EDMONTON — The first day of the Alberta legislature's fall sitting signalled the government's intention to focus on the economy and the Opposition determined to hold the United Conservatives to account for mismanaging COVID-19.
NDP Leader Rachel Notley accused Premier Jason Kenney and his cabinet of negligently downplaying the fourth wave of COVID-19, then disappearing in the summer as cases soared, resulting in hundreds of deaths and pushing hospital capacity to the breaking point.
“The premier went on vacation. He left Alberta without leadership,” Notley said in question period Monday as she pointed across the aisle at Kenney and his cabinet.
“Where was your health minister? Your deputy premier? Your finance minister? A single solitary adult over there? Where were they?”
Kenney responded that every jurisdiction has had COVID-19 hard times and the NDP’s criticism is not helpful to solving the crisis.
“They (the NDP) have always craved an Australian-style hard and brutal lockdown, the consequences of which would require turning this province into a virtual police state,” said Kenney.
The premier has said he didn’t react with renewed rules to address the soaring summer case numbers until Sept. 3, because he didn’t believe a COVID-19-weary population would follow them.
The numbers have been dropping slowly in recent weeks, but there are still 182 people infected with the virus receiving intensive care.
The health system has had to double its normal amount of ICU beds, forcing the cancellation of thousands of non-urgent surgeries, and call in the military to handle the surge.
Kenney said there will be a review eventually of how his government handled the COVID-19 pandemic. He rejected the NDP’s call for an all-party committee with subpoena powers to get to the bottom of what happened over the summer.
Now is not the time to pull medical staff away from their duties, he said.
The legislature is to sit for five of the next six weeks through to the beginning of December. There's to be a one-week break around Remembrance Day.
Government house leader Jason Nixon said there will be 18 to 20 bills focused on creating jobs and diversifying the economy.
“I will be putting forward a very robust legislative agenda inside the legislature. And we will be going very quickly around the clock — morning, noon and night — to be able to fulfil that agenda for Albertans,” Nixon said.
Kenney introduced the first bill Monday to streamline how professional requirements are processed for those from out of province.
“Occupations are regulated inconsistently across Canada, creating a patchwork of credential recognition that holds back skilled and certified workers,” Kenney told a news conference.
The bill would affect more than 100 regulated professions, including nurses, accountants, real estate agents, firefighters, paramedics, engineers, insurance adjusters and horse jockeys.
Professional bodies would have to make a decision on an application within a month of receiving it and establish timely appeals for those rejected.
They would also have to make available online a breakdown of what documents are required to apply and the fees involved.
Kenney said the legislation, coupled with low taxes, high oil prices and COVID-19 receding, would help Alberta’s bottom line rebound.
“We are moving, I believe, probably into a strong and sustained cycle of economic growth,” said Kenney. “(But) we are hearing about labour shortages, not just in Alberta, but across the economy in North America, (so) this is going to become an emerging challenge.”
Infrastructure Minister Prasad Panda introduced legislation to codify how capital projects are given a green light and a 20-year strategy for capital planning.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 25, 2021.
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press