Throne speech could offer clues to NDP direction for next 2 years

Alberta's NDP government will lay out its legislative agenda this afternoon with a speech from the throne as it approaches the halfway mark of its four-year mandate.

On Wednesday, NDP house leader Brian Mason said the speech will focus on improving the situation for Alberta families and making life more affordable.

"We're certainly moving into a recovery year, but people are still hurting and the government is in their corner and is going to take further steps to try and make sure that they can pay for the basic things that they and their families need," he said.

There is speculation the government will introduce legislation to eliminate school fees, one of the NDP's promises during the 2015 election campaign. But Mason wouldn't confirm or deny whether that was happening. 

"I think that there is going to be some consideration of whether or not that's done or not and I think you'll have to stay tuned," he said. 

Since the May 2015 election, the NDP has made substantial legislative changes including election-finance reform, an overhaul of the electricity market and the introduction of the climate leadership program which includes the controversial carbon tax.

The government is also spending $34 billion over five years to build infrastructure and borrowing billions to pay for operating costs, moves that have alarmed the opposition.

Change in focus?

With the election looming in 2019, opposition MLAs are watching if the government will signal a change in direction with Thursday's speech.

"We've seen the government make significant changes to the fabric of the province in the first two years of the mandate," said Wildrose house leader Nathan Cooper.

"It will be very interesting to see if they continue down that path, or if there's a bit of a reset for the government, and what exactly that direction looks like."

Mason acknowledges his government has pursued an active legislative agenda over the past two years. The focus could change as province's economy improves in 2017.

"I think as we enter the recovery phase in the second half of our term that you're going to see a shift as we position Alberta to take maximum advantage of that recovery," he said.

The opposition hopes the government doesn't spend all the extra cash coming from higher oil prices.

Richard Gottfried, the Progressive Conservative MLA for Calgary-Fish Creek, said he would like to see the throne speech acknowledge a need for fiscal responsibility.

"So I hope to see a thread of that, that we actually will move towards a recognition of that responsibility to future generations," he said.

Lt.-Gov. Lois Mitchell will start reading the throne speech around 3 p.m. Thursday. The government will introduce the first bill of the session after she is finished.