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Legislative reports: Alberta.

The Spring Sitting of the Second Session of the Twenty-Fifth Legislature adjourned on May 14, 2002 after 37 sitting days. At the conclusion of the sitting, 28 Government Bills, 3 Private Members' Public Bills and 1 Private Bill were passed by the Assembly. Three Government Bills were left on the Order Paper.

The second session began on February 26, 2002 with the Speech from the Throne, delivered by Alberta's Lieutenant Governor, Lois Hole. It began with a moment of silence to mark the passing of Princess Margaret and former Lieutenant Governor H.A. (Bud) Olson and an expression of support and appreciation for the armed forces serving in Afghanistan. The speech focused on initiatives to enhance the health, education and economy of the province.

Some of the Bills passed during the spring sitting include:

* Bill 9, Child Welfare Amendment Act 2002, introduced by Children's Services Minister Iris Evans, amends the current legislation to facilitate the inter-provincial movement of children with child welfare involvement and streamlines the process for obtaining emergency apprehension orders;

* Bill 12, Education Services Settlement Act, introduced by Learning Minister Lyle Oberg, establishes a three person Arbitration Panel, with one member appointed by the Alberta Teachers' Association, one by the Alberta School Boards Association with the Chair appointed by the Minister of Human Resources and Employment, to settle a breakdown in negotiations for a new collective agreement between teachers and several school boards;

* Bill 20, Justice Statutes Amendment Act, 2002, introduced by Minister of Justice David Hancock, amends several statutes including the Fatal Accidents Act to provide for increased entitlements for surviving adults and children -- the Survival of Actions Act is also amended to bring Alberta in line with other western Canadian jurisdictions by restricting compensation to a deceased's estate to actual financial losses resulting from death, not for future or anticipated losses;

* Bill 26, Workers' Compensation Amendment Act, 2002, introduced by Human Resources and Employment Minister Clint Dunford, amends the Act by, among other things, ensuring the independence of the WCB Appeals Commission by separating it from the WCB, providing that Appeals Commission staff will no longer be WCB employees and creating a medical panel to resolve differences in medical opinion that affect a worker's claim;

* Bill 29, Intestate Succession Amendment Act, 2002, introduced by Minister of Justice David Hancock, provides for the right of an "adult interdependent partner", defined as "a person in a common law or same sex relationship of at least three years or where there is a child of the relationship", to share in the estate of that person's partner should the partner die without a will. Bill 29 was introduced in response to an Alberta Court of Queen's Bench ruling that struck down the parts of the Intestate Succession Act as unconstitutional.

* Bill 30, Adult Interdependent Relationships Act, was introduced by Attorney General and Government House Leader David Hancock just prior to the adjournment of the Spring Sitting and has been held over for further consideration in the fall. The Bill amends several Alberta Acts that set out financial and property benefits and responsibilities for people in non-married relationships that involve economic and emotional dependency. The Bill covers a range of personal relationships that fall outside the traditional institution of marriage, including platonic relationships where two people agree to share emotional and economic responsibilities, common law or same sex relationships of not less than three years and relationships of some permanence where there is a child of the relationship.

Budget 2002

On March 19, 2002, Minister of Finance Patricia Nelson presented the Budget and estimates for the 2002-03 fiscal year. The Budget Speech noted the challenges faced by the province due to the dramatic drop in the price of oil and gas and the economic uncertainty caused by the events of September 11. She reaffirmed the Government's commitment to balancing the provincial budget while maintaining funding in priority areas. The Budget increases the base budget for the Department of Health and Wellness by $468 million to $6.8 billion, an increase of 7.3 per cent. The Department of Learning also received an increase in its budget of 4.7 per cent to $4.7 billion, while the Department of Children's Services received an increase of $675 million -- an increase of 4.2 per cent. The Minister projected total revenues of $20 billion for 2002-03, a decline of $1.7 billion or 5.6 per cent from 2001-02. Expenditures were projected to be $19.2 billion, a reduction of $1.7 billion or 8.1 per cent from the previous fiscal year. Revenue from natural resources is expected to decline 37 per cent from last year.

