Floor crossing, revitalized UCP mark start of Alberta legislature session

Click to play video: 'Fall session begins in Alberta legislature after summer of change'
Fall session begins in Alberta legislature after summer of change
WATCH ABOVE: It was a summer of significant change for Alberta's political landscape. And that was on full display at the Alberta legislature on Monday. Tom Vernon reports – Oct 30, 2017

Alberta’s fall legislature session began Monday with a floor crossing, a revitalized opposition and campaign-style attack speeches ahead of an election that is still 18 months away.

“We will stand up against the UCP’s job-killing, climate-denying, gay-outing, school-cutting, health-privatizing, backward-looking, hope-destroying divisive agenda,” Premier Rachel Notley said to applause during a pre-session meeting of her NDP caucus.

Her words echoed the style of United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney’s weekend victory speech, when he said: “If we work hard, stay humble, and earn every vote we will ensure that this deceptive, divisive, debt-quadrupling, tax-hiking, job-killing, accidental socialist government is one and done!”

Watch below: Jason Kenney has been named the leader of the Alberta UCP

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It was a day of firsts in the Alberta legislature.

The once-separated desks of the Progressive Conservative and Wildrose parties were pushed together as one 27-member United Conservative Opposition.

The two parties voted in the summer to merge and on Saturday, members elected Kenney, a former federal Conservative cabinet minister and the Alberta PC boss, their new leader.

READ MORE: Jason Kenney wins United Conservative Party leadership

Kenney handily defeated former Wildrose leader Brian Jean and the third candidate, Calgary lawyer Doug Schweitzer.

Jean did not speak to reporters after the vote and does not have a role in the new UCP leadership team.

He did not attend the pre-session UCP caucus meeting Monday morning and sat near the end of the front bench during question period, tapping out messages on his phone.

Speaking to reporters, he declined to answer questions on what role he wants to play in the United Conservatives or discuss his political future.

“I’m here for Albertans, and I’ll always make the decision in Albertans’ best interests,” he said.

Kenney said he’s had a discussion with Jean and will soon be naming critic portfolios.

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“I’ve reinforced for Brian how important he is to our team,” said Kenney.

READ MORE: Alberta United Conservative leadership contenders vow to band together post vote

Kenney does not have a seat in the house, and has named former Wildrose MLA Jason Nixon as the new leader directing caucus activities in the legislature in his absence.

Kenney awaits a byelection call in the Calgary Lougheed constituency. Dave Rodney, the UCP member for that riding, announced over the weekend he is stepping down to allow Kenney to run.

READ MORE: New UCP leader Jason Kenney will seek legislature seat in Calgary byelection

Kenney looked on from the Speaker’s gallery as healthy barrages of political rhetoric were lobbed back and forth across the aisle.

Nixon accused Notley’s team of failing to stand up against federal environmental pipeline review changes he said are responsible for the recent scrapping of the transcontinental Energy East pipeline.

“The Trudeau Liberals are attacking Alberta and this NDP government is doing little to nothing to defend our province,” said Nixon.

The NDP in response, accused the UCP of planning to impose deep cuts on the health system should it win the 2019 election.

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Health Minister Sarah Hoffman said the result would be shuttered hospitals and severely reduced ambulance services.

“Jason Kenney’s 20 per cent cut to health care is reckless, extremist and would put lives at risk,” Hoffman told the house.

READ MORE: Alberta Budget 2017 promises new hospital for Edmonton

Another change in the legislature — Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark is no longer alone.

Former Calgary NDP member Karen McPherson has joined his caucus to bring the total to two Alberta Party MLAs.

McPherson quit the NDP caucus earlier this month and has been sitting as an Independent. McPherson said she was disappointed with the polarization of politics to the right and left, which she said left little room for common-sense solutions in the middle.

READ MORE: Calgary MLA Karen McPherson joins Alberta Party after leaving NDP

Three other MLAs began the session sitting in the corner as Independents.

Former UCP finance critic Derek Fildebrandt resigned from the caucus in August after questions arose over his expenses.

Rick Fraser and Richard Starke have also left the UCP, saying they don’t agree with its approach and policies.

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Watch below: The fall sitting of the Alberta legislature kicked off this week and the NDP is promising a busy session. With a year-and-a-half until the next provincial election, the focus is also on gearing up for 2019. Gord Steinke speaks with Premier Rachel Notley. 

Click to play video: 'Premier Rachel Notley weighs in on fall session at Alberta legislature'
Premier Rachel Notley weighs in on fall session at Alberta legislature

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