Great Plains Politics 101: Why everything new in Alberta’s Legislature must be old again

Perfesser Dave with Gene Zwozdesky, a.k.a. Mr. Speaker, the Speaker of the Alberta Legislature, with that rara avis, a recent Alberta Throne Speech. But not the one for March 5, 2013. Quick quiz: Why is that? Below: Alberta Premier Alison Redford in a screen grab from last week’s “State of the Province” address.

If you’re wondering why on March 5 Alberta’s MLAs are not returning to a new session of the provincial Legislature, there is an explanation.

We have lately been informed by House Speaker Gene Zwozdesky – who should know, after all – that Alberta’s MLAs will be returning on that date for the third sitting of the first session of the 28th Legislature.

While the 50 or so words of Mr. Zwozdesky’s media advisory (signed by his executive assistant) casts no light on the reasons for this technical puzzle, AlbertaDiary.ca is happy to illuminate them in eight words: it avoids the necessity of a Throne Speech.

A Throne Speech, as those interested in Parliamentary procedures will recall, lays out the government’s agenda for the next Legislative session. From the perspective of the Progressive Conservative government of Premier Alison Redford, this would inevitably trigger a number of inconvenient consequences.

First, of course, an actual agenda would mean the parties of the Opposition would have something criticize, even to attack.

As we have already seen in the premier’s “State of the Province” address last week, this government would really prefer to give no hints whatsoever of whatever it intends to do, at least until it is actually forced to it. Anything else obviously risks an overabundance of democracy!

Second, naturally, a Throne Speech would provide the Opposition parties with additional opportunities to criticize the government. That is, by not having a Throne Speech, through the mechanism of merely continuing the old session, the government is able to eliminate a week to a week and a half of inconvenient Legislative Question Periods.

During that time, the Opposition instead will be reduced to sending out a flurry of media releases – much easier for all concerned to ignore, especially Alberta’s lackadaisical and easily distracted media.

Now, this does not mean the Opposition parties will have nothing to shoot at or no gallery in which to shoot at it. There must still be a budget, and therefore a Budget Speech, and the constitution of Canada requires that the Legislature get together once a year, so some criticism is inevitable.

Still, the lack of a Throne Speech will reduce the government’s pain not inconsiderably, and shortening the Legislative session also means it will be less obvious just how unambitious the government’s legislative agenda is this time around.

So, from Ms. Redford’s perspective, there is a lot to commend the idea of getting into the Legislature, fulfilling its constitutional obligations and getting the heck out!

Finally, there is the delicate matter of the PC Party’s upcoming annual general meeting, which is scheduled to take place in Edmonton in November 2013 and which this year inconveniently includes a leadership review for Ms. Redford, as is that party’s policy.

As Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid recently pointed out, when it comes to reviews like this, the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta (as the party is legally known) “has established quite the bloodthirsty tradition of palace revolt.”

Faced with Alberta’s recent Bitumen Bungle brouhaha, Ms. Redford could still face a considerable rebellion among the party faithful – many of whom continue to be traditional Prairie-style conservatives, that is, inclined to see a need for austerity and not at all comfortable with the new coalition Ms. Redford and Finance Minister Doug Horner would like to build with public service unions, teachers, and socially progressive voters, especially women and young people.

What to do? If Ms. Redford’s government pursues tough cost-cutting policies, she’ll almost certainly blow up the coalition that may be her only hope to survive in 2015.

If she doesn’t, she may be in deep trouble with her own troops in November 2013.

Best, then, to do as little as possible until the next known crisis – the leadership review – has passed. Ergo, no Throne Speech and the shortest possible Legislative session.

Class dismissed!

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

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