Something new, and probably something old too: Reflections on the meaning of Alberta throne speeches, NDP and Tory

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PHOTOS: Now that’s a throne speech! The Queen addresses Parliament in the Senate Chamber in Ottawa in 1957 as prime minister John Diefenbaker, on her right, listens to his government’s plans, no doubt with a great sense of satisfaction. Below: Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and Alberta Lieutenant Governor Lois Mitchell, who will read the Notley Government’s throne speech later today.

This afternoon’s Speech from the Throne, which is scheduled to be read by Lieutenant Governor Lois Mitchell at 3 p.m., will be a historic document if only because it describes the agenda of a political party different from the one that has run Alberta lo these past 43 years.

It may be a historic document for more reasons than that, if Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP government sticks to the general legislative agenda laid out in the party’s election platform before May 5’s surprising election. That document was drafted at a time when no one, including most New Democrat insiders, thought there was much chance of winning the election, let alone with a comfortable majority.

NotleySmileBut voters will astonish us sometimes, and so they did on May 5 – so there is a strong possibility that that today’s Throne Speech will also make history in part because it charts a policy course genuinely different from that all those old Tory governments wanted to take over the past four decades, and possibly because it says forthrightly what the government actually intends to do.

Alberta throne speeches in the recent past often didn’t really discuss actual Progressive Conservative legislative agendas because they were part of a policy continuum formulated behind closed doors, far from the prying eyes of annoying members of the public and media.

Moreover, since the rise of the Wildrose Party, PC throne speeches tended to propose policies driven by talking points – not the other way around as you might imagine –drafted mainly to cancel positions and strategies that had proved effective for the Wildrose Opposition.

Since midway through premier Ed Stelmach’s tenure, in other words, PC throne speeches and other policy proposals tended to be designed to defuse the appeal of the even-farther-right Wildrose Party by adopting or appearing to adopt Wildrose policies.

This is what former Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith used to say before she had her Road-to-Damascus experience, wherein she heard a booming voice that sounded strangely like Preston Manning’s, was struck politically blind and suddenly became a PC. In that she spoke the truth. She was only mistaken in concluding that was a good thing, an assessment with which a lot of Alberta voters turned out to disagree.

LOIS2JPGRegardless, in good times and bad, Tory throne speeches tended to have certain things in common.

In good times they promised lower taxes and fiscal responsibility. In bad times (which always came as a complete surprise) they promised no new taxes and fiscal responsibility. And in all times, they promised to get Alberta off the resource price rollercoaster and to start putting money in the bank.

They seldom delivered on the fiscal responsibility bit or the money in the bank, but they were pretty good at squeezing public services by keeping a lid on revenues other than user fees.

Lately, the balanced budgets that they promised maniacally turned out always to be just over the horizon. The stable, predictable funding they promised for health care, education and municipalities never seemed to be possible in the event.

To spice things up, they’d include promises of a new pipeline training facility, a new school curriculum, a new relationship with Ottawa, new greenhouse gas emissions targets and better bitumen sands environmental performance. Most of these things were never heard from again, although the PCs delivered the huge carbon capture boondoggle promised by Mr. Stelmach in 2008.

To give credit where credit is due, Mr. Stelmach also delivered on a royalty review, which he quickly backed away from, and to putting an end to health care premiums, a policy Mr. Prentice was about to drop.

Now we have a government that campaigned on reversing Mr. Prentice’s plan to reintroduce health care fees, and to take another kick at the royalty-review can. Presumably the latter will be mentioned today.

Likewise, the NDP called for a higher minimum wage and a tax structure that shares the cost of running a province fairly, both items that are expected to be in today’s throne speech too.

And, who knows, it may even include things like improved labour laws, improvements to public health care and education that actually mean it about the public part, requiring the Workers Compensation Board to get serious about the compensation part of its mandate and, yeah, an effort to get off the energy price rollercoaster.

We’ll know soon enough.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Categories Alberta Politics