Private Members' Public Bills

Three Private Members' Bills were passed during the Spring Sitting. They were:

* Bill 202, Environmental Protection and Enhancement (Clean-up Instructions) Amendment Act, sponsored by Mary Anne Jablonski (PC, Red Deer North), allows a Director appointed under the Act to immediately direct a person responsible for a polluting substance to restore the area affected by the release of the substance to the Director's satisfaction;

* Bill 205, School Trustee Statutes Amendment Act, 2002, sponsored by Mary O'Neill (PC, St. Albert), disqualifies employees of school boards, charter schools or private schools from election as school board trustees, unless on a leave of absence, and strengthens the disclosure requirements for trustees of pecuniary interests.

* Bill 206, Fisheries (Alberta) Amendment Act, 2002, introduced by Ray Danyluk (PC, Lac La Biche-St. Paul), allows the Minister responsible to order any measures deemed necessary to reduce the number of bird or animal species which are harming, or have the potential to harm, fish or fish habitat.

Privilege

Brian Mason (ND, Edmonton-Highlands), raised a purported question of privilege on March 11 alleging that Premier Klein had misled the Assembly by stating that Bill 12 was not a punitive action against Alberta teachers. He alleged that this statement was misleading in light of his reading of the provisions of the Bill. On March 12, Speaker Kowalski ruled that the provisions of the Bill were open to various subjective interpretations, that the matter was best characterized as a disagreement among members of the Assembly, and accordingly, there was no prima facie question of privilege.

On March 14, Mr. Mason again rose on a purported question of privilege. He alleged that the Leader of the Official Opposition, in nominating two members to the Electoral Boundaries Commission, had failed to consult with the leader of the third party New Democrats as required by the Electoral Boundaries Commission Act. In accordance with the Act, the Speaker appointed four members to the Commission on March 14. Dr. Ken Nicol, Leader of the Official Opposition, confirmed that he did not consult with the third party based on his interpretation of the statute.

In his March 18 ruling, Speaker Kowalski noted that while the nomination and appointment of the members of the Commission involves certain actors in the Assembly, it does not involve the Assembly itself. Therefore, while a very serious issue, the failure of the Leader of the Opposition to meet his statutory obligation to consult the Leader of the third party did not constitute a prima facie question of privilege. In the interests of fairness and compliance with the statutory requirements he declared the appointments of Official Opposition's nominees a nullity. Ultimately the same two individuals were nominated by the Leader of the Official Opposition after consultation with the Leader of the third party.

Official Opposition House Leader, Debby Carlson (Liberal, Edmonton-Ellerslie), raised a purported point of privilege on March 19, alleging that Solicitor General, Heather Forsyth, had deliberately misled the House in a series of answers to questions posed to her in the Assembly. Ms Carlson alleged that the answers, concerning the classification and reporting requirements for sexual offenders on probation, were contradictory and at odds with the policy manual of the Solicitor General's own department. In response, the Minister indicated that it was not her intention to deliberately mislead the Assembly. She went on to clarify the responses she had made to the questions at issue. On March 20, Speaker Kowalski ruled that while there was an inconsistency in the Minister's statements, there was not a prima facie question of privilege. He noted that it would be difficult for him to conclude that a contempt of the House arose every time a Minister misstates departmental policy.

On April 11, Ms Carlson again rose on a purported point of privilege, contending that the Minister of Finance Patricia Nelson and Premier Klein were in contempt of the Assembly by allegedly not complying with the Financial Administration Act with respect to certain supposed financial arrangements involving the Swan Hills waste treatment plant. The Government argued that the provisions in question were never triggered. In his April 16 ruling, Speaker Kowalski stated that for there to be a prima facie question of privilege there had to be some link to the proceedings of the Assembly which demonstrates how a member's rights were interfered with, and that such a link had not been demonstrated. He went on to indicate that he was being asked to give a legal interpretation of the Financial Administration Act which was not the role of the Chair. Accordingly, he ruled that there was not a prima facie question of privilege.

