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'Spring of repeal' wraps at the legislature

St. Albert's MLAs fall on opposite sides of Bill 8 debate
The first session under the new UCP government wrapped in the legislature on Friday. FILE PHOTO/St. Albert Gazette

The first session under the new UCP government has wrapped in the legislature with 13 bills passing in the spring sitting.

On Friday morning, the provincial legislature wrapped up the UCP’s so-called “summer of repeal” and went out with the province’s longest-ever filibuster.

The NDP filibustered for a record-breaking almost 40 hours of debate, or two nights, on a bill that made changes to rules protecting gay-straight alliances. The opposition was fighting back against Bill 8 – or a bill they and opponents of it dubbed Bill H8 – known formally as the Education Amendment Act, which they said would roll back protections for LGBTQ students and make it more difficult to create gay-straight alliances in schools.

St. Albert MLA Marie Renaud said seeing the opposition reject proposed amendments to the bill was one of the low points in the spring session for her.

“It wasn’t about being malicious. We took a last opportunity to do everything we could to at least get some amendments in to change one piece of one legislation that we knew was going to be harmful," she said.

Renaud said she knew the Education Act would have a big impact on people and the NDP tried hard to get some amendments in with no success. After session wrapped up on Friday, Renaud walked past the water fountain outside the legislature and saw UCP members laughing and celebrating in the fountain; she said the sight made her cry.

“We just worked so hard and all of these things that are impacting real people, whether it's reducing minimum wage for youth, which we know is not going to create jobs, there isn't a youth unemployment crisis, they reduced protection for GSAs, changing overtime rules and overtime pay. It was just really hard to see that joy,” Renaud said.

For Morinville-St. Albert MLA Dale Nally, he too was disappointed during the debate over Bill 8.

“The filibuster was a little disappointing. There's nothing exciting when the opposition decides to filibuster. And so that was a little disappointing that filibustering does not represent the best of our democracy," he said.

Nally said from a government position, they could have forced closure and shut down debate, but they chose to let the NDP debate the bill.

Along with debating Bill 8, the two parties battled over another 12 bills. The biggest fights came over Bill 8 and Bill 2, An Act to Make Alberta Open for Business, which cut the youth minimum wage from $15 to $13 and allows employers to bank overtime at straight time rather than the current time-and-a-half. Bill 2 also spurred an opposition filibuster.

Overall, Nally said that looking at the 13 bills that were passed, it showed Albertans that the new UCP government was able to deliver on its commitments. The first bill the UCP passed was the repeal of the carbon tax, which they promised repeatedly throughout their campaign.

“We had some late nights but we did not back down. we made a commitment to Albertans that we were going to stand up and fight on behalf of Albertans and that’s exactly what we did,” Nally said.

The bills they passed signal that the government has no hidden agenda, Nally said, and that the government is going to do exactly what it said it was going to do during the election campaign.

Despite the conflict between the two parties, both local MLAs enjoyed their time in their constituencies during the session and attending community events.

Nally said the highlight for him was giving out ice cream sundaes at St. Albert Pride and connecting with the community for the first time as a new MLA.

Renaud said she was thrilled to be named the NDP critic for Community and Social Services and feels like she can really make a difference on that portfolio given her long history working to support persons with disabilities.

Typically a budget is passed during spring session but this year the government delayed that until fall when the UCP is expected to drop its first provincial budget.

Jennifer Henderson

About the Author: Jennifer Henderson

Jennifer Henderson joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2016. She writes about municipal, provincial and federal politics; court and crime; general news and features.
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