wasn’t done until the final details were signed after she left cabinet in 2011 to run for the premier’s job.
Redford said the opposition attacks on her integrity and on her family members was below the belt, but part of politics.
“Some of that is political theatre, and in some cases it might be a little more mean-spirited than that,” she said.
“What I knew before I got into public life was that I was proud of who I was. I was proud of my family. I’m proud of my own integrity and I know that no matter what is said that I can put my head down on the pillow at night and go to sleep.”
However, opposition parties say the Tories brought the frustration in the house to a boil by twisting the rules and procedures of the house to shut down debate and kill opposition amendments.
The opposition put forward 119 amendments to the bills but only two amendments were passed.
“(The Tories) are just not accustomed to facing the kind of scrutiny that they’ve received from this official opposition,” said Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith.
“But they better get used to it because there’s three and a half more years of this.”