Alberta Premier Rachel Notley’s government passed new workplace rules and exchanged broadsides with the opposition before the spring sitting of the legislature wrapped up Tuesday.
The first overhaul of labour law in Alberta in three decades guarantees job protection for anyone taking unpaid leave for illness, injury or for serious personal and family issues.
“That bill essentially brought Alberta into line with the rest of the country, something which was long overdue,” Notley said.
Job protection for maternity leave will be 16 weeks instead of 15. The minimum work age will be 13, instead of 12, and overtime will be banked at 1 1/2 hours for every hour worked instead of straight time.
The changes are to take effect Jan. 1.
There were also changes to the labour relations code, including a clause doing away with secret ballots to certify unions if more than two-thirds of workplace staff sign cards saying they wish to join.
That is expected to take effect in the fall of 2018.
Ric McIver, the Progressive Conservative leader in the house, said the labour changes combined with increases in the minimum wage carry a hefty price tag.
“(The changes will) make it harder for businesses to employ people. It’s going to make it harder for non-profits to employ people. It’s going to make it harder for businesses, big or small, to stay in business,” he said.
The sitting, which wrapped up just after 2 a.m., was underpinned by a budget which laid out incremental spending increases in health and education, while borrowing billions of dollars for roads, hospitals, schools and other infrastructure.
The downside is a $10.3-billion deficit in this year’s budget and a fifth credit downgrade, meaning higher costs to borrow.
“The NDP plan never, ever balances the budget and continues Alberta’s over-reliance on non-renewable resource revenues,” said Alberta Party leader Greg Clark.
Opposition parties hammered away at the NDP over the budget and argued that new fees such as a carbon tax, coupled with escalating minimum wages and workplace changes, are making matters worse for Alberta families already hurting from job cuts due to lower oil prices.
“The NDP clearly have lost touch with Albertans who sent them to the legislature,” said Opposition Wildrose Leader Brian Jean.
“They are content with sitting back and enjoying the ride, while everyday Albertans across this province struggle to make ends meet.”
Government house leader Brian Mason accused the Wildrose and PCs of focusing on headline-grabbing cheap shots rather than offering solid policy critiques or alternatives.
“They’re getting more and more extreme with their beliefs, while at the same time less and less serious about the jobs they were elected to do,” said Mason.
Alberta’s political landscape is on shifting political ground.
In March, the Progressive Conservatives selected Jason Kenney as their first permanent leader since former premier Jim Prentice resigned on election night in May 2015.
Kenney, a cabinet minister under former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, ran on a platform to merge the PCs with the fellow right-centre Wildrose party.
Last month, the two sides struck a tentative deal to do just that. Members of both parties are to vote next month whether to ratify the pact and create the new United Conservative Party.
If so, a leadership race will be held, and a new leader picked in October.
The Liberals, with one seat in the legislature, also picked a new leader, David Khan, who said he will focus on fundraising and building up the party in constituencies.