Alberta to intervene in legal challenges to Trans Mountain Pipeline: throne speech

Alberta to intervene in legal challenges to Trans Mountain Pipeline: throne speech

Alberta's NDP government plans to seek intervenor status on any legal challenges to the Trans Mountain Pipeline and reduce mandatory school fees by 25 per cent, according to the throne speech read Thursday by Lt.-Gov. Lois Mitchell.

Though the Trans Mountain Pipeline was approved by federal cabinet in November, the project faces legal challenges from environmental groups, First Nations and the cities of Burnaby and Vancouver.

The government sees the pipeline as key to the provincial economy, as it will take Alberta crude to the West Coast where it can fetch higher prices on world markets. The pipeline would also lessen Alberta's dependence on the United States as its sole customer.

Premier Rachel Notley said Alberta would most likely intervene in challenges asking for reviews at the federal level.

"We are comfortable with the process that has occurred up to this point and we want to make sure that new processes or new priorities don't suddenly get injected as a result of judicial intervention," she said at a news conference Thursday afternoon. 

The government also plans to work on city charters with Edmonton and Calgary, introduce a consumer bill of rights and introduce legislation to strengthen the child death review process.

In a move to reduce the spiking number of opioid deaths, the government wants to move towards supervised consumption sites and introduce other harm-reduction measures, which were not specified.

Improving the quality of water on First Nations reserves is also part of the government's agenda. The province wants to work with First Nations and the federal government to ensure people have access to clean drinking water.

"Many First Nations communities in Alberta currently have boil water advisories and have for some time," the speech said. "This is unacceptable."

The government also plans to strengthen legislation governing protection of whistleblowers and conflict of interest.

The throne speech outlines these priorities in broad strokes. Specific details will be known when the relevant bills are introduced in the legislature.

School fees

Wildrose leader Brian Jean said he saw nothing in the speech that spoke to a need to get the province's finances in order. 

"We saw lots of flashy buzzwords on making life more affordable and protecting consumers," Jean said. "If they were serious, they would have announced today that they were repealing the damaging carbon tax."

Jean said the Wildrose has supported the elimination of school fees since 2012 so Bill 1 is a first step. As for the potential intervention on challenges to the Trans Mountain pipeline, Jean said he wants to see if the NDP will back up their words with action.

Interim Progressive Conservative Leader Ric McIver said he was not impressed with what he heard in the throne speech. 

"The government is taking $20 out of Albertans' left pocket, putting $5 in the right pocket and expecting to be thanked for it," he said. "They're trying to bribe Albertans with their own money."

The reduction of school fees partially fulfils the NDP's 2015 campaign promise to end them completely.

According to the throne speech, the government will eliminate fees for instructional materials and busing for eligible students. Work to eliminate those fees by the fall is the subject of Bill 1, which was introduced be Thursday afternoon.

The speech also highlights some of the work the government started last year, which includes a cap on electricity rates, the post-secondary tuition freeze and the creation of  long-term care spaces.

The new royalty framework, which came into effect in January, is cited as the reason for an increase in drilling. The government intends to introduce new energy efficiency programs and hold the first renewable energy auction this spring.

The government also reconfirmed its commitment to maintaining funding for schools, hospitals and social services and building infrastructure.