PHOTOS: Status of Women Minister Stephanie McLean with her new son, Patrick, in the rotunda of the Alberta Legislature Building after yesterday’s Throne Speech. Below: Royal Canadian Artillery Band conductor Capt. Patrice Arsenault starts the proceedings on the right note; Tourism and Culture Minister Ricardo Miranda, Alberta’s first openly gay cabinet member, poses for a picture; and, outside, #kudatah protesters show their separatist and paranoid tendencies (bottom picture by Duncan Kinney, AlbertaProgress.ca).
By the sound of yesterday’s Alberta Throne Speech, the Notley Government has decided not to let a good crisis go completely to waste after all.
Leastways, on its reasonably substantial list of things to do in the session of the Legislature that began yesterday, this Throne Speech contained a statement of intent to reform and consolidate the province’s multitudinous agencies, boards and commissions as a measure of responsible financial management.
The so-called ABC Sector in this province is rife with generations of Tory patronage appointments, many of them populated by people who are actively subverting the efforts of Premier Rachel Notley and her NDP majority government to govern.
So while it will be a Herculean labour to muck out that particular barn – indeed, a job unlikely to be completed in a single day – it’s an effort worth making, and the current financial crisis caused by the low price of oil is a fine excuse for this government to get on with it.
There are those of us who sometimes wish the NDP was brave enough seize the moment and take Globe columnist Jeffrey Simpson’s advice to Jim Prentice, Alberta’s last Progressive Conservative premier, to really make use of the crisis by imposing a sales tax so that Alberta could continue to operate whenever volatile oil prices turn out to be … volatile.
That said, one can understand why the NDP may be unwilling to tackle a project of such magnitude, since they would like to be re-elected and, if this Throne Speech is a sign, they may just have hit on a strategy to make that happen – to wit, to make a point of ensuring the policies they enact and the strategies they adopt strike a powerful chord with women, who are, after all, more than half the population and inclined on average to a more progressive outlook than men.
It was no accident, it’s said here, that International Women’s Day was chosen as the occasion for this agenda statement for the upcoming session, with pointed references to the fact women have a vote around here nowadays, and that it was no small achievement for them to get it.
“I think you will agree with me – looking at this House, at the ministerial bench, and at the seat from which I speak – that we are still making progress,” read Lieutenant-Governor Lois Mitchell, who in fairness was herself appointed by former prime minister Stephen Harper.
“The fact that my government’s new Ministry for the Status of Women is led by a new mother” – that new mother’s infant with her in the front bench, apparently sleeping peacefully while his mom worked – “tells us that further barriers are beginning to come down,” Ms. Mitchell read.
Stephanie McLean and her baby certainly offered a powerful symbol of the change this government, for all its recent stumbles, has wrought, and it is said here this will be an electoral incentive to many voters come 2019 – no secret, but a secret weapon just the same.
Certainly this kind of thing is more likely to appeal to women voters – and an awful lot of men voters too – than the messages of the small gathering of #kudatah supporters outside in the chill fog with their weirdly paranoid signage and apparently separatist inclinations. Indeed, I think you can expect the Wildrose Opposition – which initially enthusiastically supported this group of petitioners – to start running from them as fast as possible after yesterday’s exhibition. Needless to say, nothing came of the promised #kudatah.
Which brings us back to the Throne Speech, which on technical points I’d rate highly. At least, it’s almost the first one I can recall hearing since I returned to Alberta nearly 30 years ago that actually was a Throne Speech – that is to say, a statement of the government’s intentions in the next session, not just a confusing jumble of platitudes.
Back in the day when Ralph Klein was premier, the Throne Speech, and the Budget Speech too, used to sound as if someone had let their 11-year-old nephew or niece write it. This one at least sounded as if it were written by an actual grownup.
The speech pointed to plans for a genuine effort to diversify the economy, which will be no easy task and which the right won’t like one bit because there’s always the danger it might be successful and prove the value of government.
It indicated the government’s determination to stick to its plan not to cut education or health care spending – always the first targets on the neoliberal hit list when a convenient crisis hits because of their potential for privatization and profit. It also promised to find ways to create jobs rather than compounding the problem by cutting them, as the Opposition wishes. It set out plans to expand access to retraining opportunities and spend $340 million on an Alberta Child Benefit Plan for low-income families.
A lot of people, not just the usual suspects in the Opposition, will scream about the budgetary implications of such policies – which we should see in detail when the Budget Speech is read next month. But one suspects more than a few of them will be privately relieved just the same that the government they don’t approve of is not hacking and slashing the way a party they claim to support would. Such people can take comfort in the fact we still have a secret ballot in Canada.
The Speech indicated the government will use the bank Alberta thankfully still owns, as well as credit unions, to ensure capital is available to job creators. It states an intention to work with other governments, especially the one in Ottawa, to improve the current grim situation.
It said the government would stick to its promise to improve relations with Indigenous peoples. That it will also complete the work of making essential services legislation compliant with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that PCs were forced by the courts to begin. It has the chance, though, to do this in a way that supports the rights of working people. It won’t back off its modest environmental commitments.
Moreover, the speech contained some intriguing hints of policy changes that could be significant counters to the march of neoliberalism over the past 30 years if the government chooses to act boldly – amending the Securities Act, for example, using government-controlled credit to create jobs, and passing legislation to control predatory lending.
Who could be against that? I mean, other than huge media companies that promote and profit from the operations of “payday loan” predators?
Well, one feels the need to say something bad about this occasion, just to prove I still have it in me, and this is it: The lemonade in the rotunda wasn’t sweet enough, and the Tory lobbyists who were always good for a laugh seemed to be missing, every man jack of them! Wherever did they go?
This post also appears on Rabble.ca.