EDMONTON — A new legislature session has begun with the Alberta government promising to invest directly in oil and gas, if necessary, and to pass a law that would punish people who block roads and rail lines.
The throne speech read by Lt.-Gov. Lois Mitchell on Tuesday said Premier Jason Kenney's government is prepared to support companies and invest directly in the resource industry if that's what it takes to boost Alberta's wellspring industry.
"My government will do everything it can to reduce unacceptably high levels of unemployment and get people back to work," said the speech which outlines the government's goal and commitments for the session.
Kenney's United Conservatives were elected last spring on a mandate to create jobs and get more oil and gas infrastructure built.
It has been a struggle. The Opposition NDP estimates 50,000 full-time jobs have been lost in recent months. This week, Teck Resources Ltd. announced it would not proceed with a $20-billion oilsands mine in northern Alberta.
Teck pegged its decision in part on economic uncertainty arising from protesters setting up blockades on rail lines in support of the hereditary chiefs of the Wet'suwet'en First Nation, who oppose a natural gas pipeline project on their land in British Columbia.
There was one such blockade of a rail line last week on Edmonton's city limits, but it was up for less than a day before a few counter-protesters arrived and carted off a barrel and signs to free up the tracks.
The government introduced a bill after the throne speech that proposes stiffer penalties for anyone who tries to shut down critical economic infrastructure, including railways.
The throne speech said the bill would make it easier for police to intervene in blockades rather than wait for a court injunction.
The session is also to see amendments to allow referendums not related to constitutional issues.
There is to be legislation to replace the federal parole board with a provincial one.
The focus of the session comes Thursday when Finance Minister Travis Toews introduces the 2020-2021 budget.
The province is promising renewed belt-tightening to erase a recent string of budget deficits and to get back to a balanced budget before the end of Kenney's first term.
While the government says it is continuing to fund health and education as before, the Opposition NDP says program changes coupled with growth and inflation are effectively creating multimillion-dollar cuts to frontline services.
The NDP gave some of its legislature tickets to the throne speech to Albertans who it says have been hurt by changes to health and education funding and failed UCP job policies.
NDP Leader Rachel Notley said the changes are having a major impact on people's lives and she wanted to give Kenney a chance to look those people in the eye.
"This session should be about undoing the damage that has been done," said Notley.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2020