EDMONTON — The Alberta legislature wrapped up its spring sitting Thursday with politicians on both sides of the aisle test-driving insults and expected attack lines ahead of the scheduled May 29 provincial election.
The Opposition NDP lambasted Premier Danielle Smith's United Conservative Party government for hiking fees, fighting with doctors, proposing royalty breaks for oil companies, firing educational support staff, breaking COVID-19 rules and failing to deliver promised economic stimulus to Calgary.
The UCP fired back, saying they saved Alberta after four years of disastrous NDP government that featured massive deficits, credit downgrades, nanny state rules and shameless kowtowing to Ottawa — all topped by a surprise consumer carbon tax.
“What a woeful group of provocateurs,” Energy Minister Peter Guthrie told the house as he squared off with NDP MLA Heather Sweet.
“The activist mentality of the NDP have a target: to end fossil fuel production.”
Sweet shot back: “Our record is (we delivered) one pipeline. UCP (delivered) zero pipelines.”
Finance Minister Travis Toews told the house Alberta’s economy is back in the black despite intrusive retrograde federal rules imposed with the quiet complicity of Rachel Notley's NDP.
“I call on the members opposite to stand with the government on this side of the house against the Trudeau-Singh alliance which is pushing our nation’s economy backwards,” said Toews.
“We’re doing everything we can to position Alberta for competitiveness, investment attraction and growth.”
Where’s the promised growth in Calgary, former NDP finance minister Joe Ceci needled Toews, citing high downtown vacancy rates.
“Why has the UCP spent the last four years holding Calgary back?”
“Every time the minister rises I’m afraid of another credit downgrade,” Toews shot back, echoing previous UCP taunts mocking Ceci as “Alberta’s worst finance minister.”
The NDP’s Rakhi Pancholi offered crocodile sympathy for UCP candidates heading to the doors selling four years of fee hikes.
“(They’ll) have to run on their record, their record of hiking utility prices, insurance rates, school fees, income taxes, property taxes, tuition (and) student loan interest all while handing out money to their friends and insiders,” said Pancholi.
“Alberta’s future is at stake in this election.”
The house wrapped up a short month-long sitting focused on passing a budget capped by a $2.4-billion petro-powered projected surplus to go with spending hikes virtually across the board, particularly on health care and education.
Both parties have been busy in recent weeks with pre-election announcements. Cabinet ministers have been reannouncing budget initiatives while the NDP has rolled out its own policy ideas while hammering on perceived UCP weak spots.
Smith’s government has moved controversial issues to the back burner. These include abandoning the Canada Pension Plan for an Alberta one, ditching the RCMP for a provincial police force and a proposal to reward oil companies with potentially billions of dollars in royalty breaks for cleaning up inactive wells that they are already mandated by law to do.
Notley, speaking to reporters in Calgary, said her government would introduce a bill to keep Alberta in the CPP rather than subject Albertans’ nest-egg savings to the whims of a provincial government of the day.
“Changing CPP is actually harder than changing the Canadian Constitution,” said Notley.
“But if Danielle Smith gets her way, political risk skyrockets. Smith and her UCP cabinet could change benefit levels or the retirement age in one cabinet meeting behind closed doors.”
Toews told the house that the pension plan is all about making sure Albertans have the chance to get the best deal possible.
“The NDP would not give Albertans that opportunity but this government will,” said Toews.
“We’re completing the work. We will ensure Albertans ultimately can make the choice.”
Smith, speaking at the Canada Strong and Free event in Ottawa, said her greatest achievement in her five months as premier was firing the board of Alberta Health Services, then revamping health care under a single administrator. She said the changes have resulted in reduced surgical wait lists and ambulance bottlenecks.
“You give (civil servants) clear goals and you measure them and you know you’re going to chop off a few heads if they don’t achieve results, they achieve results,” said Smith.
The focus of the campaign is expected to be Calgary.
Recent polls suggest the NDP and UCP are neck and neck in the popular vote. NDP support is strong in Edmonton while the UCP dominates outside the big cities and support is split in Calgary.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 23, 2022.
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press