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Watch the Throne (Speech)
A rather dull speech from the King's representative set the stage for Premier Smith's power grab.
The first Speech from the Throne under Premier Danielle Smith took place Tuesday, kicking off the latest legislative session. To be blunt, it was pretty boring stuff.
Those who expected to hear Lieutenant Governor (LG) — pronounced lef-tenant for some inexplicable reason — Salma Lakhani express the premier’s well-known views on COVID and vaccines will have been left sorely disappointed, although there were many nods to the now-renamed Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act.
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For those wondering, yes, it is completely normal for the LG to repeat the government’s talking points. It’s literally what her job is — anything else would be seen as partisanship, which she is supposed to be above and beyond.
This is, of course, yet another reason to do away with the monarchy and its meaningless formalities, or as the LG called it, our “precious system of government.”
Lakhani began the speech outlining the government’s major priorities for this legislative session — inflation and affordability, a collapsed healthcare system and “unprecedented interference and overreach from the federal government” into provincial jurisdiction.
These priorities are not all that different from what you would have heard from a Premier Jason Kenney, who people might forget also spent a lot of time shrieking about how persecuted the wealthiest province in confederation is.
There was no indication from the speech that Smith, for example, is going around making phone calls to berate businesses that require employees to be vaccinated.
“Albertans are an independent and self-reliant people,” the LG said with a completely straight face — a testament to her administrative skills.
That said, “during times of crisis and hardship, Albertans expect our government to use our vast resource wealth to assist those in need,” Lakhani added.
To that effect, the LG announced a series of targeted relief measures that wouldn’t be out of place coming from an increasingly-neoliberal NDP — giving $600 to seniors, parents with young children and those receiving other government assistance, and suspending the entire provincial fuel tax for at least six months.
Lakhani incorrectly said all Albertans would benefit from suspending the fuel tax, despite the reality that not all Albertans — especially those in Calgary and Edmonton — drive. But that’s not the LG’s fault. She’s just reading what the premier wrote for her.
The LG reiterated that the government will be re-indexing benefits and taxes to inflation — something the NDP has been campaigning on doing if they’re back in power.
Yet, as Public Interest Alberta executive director Bradley Lafortune noted, the words ‘affordable housing’ didn’t appear at all in the speech, demonstrating the depth of the government’s commitment to affordability issues.
Lakhani spent the rest of the speech setting the stage for the revised Sovereignty Act — the centrepiece of Premier Smith’s UCP leadership platform — citing alleged federal overreach in its gun control, climate and energy, health care, and child care policies.
She also alluded to impending healthcare privatization by echoing Smith’s call for “charter facilities” to conduct certain surgical procedures. The premier has previously mused about “charter hospitals” modelled after charter schools, where public funds flow to private facilities.
After the LG’s speech, Premier Smith and Justice Minister Tyler Shandro — sporting a new moustache —held a presser to outline her Bill 1 — the aforementioned Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act.
But while its revised title softened the separatist edges of Smith’s leadership platform, the legislation concentrates power in cabinet by allowing it to rewrite laws without legislative oversight.
Smith is using the rhetoric of defending against federal overreach to engage in a little overreach of her own, one which she promises will be used “selectively and thoughtfully.”
Naturally, when asked whether allowing Alberta’s cabinet to rewrite federal laws was itself an overreach, Smith and Shandro denied anything of that sort was being done, to the audible exasperation of the reporters in the room with them.
The premier said the goal is to “re-educate” the federal government on the appropriate balance between federal and provincial jurisdiction. Rather than challenge federal legislation the province disapproves of in court, the provincial government is “putting up a shield” and “reversing the onus” by forcing the feds to challenge provincial legislation in court.
Smith said her combative approach is already working. Federal Environment Minister Stephen Guilbeault specifically cited provincial jurisdiction when asked why the Canadian government refused to endorse the phase out of oil and gas at COP27.
“I hope we never have to use this bill,” Smith said.
With a federal government as feckless as this one, she may never have reason to.
Finally, Jason Kenney announced his “immediate resignation” as the MLA for Calgary-Lougheed right after Smith’s presser.
In his resignation later, Kenney decried political polarization, as if he played no role in cultivating it over his 25 years in electoral politics:
From the far left we see efforts to cancel our history, delegitimize our historically grounded institutions and customs, and divide society dangerously along identity lines. And from the far right we see a vengeful anger and toxic cynicism which often seeks to tear things down, rather than build up and improve our imperfect institutions.
Where would the far right ever get those ideas?
Kenney also hinted at a desire to be respected as an elder statesman in his post-political career, “contributing to our democratic life by sharing some of what I have learned on a range of issues.”