Kenney to take his seat as UCP leader, as Alberta legislature starts spring session

Kenney to take his seat as UCP leader, as Alberta legislature starts spring session

Some chairs will be empty, others will have moved, but the biggest change in the Alberta legislature this session will come when Jason Kenney finally takes his seat as leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition.

The spring session starts Thursday when the government lays out its agenda in a throne speech read by Lieut.-Gov. Lois Mitchell.

But for political watchers, the real action will begin with Monday's question period, when Kenney faces off for the first time against Premier Rachel Notley.

Notley is an able parliamentarian, quick on her feet and unafraid to fire back during question period.

Kenney, the United Conservative Party leader, is an articulate political veteran who honed his skills over two decades as an MP and cabinet minister in the House of Commons.

After spending nearly two years uniting the Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties, he is no doubt eager to finally lead the UCP in its campaign to form the next government.

The daily sparring between Kenney and Notley will set the tone for the next provincial election, which is expected to be called in next year.

Question period isn't the only event of interest on Monday. The premier plans to introduce a motion in support of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion to the West Coast.

The purpose of the motion is to send a message to B.C. and all of Canada that Alberta MLAs are united in the need to get the project started.

Raising the bar

Kenney will likely continue to pummel the NDP on the province's spiralling levels of debt and on the need to get tougher with B.C. and the federal government on the pipeline issue.

He has vowed to raise the bar on debate within the Alberta legislature.

UCP House Leader Jason Nixon acknowledged MLAs have talked about that issue. While they sometimes need to be passionate while fighting for their constituents, they want to keep things civil.

"Jason believes, and all of our caucus believes, that a better way to do that for our constituents is to make it less personal and focus more on the issues," Nixon said.

He said MLAs can get frustrated when the government doesn't answer questions or becomes overly partisan.

"We're going to try and rise above that. There will  be days where we fail at that goal, but in general that will be our goal as we head back into session."

The UCP has lost two MLAs from its 27-member caucus over the last month.

Don MacIntyre, the MLA for Innisfail-Sylvan Lake, resigned in February after he was charged with sexual assault and sexual interference.

On Monday, former Wildrose leader Brian Jean stepped down as MLA for Fort McMurray-Conklin.

Jean's resignation surprised no one. He has kept a low profile since Oct. 28, when he finished a distant second to Kenney in the UCP leadership vote. 

When the fall session started two days later, Jean rejected Kenney's offer to take on a critic position within caucus.

Notley has to call byelections in Fort McMurray-Conklin and Innisfail-Sylvan Lake within six months of Jean and MacIntyre's resignations. 

Now we are three 

The Alberta Party has gained an MLA since the end of the  fall session on Dec. 13. Rick Fraser, a former Progressive Conservative who left the UCP caucus in September to sit as an independent, is now with the Alberta Party.

Fraser will join Calgary-Elbow MLA Greg Clark and Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill MLA Karen McPherson as members of the legislature's third party.

He ran in the Alberta Party's leadership race, which was won by former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel.

Fraser has been named caucus leader, while Clark, the party's former leader, will assume the role of house leader.  

Mandel has said he doesn't plan to seek a seat in the legislature until the next provincial election and will spend most of his time on the road, recruiting candidates and drumming up support.

Clark said the newly expanded caucus doesn't plan to change its approach in the legislature.

"In question period, we try to ask questions that could at least be answered if the government chose to answer them," Clark said. "We try not to ask rhetorical questions or hyper-partisan questions."

Fildebrandt stays independent

Derek Fildebrandt, once the finance critic for the Wildrose, will sit as the legislature's lone independent MLA.

He will be joined in the chamber's northwest corner by the Alberta Liberals' lone MLA David Swann and Richard Starke, the legislature's remaining Progressive Conservative MLA.

Fildebrandt left the UCP caucus last summer after it was revealed he rented out his taxpayer subsidized apartment on Airbnb and was facing a hit and run charge.

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He said he paid back the money he earned on Airbnb. He was found guilty of leaving the scene of an accident and failing to notify the owner of the damaged vehicle. He was fined $402.

In February, Fildebrandt pleaded guilty to shooting a deer on private land. Less than an hour later, Kenney announced Fildebrandt would not be allowed to rejoin the UCP caucus.

Fildebrandt plans to introduce a private members motion to cut MLA salaries by five per cent until the provincial budget is balanced.