The Alberta government plans a busy fall legislature sitting aimed at adding jobs and diversifying the economy while focusing on tamping down the renewed surge of COVID-19.
Government house leader Jason Nixon says this will include proposed legislation on recognizing professional credentials to address labour shortages. The bill will be introduced by Premier Jason Kenney.
“Our focus will be on Alberta’s workforce, a couple of bills around diversifying the economy, a big focus on building infrastructure for our future, (and) growing our resources, particularly on the energy side,” Nixon said in an interview Friday.
There will also be new initiatives on environmental protection and conservation.
Nixon said there will be 18 to 20 bills for the sitting, which begins Monday and is scheduled to run to the first week of December.
“It’s a very robust fall agenda,” he said.
Nixon said the government will continue to take steps to reduce COVID-19 cases, which have severely stressed the health system.
No COVID-19-specific bills are planned, he said, noting they were passed in previous sittings.
“There’s certainly other stuff to be done to manage the pandemic ? but we’ll stand ready if Alberta Health needs us to pass any legislation to deal with the pandemic.”
He said debate in the chamber is expected to return to some semblance of normalcy.
In the spring sitting, both the United Conservative government and the Opposition NDP reduced their numbers in the chamber to prevent the spread of the virus.
This time, with all NDP members and all but one on the UCP side vaccinated, all will be allowed back in for debate.
The lone UCP member has a medical exemption and will be tested regularly, said Nixon.
He said there are still masking rules and members will try to maintain distancing where possible.
The NDP said it plans to hold the government accountable for what went disastrously wrong on COVID-19.
“This fall sitting of the legislature will be laser-focused on getting answers from the UCP on why they’ve failed Albertans so miserably in managing the devastating fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Christina Gray, the NDP house leader.
“Since July 15, more than 85,000 additional Albertans have been infected with the virus and 700 have died.”
Gray said the NDP will call for an all-party inquiry into the government’s handling of the pandemic with the power to compel documents and testimony.
Nixon said the government will not agree to such a motion. He said it would be wrong to redeploy vital health resources right now and that Kenney has promised an eventual review of how the province handled the pandemic.
Kenney has also promised to bring forward a motion to ratify and act on the results of Monday’s provincewide referendum on Canada’s equalization program.
Final results aren’t in from Edmonton, but figures from Calgary and other cities suggest the referendum will pass with about 60 per cent in support of urging the federal government to remove the principle of equalization from the Constitution.
Kenney has said the issue is not about removing equalization, something no province can do unilaterally, but about getting leverage to negotiate other issues surrounding federal transfers to attain a better deal with Ottawa.
Political scientist Jared Wesley said Kenney will likely continue to focus on initiatives such as the equalization referendum, if only to change the narrative on his low popularity ratings.
“The premier will be spending most of his time, if he has anything to say about it, outside the province, stumping for this fair deal,” said Wesley, with the University of Alberta.
COVID-19 numbers have been trending down in recent weeks. But Kenney and Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s chief medical officer of health, say the situation remains precarious.
On Friday, there were just over 10,000 active COVID-19 cases in Alberta. And there were 191 COVID-19 patients in intensive care.
Alberta’s fourth wave troubles began after Kenney lifted almost all COVID-19 related health restrictions as of July 1, boasting that the pandemic had moved to the “endemic” phase and there was no need to plan for a renewed case surge.