Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Premier Jim Prentice has given himself a deadline

The third session of the 28th legislature will open with a throne speech Nov. 17, two weeks later than the original start date, the province announced Thursday.

A speech from the throne will set a new direction for the province, outlining its agenda and priorities. Prorogation kills any legislation left on the order paper, including a pair of controversial pension reform bills that became a flashpoint for criticism last spring. The province says it has no plans to bring the bills back before the house.

Prentice, who was sworn in as the province’s 16th premier earlier this week, will first have to run in a byelection if he’ll have a seat in the legislature when the fall sitting opens in less than two months.

To make that deadline, he has until Oct. 2 to call byelections for himself and two cabinet ministers — Stephen Mandel and Gordon Dirks — who are also without legislature seats.

A byelection race must last 28 days, followed by a legislated 10-day period that must be observed before race results are declared legal, and then another eight-day window to allow for appeals and recounts, Elections Alberta confirmed.

Asked Thursday when he plans to announce the byelections, Prentice said they will happen “imminently.”

Prentice has not indicated which riding he plans to run in, but he has said he would prefer to represent an area of northwest Calgary. That would require a sitting Progressive Conservative MLA to resign.

Mandel, appointed health minister, is expected to run in the Edmonton-Whitemud seat made vacant by Dave Hancock’s recent resignation. Dirks, the new education minister, is expected to run in Alison Redford’s former Calgary-Elbow seat.

The Tories opened nominations for both ridings this week, setting Oct. 1 as the nomination date for Calgary and Oct. 2 for Edmonton. Candidates have seven days to enter the race.

While the sitting will begin later than originally planned, Prentice said it will still last for the intended 20 days, meaning it should wrap up Dec. 18.

It remains unclear what legislation the government will tackle this fall. Prentice said Thursday that while the province will still pursue pension reforms, he hasn’t determined if fresh pension legislation could be introduced this fall.

“Anything that government does will begin anew, with a fresh start,” Prentice said.

Plans to overhaul public and private sector pension plans were met with a loud outcry from union and opposition critics during the last session. The government eventually relented by referring the bills to an all-party legislative committee for further study and consultations.

A report from the committee was due back at the start of the fall session. Prentice said that work has been suspended but added the government will consider the submissions in the future.

“I’m anxious to make sure that we look at those and that we draw whatever lessons are possible,” he said.

The province had proposed a series of changes they said would target four public sector plans’ combined unfunded liability of more than $7 billion. The changes would have replaced guaranteed cost of living adjustments with targeted ones, raised the early retirement threshold formula and would have introduced a contribution cap.

Alberta Union of Provincial Employees president Guy Smith said Thursday he was pleased the government killed the “toxic” pair of bills, calling the news a victory.

“We want to continue discussions about pensions. Obviously our goal is to have viable, sustainable pension plans for our members when they retire,” Smith said. “We’re also focusing on joint sponsorship, where we have more control over those plans without the political interference we’ve seen in the past.”

NDP Leader Brian Mason said he’s concerned about the potential for future reforms given Finance Minister Robin Campbell has been instructed by Prentice to address the competitiveness and sustainability of public pensions.

A bill that would have required developers be more transparent about condo fees also died as a result of prorogation.