There’s no shortage of dramatic political news this November, from historic rallies against the occupation of Gaza to an aggressive play by Danielle Smith to restructure Alberta’s health care system. But while the spotlight is elsewhere, Alberta’s Legislative Assembly is still open for business. Here’s what you need to know about eleven new laws they’re cooking up in there:
Bill 1: The “Alberta Taxpayer Protection Amendment Act”
The first government bill from the UCP claims to protect you from tax raises by requiring the provincial government to hold a referendum on any increase to corporate or personal income taxes.
Purely for performance’s sake, any administration down the road that does want to raise taxes will just repeal this first. There’s nothing serious to say about it. Bill 1 was shoved through all three readings in just over a week at the start of November and will become a law—albeit a law that does nothing—very soon.
Bill 2: The “Alberta Pension Protection Act”
Bill 2 takes some first steps towards taking Albertans out of the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and into an Alberta Pension Plan (APP). To most of us—if public polling on the issue is correct—that makes the bill’s name a bit of a joke, given the broad consensus that it’s the APP itself that is a threat to pensioners.
The bill’s first section calls for a referendum and affirms that the results will be binding on the government that holds it. This raises the possibility of a referendum a bit late into the UCP term that they don’t have to act on if they don’t get re-elected, if they want to play it that way.
The second half insists that the new APP have better payouts and lower contribution rates than the CPP, which is somewhere between Cnut commanding the tide to halt and Michael Scott declaring bankruptcy, conceptually. No recourse is laid out in the bill for people who lose their pensions if reality disobeys the premier’s orders.
Bill 3: The “Opioid Damages and Health Care Costs Recovery Act”
The UCP’s Bill 3 is a bit of an oddball. It’s an update to similarly named legislation from four years ago, which the province enacted to get in on a class action suit against opioid drug manufacturers launched by the B.C. government in 2019. The meat of the amendment as far as I can tell is to broaden the law to go after not just manufacturers and distributors of opioids but now also consultants.
When I started researching this bill, I was expecting the change to be something nefarious, like an attempt to go after people who use drugs or those caught up in the street level drug trade, but it turns out sometimes a cigar really is a cigar: the expanded definition appears to be so that the province can go after the consulting firm McKinsey (you might remember them from scandals such as fixing the price of bread) for their role in pushing the over-prescription of opioids, which is, as we say over on the chat, kind of based. American states used similar legislation to wring a $573-million settlement out of McKinsey back in 2021.
Bill 4: The “Tax Statutes Amendment Act”
Much of this bill, which purports to modernize Alberta’s tax law to keep up with the rest of Canada’s, appears to be uncontroversial. But not all of it. Two parts of it which drew a lot of attention in debate last week relate to the fuel levy and the tourism levy.
Alberta suspended its fuel and diesel taxes on January 1st, and this bill would continue that pause. The impact of that tax freeze is regressive—definitely better for people richer than you—but that hasn’t kept the Alberta NDP from cynically agreeing with the UCP about it.
On the tourism levy, there is some disagreement. Member Samir Kayande argued in debate last week that the bill as written would task the collection of this levy in the hands of the very people who are paying it. Kayande, who appears in the text to be a bit more concerned with the interests of landlords and property owners than I am, spoke of his concern for the ‘burden’ this will put on those rentiers. But he did highlight one obvious problem, which is that small-scale operators—people renting out property on AirBnB, for example—will have a very easy time evading this tax.
Bill 5: The “Public Sector Employees Amendment Act”
My initial research into this bill was anxious. When a party like the UCP writes up a bill about public sector employees, you expect it to be full of hacksaws. But Bill 5 isn’t about unionized public sector employees, actually—it’s about the managers.
Member Kayande has a lot to say in Hansard about this one, as well. His quote from the debate on November 8: “the UCP are removing all salary restraints for Alberta’s boards and commissions and opening the door for massive and shameful misuse of taxpayers’ money.”
Having reviewed the text of the bill, I think Kayande has got it right. And I’ll go a step further: by allowing for more and more funding to be siphoned away from frontline workers and kicked up to management, this bill is a quiet attack on all of Alberta’s unionized public sector workers. More money for all the managers, executives and board chairs necessarily means less for the rank and file.