On April 15, Hugh MacDonald (Liberal, Edmonton-Gold Bar) raised a purported question of privilege based on the refusal of his request to access Hansard's audio tapes of proceedings of the Assembly in order to determine whether a particular interjection had been made by another Member. Mr. MacDonald stated that he had been told that requests for access to audio recordings would only be granted in relation to his own comments in the Assembly and not those of another Member. The second basis of the purported question of privilege related to the accuracy of Hansard in relation to proceedings. Mr. MacDonald stated that an interjection of another Member, which he clearly heard in the Assembly, had not been recorded in Hansard.

Speaker Kowalski ruled that there was no prima facie question of privilege and characterized the purported question of privilege as a matter related to the administration of the Assembly. He noted that the purpose of the recordings is to facilitate the publication of Hansard. He restated the rule that no Member can listen to another Member's remarks without the authorization of the Speaker and that this authorization would only be granted in the most exceptional of circumstances. He pointed out that the policy was not a new one, and had been in place for nearly three decades. Concerning the accuracy of Hansard, Speaker Kowalski indicated that it is a well-established principle that Hansard does not report injections unless they elicit a response from a person recognized by the Chair.

Deputy Premier and Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development Shirley McClellan raised a purported question of privilege on April 15 concerning certain comments attributed to her during Question Period by the Leader of the Official Opposition, Dr. Ken Nicol. He asked her about certain "off-mike" comments he alleged she made about the Calgary Catholic School Board. Mrs. McClellan emphatically denied making the statement. Speaker Kowalski ruled on April 17 and found that Dr. Nicol's question, while a violation of the Standing Orders of the Assembly, did not constitute a prima facie question of privilege. At the Speaker's invitation, Dr. Nicol apologized and withdrew the comments.

Other Matters

Speaker Kowalski hosted a ceremony recognizing the Muslim Festival of Eid-ul-Adha in the Rotunda of the Alberta Legislature Building on Tuesday March 5, 2002. Eid-ul-Adha means "Festival of Sacrifice", and is celebrated by Muslims worldwide.

On Monday March 18, 2002, Prince Michael of Kent (KVCO), a cousin of the Queen, addressed the Members of the Legislative Assembly from the floor of the Chamber as part of the Golden Jubilee celebration of Queen Elizabeth II's assession to the throne. Members gave their unanimous consent for Prince Michael to address the Assembly.

The same day Speaker Kowalski hosted a ceremony in honour of Alberta's Francophone community. Joining the Speaker at the ceremony were Dr. Nicol, Leader of the Official Opposition, Raj Pannu, Leader of the New Democrat Opposition, Denis Ducharme, (P.C. Bonnyville-Cold Lake) Chair of the Francophone Secretariat, and Ernest Chauvet, President of L'Association Canadienne-Francaise de L'Alberta.

Upon the recommendation of the Standing Committee on Legislative Offices and a resolution of the Assembly, Brian Fjeldheim was reappointed Chief Electoral Officer of Alberta and Robert Clark was reappointed as Alberta's Ethics Commissioner.

Based on resolutions of the Assembly concurring in the reports of the Select Special Auditor General and Information and Privacy Commissioner Search Committee, chaired by Janis Tarchuk (P.C. Banff-Cochrane), Frederick James Dunn, CA, was appointed Auditor General effective June 1, 2002 and Frank Work was appointed Information and Privacy Commissioner.

By-election

Doug Griffiths, (P.C.) won the by-election for the constituency of Wainwright held April 8, 2002 and was sworn in as a Member of the Legislative Assembly on April 29, 2002. Mr. Griffiths is the youngest MLA currently in the Assembly at 29 years of age.
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Publication:Canadian Parliamentary Review
Date:Jun 22, 2002
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