Oct. 30, 2007 - Issue #628: Confessions of an Innocent Man
Its bills, bills, bills (oh, and royalties, of course) as Legislature gets set to resume
On Oct 30, Government House Leader David Hancock did not rule out the possibility of a fall election, but said the matter was solely in the hands of Premier Ed Stelmach. He outlined the government’s proposed legislation for the fall session, which begins Nov 5, and noted that this will be the first time that all-party standing committees report back to the Legislature, with statements on four bills introduced last spring.
Bill 46, the Alberta Utilities Commission Act, will go to its second reading, but Hancock explained that it was not introduced early enough to have a standing committee formed to review it. The bill intends to split the Energy and Utilities Board into two separate bodies: a new Energy Resources Conservation Board and the Alberta Utilities Commission.
“We always hear back from the public and take that into account,” Hancock said. “There’s lots of opportunity [for feedback], just not the standing policy committee, because this bill needs to go through in the fall.”
The EUB has been under fire this year, after it admitted to hiring private investigators to attend hearings about proposed power lines through central Alberta. In September, a report from the privacy commissioner stated that the EUB went too far in collecting personal information about landowners who were protesting the lines.
Kevin Taft, leader of the Alberta Liberal, said Bill 46 will be debated aggressively by his party to ensure that the rights of landowners are not overshadowed. Meanwhile, Hancock said the bill should not be viewed with so much skepticism.
“Landowners will still be heard,” Hancock assured.
Taft will also be keeping a close eye on Bill 1, the Lobbyists Act, and
Bill 2, the Conflicts of Interest Amendment Act, which the Standing Committee
on Government Services will report on.
The Lobbyists Act, which Premier Stemach has promoted as a major step forward on government transparency, will go to its third reading this session. The online registry is meant to provide public access to a searchable list of registered lobbyists who try influencing government members. However, the act includes a “request initiated” clause, which allows paid lobbyist to stay secret if a government official initiates contact.
The Conflicts of Interest Amendment Act is also going into its third reading. It proposes to further increase the amount of time former ministers must wait before they can influence government decisions or accept certain jobs. If the act passes, the period will be lengthened from six months to one year, and the penalty for breaching that period will also be increased. The act also seeks to establish a cooling-off period for non-elected political staff and deputy ministers, preventing them from lobbying or having direct dealings with government for six-month after they leave their post.
Meanwhile, Brian Mason, leader of the Alberta NDP, said that the
province’s new municipal funding plan is flawed and that his party
would lobby on behalf of Edmonton, which he said didn’t receive its
share of funding.
“We certainly think that Edmonton didn’t get a fair deal when it comes to the new revenue plans for municipalities,” Mason said. “Strathcona County, Calgary get much more per person than Edmonton does, and that’s not fair.”
Mason went on to say that the province has not provided adequate funding for many years and that municipalities are stretched thin.
“The government has done that for many years: download its responsibilities to the municipalities and not provide them with the financial resources they need to deal with it,” Mason said.
Mason and Taft both agreed the government needs to step up and help residents across the province to deal with the rising cost of housing.
“Affordable housing remains a real concern across this province,” Taft said. “The correction in the housing market is largely in the high end. Houses that were $700 000 two months ago are now $600 000, but entry-level housing is out of the reach of most first-time home buyers.”
“Housing and rents are going to continue to be an issue. Government has failed to deal with that adequately at all,” Mason echoed.
But even with a busy new session ahead of them, Taft and Mason both pledged to make sure the government takes responsibility for failing to collect billions of dollars in royalties.
“We’re going to be continuing to campaign to make sure Albertans get their full value of what is their resource,” Mason said.
Taft emphasized that the internal documents the auditor general used to conclude the government neglected to collect billions in royalties over the past several years should be made public.
“Whether Ed Stelmach runs on the election campaign or Ed Stelmach brings us back to the Legislature as scheduled, we will be going after him unrelentingly on these missing billions of dollars,” Taft said. “If you don’t hold your government to account over missing billions of dollars, when will you ever hold them to account?”
Premier Ed Stelmach has appointed former auditor general Peter Valentine to review his successor’s findings by March 2008.
Two other key bills coming up in the fall session include Bill 31, the Mental Health Amendment Act, and Bill 41, the Health Professions Statutes Amendment Act, which the Standing Committee on Community Services will report on to Legislature. V
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