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Alberta to wrap spring legislature sitting marred by accusations of overreach

EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Danielle Smith’s government was set Wednesday to cap off the spring legislature sitting by passing bills slammed by critics as an undemocratic power grab.

One proposed law, which would give the United Conservative Party government the ability to overturn municipal bylaws, passed debate in the house shortly before members were expected to adjourn for the summer break.

Backlash from municipalities about the bill going too far spurred the UCP to make amendments and claw back a plan for cabinet to be able to quickly fire mayors and councillors.

When the bill becomes law, the government would have to call for a local recall vote.

The widespread criticism didn’t stop with the amendments.

Municipal leaders have said the changes don’t provide guardrails to prevent the province from strong-arm municipal decision-making.

Alberta Municipalities launched on Tuesday an ad campaign against the bill, including a billboard near the legislature building.

Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver has defended the bill and pointed to a clause in it that would remove property taxes to incentivize affordable housing.

“It’s a good bill,” he said.

The fast pace of the final weeks of the sitting also drew condemnation from Opposition New Democrats. They accused the government of ramming through four contentious bills as quickly as possible, limiting the opportunity of members to voice concerns from constituents.

The NDP said the government ran roughshod over the democratic process by using motions to limit debate time to one hour at each debate stage.

NDP Leader Rachel Notley said Smith, with the municipalities bill, is giving her government the ability to intimidate and bully any local officials who might stand up publicly against it.

“It doesn’t respect the democratic will of the people. This is a government that thinks that it can just make decisions on its own with no regard to the opinions of Albertans or, quite frankly, the truth,” Notley said.

Government house leader Joseph Schow defended the use of time limits, saying the Opposition has neither supported the bills nor offered constructive criticism.

“We got a lot of good bills through,” Schow said.

A final bill, expected to get the red stamp from UCP legislators later Wednesday, would pave the way for Smith to restructure the public health-care system and create four new governing bureaucracies that report to Health Minister Adriana LaGrange.

Legislation passed earlier this week would push provincial elections into the fall, instead of the spring, and give more authority to the government to step in on local emergency responses, like wildfires and droughts.

Another bill would give the province the power to veto federal funding deals with cities, towns and universities.

That bill has sparked concern the province will interfere with academic freedom and free speech from student and faculty groups.

The sitting came to a close against a backdrop of provincewide protests against the UCP, pushback from Pride groups over proposed rules for transgender youth and an NDP leadership race to replace Notley.

NDP members are set to choose a new leader June 22.

Wednesday marked the last day Notley, who was first elected as an Edmonton-area MLA in 2008, stood in the house as the leader of the Opposition.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 29, 2024.

Lisa Johnson, The Canadian Press


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