On Monday November 17th, 2014, his Honour the Lieutenant Governor, the Honourable Donald S. Ethell, delivered the Prentice Government’s first Speech from the Throne marking the opening of the third session of the 28th Legislature of Alberta and laying out the Government’s legislative and policy priorities. Below is a short summary of the central initiatives outlined in the Speech from the Throne.
A Focused Commitment to Sound, Conservative, Fiscal Principles
The Government committed to keeping the rate of increase on spending for Government operations below the rate of population growth and inflation. In addition, the Government asserted that it will only borrow for capital purposes, never for operations, and only where there is a clear debt repayment plan in place. For needed infrastructure, the Government will examine innovative delivery methods. As part of a commitment to disciplined savings, the Government announced that it will issue semi-annual updates on Alberta’s savings plan to report on the performance of savings. There will continue to be no sales tax.
Ending Entitlements and Restoring Public Trust
The Speech from the Throne announced that new accountability legislation and complementary Treasury board directives will be forthcoming, with the objectives of strengthening conflict-of-interest guidelines for political staff, extending cooling-off periods for political staff and senior civil servants, eliminating excessive severance packages for political staff, eliminating sole- sourced contracts in all but exceptional circumstances and clarifying the distinction between the role of registered lobbyists and Government consultants.
Maximizing the Value of Our Natural Resources and Respecting Property Rights
The Government announced its intention to continue working closely with the New West Partnership and its intention to seek a fundamental renewal of the pan- Canadian agreement on internal trade. The rationale is to enhance market access for Alberta for trade within the country and externally outside of Canada.
The Government also signaled its intention to “rebuild relationships with property owners in Alberta” and the first bill introduced after the Speech from the Throne proposes to repeal the Land Assembly Project AreaAct (the “Act”). The Act, which was never in force, allowed the Lieutenant Governor in Council to designate areas of land for large scale infrastructure projects, including public transportation and utility corridors and water management projects. The Act also allowed the Government to freeze existing use of land and restrict development from occurring on land that is in the early planning stages with the goal of protecting the suitability of the land for the Government project. Interestingly, the Government did not indicate in the Speech from the Throne any intention to change three other land bills that were introduced around the same time as the Act that arguably have the same effect of rescinding and restricting property rights in the province. In introducing the bill in the Legislature, Premier Prentice indicated that Property Rights Advocate Reports will be referred to a legislative committee for review. In response to a question from the Leader of the Opposition, Premier Prentice reiterated that “when it comes to fair and just and timely compensation…it really is the provisions of Alberta’s Expropriation Act and Surface Rights Act which require examination….Those are two pieces of legislation where very specific recommendations will be before the committee relative to how to move forward.”
Establishing Alberta as an Environmental Leader
The Speech from the Throne indicated that the Government intends to develop a new climate change framework that will outline strategies to drive emissions reductions. Strategies noted included, introducing lower emissions standards, ensuring Alberta communities are more resilient to the impacts of climate change, more comprehensive reporting on progress and entering into local and global partnerships. In addition, the Government indicated its desire to work on a new tailings management framework and to action to protect the Athabasca River and neighbouring ecosystems.
Enhancing Albertan’s Quality of Life
In terms of healthcare, the Government committed to a renewed focus on clinical standards, refining relationships with health advisory councils and a commitment to the continuing care capacity plan to create new spaces in the health care system for seniors. The Government committed to a 5-year intermediary capital plan and a 25-year long-term plan for health, education, seniors’ care and skills training and to issue twice-yearly report cards on the status of infrastructure projects in the province. In addition, the Government announced its intention to develop a culture plan to promote sustainability and long-term growth across Alberta’s arts and cultures sector and a new volunteerism strategy “to ensure that our province’s non-profit and voluntary sector, comprising almost 25,000 charities and organizations remains strong in its exceptional contributions to Albertan’s quality of life.”