Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says the spring sitting of the legislature will focus on health care and a plan to double the number of surgeries done in private facilities.
Kenney says the aim is to boost the number of private operations to 30 per cent from 15 per cent over two years, but notes they would all be paid for by the public health-care system.
“This is one way of getting more surgeries done more efficiently and more quickly to reduce surgical wait times,” Kenney told reporters Tuesday as his government launched a new session of the legislature with the speech from the throne.
“One hundred per cent of the surgeries that will be funded through this initiative are publicly insured. No one has to get out their credit card.”
Kenney said the COVID-19 pandemic has illuminated existing inefficiencies and drawbacks in the health system, including Alberta having the fewest number of intensive care beds per capita.
The throne speech, read by Lt.-Gov. Salma Lakhani in the house, outlined that the government will be introducing measures to increase the number of intensive care bed spaces and recruit more specialized health professionals.
Lakhani said there will also be legislation and plans to boost the economy and help consumers.
The 2022 provincial budget, to be introduced Thursday, will feature a natural gas consumer rebate program to help Albertans cope with rising utility costs.
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The speech said there will be law-and-order changes to further combat human trafficking and hate crimes, and changes to make police more accountable to communities.
The government will boost prenatal benefits to mothers on income support.
There will be legislation to promote changes to rules allowing companies to test new financial products and services to capitalize on emerging technology, such as data storage and cryptocurrency.
The government will continue with work on environmental objectives, such as net-zero carbon emissions in the oilsands and investment in carbon capture utilization and storage technology, along with investments to make Alberta a global hub for clean hydrogen.
It will also follow through with a bill to have teacher misconduct allegations investigated by an independent body rather than the Alberta Teachers’ Association.
The budget is expected to deliver a tonic of good financial news after years of massive multibillion-dollar deficits, given that Alberta’s wellspring oil and gas revenues have been soaring of late.
Lakhani said while the government works to build the future, it will also celebrate those who have come before, with a hat tip to Canada’s monarchist roots.
Bill 1, the signature legislation of the session, will honour Albertans by marking Queen Elizabeth’s 70-year reign.
The bill will see outstanding Albertans recognized and 7,000 medals handed out.
Some government buildings and other infrastructure will be renamed to honour past Alberta leaders. The Terrace Building, on the legislature grounds, will be renamed for Cree Chief Poundmaker. Ammolite, the sacred Blackfoot stone, will be formally recognized as Alberta’s official gemstone.
The Opposition NDP says while the budget may suggest better times, the benefit is not filtering down to Alberta families.
NDP Leader Rachel Notley has called for Kenney to reverse inflation de-indexation decisions that have resulted in Albertans paying more in taxes and vulnerable Albertans getting less.
The NDP says UCP policies have also led to higher utility bills, property taxes, school fees, tuition costs and camping fees.
“Albertans are looking for hope,” Notley told reporters while standing with some Albertans who are looking for relief from higher costs and for a plan to protect public health care.
“If this UCP government is going to continue to fail them with this week’s throne speech and the budget, they’re going to at least have to look in the eyes of the very Albertans they are hurting with their decisions.”
Edmonton police response to protest
A group of protesters was seen gathered at the legislature early Tuesday afternoon.
Ahead of the throne speech, Edmonton police said they were aware of another planned trucker protest and ended up noting more than 100 violations during the day’s events.
Just before 5 p.m., police said traffic enforcement officers issued and identified 109 violations:
- 2 noise tickets
- 2 mail-out distracted driving tickets
- 57 other tickets (27 issued, 30 to be mailed out)
- 1 bylaw offence
- 46 other moving violations (12 issued, 34 to be mailed out)
- 1 criminal code driving-related offence that falls under the Criminal Code
Police said officers were also educating protesters about their rights and issuing noise warnings. It’s believed about 225 vehicles and 1,500 pedestrians participated in the demonstration outside the legislature, EPS added.
Convoys were expected to cause traffic delays between noon until roughly 6 p.m., an earlier update said.
“Routes that may be impacted include Anthony Henday Drive, Highway 16/Yellowhead Trail, Whitemud Drive, Gateway Boulevard, Walterdale Hill, Queen Elizabeth Park Road and the downtown core,” police stated.
EPS said they told convoy organizers to refrain from honking horns or making excessive noise that disrupts residences and businesses.
Police also reminded people that although these types of demonstrations may cause significant disruptions to traffic and cause concern for some, people in the area should only call 911 in emergency situations.
Police sent a tweet in the early afternoon, saying there would be a ceremonial gun salute sometime between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. to mark the speech.
— with files from Jessika Guse and Karen Bartko, Global News