In the Westminster Parliamentary system, the Throne Speech is supposed to set out the government’s direction, goals and policy for a new session of the legislature.
The one read by Alberta Lieutenant-Governor Salma Lakhani in the provincial Legislature in Edmonton yesterday appears to have been written for the next 45 days.
That is, up to April 9, when Premier Jason Kenney faces his fractious and unhappy party, down in the polls and displeased with his performance, at a leadership review in Red Deer.
After that, it may require some revisions if the United Conservative Party hopes to form government again.
In the meantime, Mr. Kenney will stand or fall on the decision of the UCP’s raging, religious, reactionary rural MLAs – so they and their supporters got a lot of what they wanted in yesterday’s Throne Speech, and they’ll likely get it in tomorrow’s Budget too.
The Throne Speech emphasized policies at the core of the ideological dogma of the hard right, with something to please dominionist Christian evangelicals, market fundamentalist privatizers, cryptocurrency and financial deregulation nuts, and even would-be Alberta separatists.
According to the speech, the UCP is still determined to grab your Canada Pension Plan and replace it with an Alberta pension easier to use as play money. The dream of a more-pliable provincial police force to replace the RCMP lives on as well.
Both those ideas come straight from the pages of the notorious Firewall Manifesto penned by Stephen Harper, Ted Morton, Tom Flanagan and a handful of their less memorable sovereignist pals that was sensibly tossed in the recycling bin by premier Ralph Klein back in 2001.
However, the wording of this part of the speech was vague enough to allow a strategic retreat if opposition is strong enough. “Consultations will be completed on the prospect of an Alberta Provincial Police Force and the government will continue to examine a possible Alberta Pension Plan as potential reforms to strengthen the province.”
Nowadays Mr. Harper is the ideological éminence grise of the Kenney Government, so it’s no surprise the party’s roadmap includes a couple of schemes to try to undermine the Liberal federal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
It’s mildly ironic that back when he was prime minister, Mr. Harper would have tolerated neither the speech’s plan to pressure his government to accept Alberta’s “elected” senators nor to reopen constitutional negotiations on Canada’s equalization formula.
Taken at face value, the Throne Speech calls for extensive privatization of health care through “chartered surgical facilities in order to reduce wait times that have grown during COVID” to be the government’s first priority of the session.
“Our surgical reform initiative will more than double the number of surgeries that Alberta performs in private surgical facilities,” Mr. Kenney said revealingly a few days ago in a far-right online publication. “They will be publicly insured, but they won’t be union-run hospitals.” (Emphasis added.)
This, of course, won’t reduce wait times unless Mr. Kenney can figure out a way to clone surgeons – although that hardly matters since the true objective, as Mr. Kenney admitted, is to undermine public health care.
But with enough money up front, it may appear to work well enough in the short run to fool a few voters, so this policy could survive after April 9.
It will also, of course, open the deep pockets of private medical services companies to the dark-money PACs the UCP will need if it is to overcome its lagging fund-raising effort compared to that of the Opposition NDP.
A personal hobbyhorse of the premier is splintering education, with more public money for private and religious schools and less for public schools. This too got ink in the Throne Speech.
The speech also signals Mr. Kenney’s long dreamed-of frontal assault on the Alberta Teachers Association. A new law “will ensure that investigations into teacher misconduct are conducted by an independent body, ending the conflict of interest which allows the union representing teachers to regulate its own members,” it promises.
This will infuriate the ATA now, but in the long run it will lead to the creation of a militant teachers’ union that is sure to be more of thorn in the side of future governments than the ATA ever was, with its comfortable relationships with successive Progressive Conservative governments.
There will also be plenty of cash for oil patch boondoggles like “clean hydrogen energy” and “carbon capture,” especially if the federal government can be bullied into the bankrolling them.
Former premier Rachel Notley, now the leader of the NDP Opposition, criticized the government for being “focused on their friends, their political grudges and doubling down on their failed policies that have cost us countless jobs, that failed us during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that has piled cost after cost onto Alberta families.”
The speech offers no help for Albertans struggling with soaring electricity bills, auto insurance, income taxes, property taxes, school fees, post-secondary tuition and interest on student debt, she noted.
“Albertans cannot trust the UCP with health care,” Ms. Notley continued. “And when it comes to schools, we see nothing to support public education at the same time they are moving to make a massive shift to private education.”
On the plus side, though, we’ll get a shiny new official gemstone: Ammolite. It’s said here that iron pyrite – better known as Fool’s Gold – might be more appropriate, but let’s take our blessings where we find them!
And remember, thanks in no small part to the Vladimir Putin, oil prices are up right now – possibly not for long, but perhaps long enough for Mr. Kenney and the UCP to make sufficient unreasonably optimistic forecasts after April 9 to sell their re-election bid.
A word on the quality of UCP speechwriting
One of the unexpected benefits of Alberta’s NDP government from 2015 to 2019 was that documents like throne speeches and budget speeches sounded like they were written by adults.
The UCP has been slipping back toward the purple prose characteristic of the Klein years in Alberta, when throne and budget speeches sounded as if they were the work of someone’s beloved 11-year-old grandchild who thought Alberta was the very, very best place in the whole wide world.
Lt.-Gov. Lakhani must have burned with shame to read the florid peroration of today’s effort, which was immediately subject to a certain amount of well-earned mockery on social media.
“Prosperity and opportunity are returning to Alberta. There is space again for big dreams – the kind of dreams that thrive where the prairies meet the mountains. Where opportunities are limitless and everyone’s full potential can be achieved.
“The clouds are breaking and the sun is starting to shine through.
“A stronger and more resilient Alberta awaits for all of us.
“God save the Queen, and may God bless Alberta.”
And may God preserve us from drivel like that!
Remember, it’s not Ms. Lakhani’s fault. The Speech from the Throne may be read by the vice-regal personage, but it is written by the commoners in the Premier’s Office.