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May 04, 2021 • 3 days ago • 2 minute read • 17 Comments
Duane Bratt is a political science professor at Mount Royal University. Photo by Supplied /Postmedia Political watchers are skeptical of claims that health concerns were the motivation behind the Alberta government’s decision to suspend the legislature for two weeks.
As the province faces the highest number of COVID-19 cases per capita in the country, some are speculating that Premier Jason Kenney may be trying to avoid hard questions from the Opposition about his decisions during the pandemic or get some distance between himself and dissenters in his caucus.
On Sunday, the day before MLAs were supposed to return after one week in their constituencies, house leader Jason Nixon announced that the legislature was suspended until at least May 17.
“With COVID-19 continuing to spread across Alberta, the government has determined that having MLAs return to Edmonton from all over the province after constituency week is no longer prudent,” he said in a statement.
Nixon’s press secretary, Paul Hamnett, said Monday that chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw did not specifically recommend adjourning the spring sitting.
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Mount Royal University political science professor Duane Bratt said if the decision was really about rising case numbers, Kenney could have made the announcement on Thursday when he released the latest round of restrictions.
That would have led to less blowback than what the premier is facing now as people question the government’s motivation, Bratt said.
Instead, the announcement came after a weekend with reports of crowded patios and an anti-restrictions rodeo attended by thousands of people.
“He did not want to walk into the legislature and be attacked by the NDP and by members of his own caucus,” Bratt said.
When asked whether the legislature was shut down to avoid criticism during a session, the premier’s office passed the query on to Nixon’s office. Postmedia had not received a response as of press time.
Along with Kenney feeling the pressure of Alberta’s growing case numbers, last month about one-quarter of UCP MLAs spoke out publicly against the government’s restrictions.
“So he felt he was wedged in,” Bratt said.
Former Progressive Conservative MLA Heather Klimchuk said the legislature has policies in place for MLAs to attend safely and she doesn’t think the decision to shut it down was health-related.
“I believe it’s a distraction. I think it was the wrong thing to do. Albertans are judging, they began to judge yesterday, the moment it was rolled out,” she said Monday.
Klimchuk said Kenney is skilled at handling question period and likely is not avoiding the Opposition, but speculated he may be trying to put some space between himself and the dissenters in his own caucus.
“The challenges when you have a fractured caucus that has gone on record saying they’re not happy with the measures that he is taking, that’s always on your mind as a leader, because it becomes a question of who can you trust,” she said.
Both Bratt and Klimchuk say Alberta’s question period could be run virtually. Right now cabinet and legislative committee meetings continue to happen, with some MLAs calling in.
“It’s absolutely doable. It’s just a question of the logistics and getting all that in place,” Klimchuk said.
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