Managing expectations Notley’s biggest challenge
After years of toiling on the opposition benches, NDP Premier Rachel Notley says it took a while to get used to heading a majority government.
After her government selected the Speaker, deputy Speaker and deputy committee chair on its first day in the legislature, she turned to the three colleagues who, with her, previously made up the entire NDP caucus and exclaimed: “Oh my goodness. We just won three votes. It’s a career high.”
Notley concedes it’s “kind of cool” to now have a 53-seat majority.
But taking the reins after 44 consecutive years of Progressive Conservative rule has not been easy for the New Democrats, tackling sensitive political issues from reviewing energy royalties and hiking corporate taxes to boosting the province’s climate change levy on large greenhouse gas emitters.
The first 34 days in power have been a whirlwind for the quartet and their new troubadours. The days have been long and hard.
“I’ve only been doing this for about a month, or so, and I’m just so tired,” Education Minister Dave Eggen told the legislature Thursday as he paid homage to the 17 years that Tory David Hancock served as a government MLA, including 16 as government house leader.
Aside from the logistical dilemma of finding qualified and experienced staff and advisers — with some of the political hires generating their own headlines — it has been a challenge for the NDP to get up to speed on the many controversial and critical files now.
The standard response to questions from the media has been: “We’re still being briefed on that.”
Notley noted the government has been denied access to any advice provided to the outgoing Tories on a multitude of files.
“Incoming governments don’t get access to outgoing governments so it takes a little while to fire up the advice on things we need to know stuff on,” she said in an interview during the sitting.
But it has been a historic beginning for Alberta’s first new governing party in 44 years.
The parties unanimously passed the NDP flagship Bill 1 — banning union and corporate political donations — but not without vigorous complaints about loopholes in the legislation.
The NDP government then proceeded to gore more oxen, like reviewing energy royalties, hiking minimum wage, increasing corporate taxes, killing the flat tax on income, freezing tuitions, and moving on climate change.
“This government didn’t shy away from tackling the big questions early,” noted political analyst David Taras. “We saw a lot of bold moves on the chess board.”
Government House Leader Brian Mason said his government has attempted to follow through on as many promises as it can, given the fiscal crunch.
Notley, at times, appeared exasperated when questioned about when the NDP government was going to act on many of the wrongs it railed against when the Tories ruled Alberta.
“After 44 years, it’s not all going to get fixed,” she said.