Longest sitting day in Alberta legislature history ends after 46 hours

The longest day in the history of the Alberta legislature wrapped up just before noon Friday after the NDP filibustered through two straight all-nighters to stop changes to access and privacy protections for gay-straight alliances.

The session day started at 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday and ended 46 hours and 20 minutes later, Speaker Nathan Cooper said.

"This is the longest Wednesday, the longest single sitting day in Alberta's history," Cooper told the house.

Though MLAs debated Bill 13, the Senate Election Act, the prime focus of the NDP filibuster was Bill 8, which amends the Education Act.

NDP MLAs say the bill puts LGBTQ students, teachers and staff at risk by rolling back protections they put in place when they were in government. The United Conservative government insisted that will not happen.

Janis Irwin, the NDP MLA for Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood, is the only openly gay member of the legislative assembly. She thanked the LGBTQ people who reached out to her over the course of the debate.

"We see you, we value you, we love you," she said. "And no matter the outcome of this vote, we will continue to stand with you."

The opposition introduced six amendments during the filibuster, including one that would have given principals a two-week deadline to grant permission to students who request GSAs in their schools. There is no deadline under Bill 8.

Every NDP amendment was defeated.

The spring session was the first under a United Conservative Party led by Premier Jason Kenney. His United Conservative Party won 53 seats in the April 16 election. The NDP won the remaining 24 seats, making them the only opposition party in the legislature.

'Fear and smear'

The rhetoric in the legislature was pointed and at times felt like a rehash of the spring election campaign.

In response to questions from the NDP, both Kenney and government house leader Jason Nixon accused the opposition NDP of engaging in "fear and smear" or being unable to accept the election results.

They often told the NDP that they should accept the verdict of Albertans who gave the UCP 55 per cent of the vote. At one point, Nixon accused NDP MLAs of jockeying for attention in an non-existent leadership race.

On June 19, Kenney passed out earplugs to members of his caucus during a debate into Bill 9, which delays wage arbitration talks for 180,000 nurses, teachers and government workers until the end of October

The next day, Kenney's office said it was the premier's attempt to raise morale among caucus members settling in for a sitting that continued all night. The story changed 24 hours later when Kenney said in a television interview that he was giving the earplugs to a UCP MLA with tinnitus.

Nixon acknowledged some regret about the incident on Friday as it distracted from the government's agenda.

"I don't think you will see a repeat of it, and the people that were involved probably would not do it again," he said.

Nixon denied that the UCP was showing disrespect to the opposition and the Albertans who voted for them.

The NDP said the UCP needs to remember they have a role to play in the legislature as the official opposition.

"They didn't get 100 per cent of the vote, and the last time I checked we don't live in a one-party state," NDP house leader Deron Bilous said.

Future labour unrest?

The UCP government passed 13 pieces of legislation in the session that began May 21.

Bills included a repeal of the carbon tax, the start of a phased-in cut that will lower the corporate tax rate from 12 to eight per cent, and changes to banked overtime, holiday pay and union certification votes. The government also lowered the youth minimum wage from $15 to $13 an hour.

Labour opposition to the passage of Bill 9 also sets the stage for possible future job action. Public sector unions believe the bill sets the stage for legislated wage rollbacks.

The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees is seeking an injunction against the bill. A hearing has been scheduled for the end of July.

Hoffman said the NDP caucus was proud of getting the government to commit to funding increases to student enrolment this fall and to pressuring them into appointing an out-of-province prosecutor to advise the RCMP on the investigation into fraud in the 2017 UCP leadership vote.

MLAs are now breaking for the summer. They are scheduled to return on Oct. 22.

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