Bill 6: The “Public Health Amendment Act”
In the early years of the (still ongoing!) COVID-19 pandemic, the UCP under Smith and Kenney was heavily criticized for ignoring and often overruling the province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Deena Hinshaw.
In the end the mess worked out well for Kenney and Smith—a handful of conservative activists had gotten themselves into legal messes by violating AHS pandemic directives, but when it was determined that the UCP broke the rules by steamrolling the CMOH, those cases were thrown out.
Still, it seems like Danielle Smith wants to avoid stepping into that snare again, so with Bill 6 the UCP are simply changing the law to make it legal. The chaotic and partisan approach to the COVID pandemic will be the model for medical crisis response in Alberta moving forward.
Bill 7: The “Engineering and Geoscience Professions Amendment Act”
Demonstrating their commitment to the crises and highest priorities of the day, the UCP have written up this bill which will make it legal in Alberta for software engineers to call themselves engineers.
Bill 8: The “Justice Statutes Amendment Act”
With a name like this, you might expect this to be a bill from the UCP that deals with the courts, policing, or public safety in some way. Nope! The Justice Statutes Amendment Act will give cabinet ministers the authority to say what the limits on gifts to cabinet ministers can be. Greasy! Premier Smith says that she was convinced the bill was necessary after the ethics commissioner told her that it would be unethical for her to accept hundreds of dollars in VIP hockey tickets.
As a little bonus, the bill will also silence the ethics commissioner during election periods.
Bill 201: The “Alberta Health Care Insurance (Access Fees) Amendment Act”
Here we get to something a little different—a private member’s bill. Each session, at least one MLA at random is given the opportunity to pitch whatever bill they’d like. This one went to Gurinder Brar, NDP MLA for Calgary-North East, and his bill is clearly a response to the case of the Calgary clinic that announced earlier this year that it would be offering preferential access to doctors in exchange for a steep fee. Brar’s proposal would simply make that sort of scheme illegal. Short and sweet.
Bill 202: The “Education (Class Size and Composition) Amendment Act”
Member Brar isn’t the only NDP MLA to win the private member’s bill lottery. Another first-termer, MLA for Calgary-Beddington Amanda Chapman, proposed this law which intends to restrain ballooning class sizes.
I wish I could describe this one as short and sweet too, but it’s not. The bill does not propose any specific caps on class sizes but rather calls for the establishment of a committee which would give recommendations to the Minister of Education on whether class sizes are appropriate. These recommendations would not be binding.
Bill 203: The “Foreign Credential Advisory Committee Act”
UCP MLA for Grande Prairie Nolan Dyck pitched this legislation on the matter of recognizing credentials for professionals that come from outside Canada. Like 202, it’s another committee-establisher: Member Dyck doesn’t actually have an answer to this problem, but he does suggest we get some people around a table to talk about it.
Meta and Google have a bit of a cold war going with the Canadian government and they’re blocking news content on Facebook, Instagram, and elsewhere. Corporate newsrooms are getting worse and worse. It’s increasingly difficult to access good journalism. And so I’m excited to see today’s launch of Unrigged, an aggregator for Canadian journalism from the left.
The Smith administration has finally released the final report of the Public Health Governance Review Panel, better known as the ‘Manning Report.’ As expected, Preston Manning’s 116-page report advises the government to relinquish most of its powers regarding public health emergencies, while also urging the government to look to “alternative scientific narratives” about health and disease. Manning’s panel urges that “evidence-informed decision-making consider non-scientific evidence as well.” Alberta paid $2 million for this document.
A newly-minted factional group in the Alberta NDP, Alberta’s Progressive Future, has picked up former MLA Brian Malkinson as a spokesperson and is calling for the Alberta NDP to change its name and reduce its association with the federal NDP. Their mention here is not an endorsement—in fact, I find this pitch to be an unserious waste of time. But organized dissent of any kind in the typically-placid Alberta NDP is notable.
- Our analysis of Danielle Smith’s proposal to break up and reorganize AHS is forthcoming. While we work on ours, have a look at this op-ed by University of Calgary law professor Lorian Hardcastle, which gets to the heart of the matter pretty well.
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