ALBERTA

Alberta Legislature All-Night Debate: Bleary-Eyed Politicians Amending Legislation

05/14/2013 11:59 EDT | Updated 07/14/2013 05:12 EDT
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EDMONTON - Alberta politicians pulled an all-nighter in the house early Tuesday morning, with opposition members saying Premier Alison Redford's government is running for the exits amid a cascading train wreck of bad-news stories

"They want out of that house. Every minute they are in there they sink in the polls (and) they run into more problems for their behaviour outside of the house," said Liberal house leader Laurie Blakeman.

Blakeman and other bleary-eyed politicians debated almost until dawn Tuesday morning, mainly on amendments to the proposed Children First Act.

The bill, among other changes, makes it clear that police, social workers, educators and foster parents can share information on youngsters in need.

Alberta Privacy Commissioner Jill Clayton and the opposition say the proposed law needs more safeguards to ensure a child's private information doesn't fall into the wrong hands.

Blakeman said the Liberals managed to have two of their amendments agreed to by Redford's Progressive Conservative majority, but said there was no need to ram the bill through the legislature.

Government house leader Dave Hancock said the all-nighter was as much about opposition gamesmanship as it was about the real-life reality of getting legislation passed.

The bill was at committee stage when parties on all sides debate amendments.

That debate can go on indefinitely unless the government majority brings in the optically unpalatable decision to end it. Hancock said the best way is to let everyone talk out the amendments in one sitting.

"You can do it the easy way or you can do it the hard way, but either way you've got to do it," said Hancock.

He said the opposition knew last night that the government wanted to finish the committee debate on the children's bill, but nevertheless delayed proceedings so it couldn't even begin until the clock was pushing midnight.

"Those are all opposition tactics. Quite appropriate tactics, but nonetheless tactics," he said.

NDP house leader Rachel Notley disagreed, saying the debate wasn't even scheduled to start until the wee hours of the morning.

"They want to get out as soon as they can so they can politick for a premier who is extremely vulnerable right now," said Notley.

The spring sitting has seen Redford's personal popularity numbers drop sharply at the same time she faces a looming party vote on her leadership in November.

Redford's team endured a number of public black eyes, starting with a budget on March 7 that ran up $6.3 billion in red ink despite promises by Redford to balance the books and not run up debt.

The premier has also been criticized for refusing to release details of severance payments paid out to former staffers, for delivering political attack speeches to children and, last week, spending $350,000 to distribute a glossy full-colour brochure on the budget and to remind Albertans that times are tough.

There was also a wildcat walkout by prison guards and the revelation that taxpayers paid to have a former health official go to a private clinic in the U.S. for cancer tests.

The bad news continued Tuesday with government backbencher Peter Sandhu saying he was stepping out of caucus while the ethics commissioner investigates his business dealings.

Hancock said the sitting may be done as early as Wednesday or Thursday. He had previously said he expected the house to sit into late May or early June.

"I've been house leader for 16 years," said Hancock. "I think every year about the beginning of May people start to say, 'When are we going to get out here?'

"You can see that not just on our side of the house (but) on the other side of the house.

"The temperature goes up and I don't just mean the heat outside. It's an intense place."

The government still must pass a bill to legislate a new contract for Alberta's 40,000 teachers.

The labour deal received widespread support from school boards and teacher union locals, but failed to get the unanimous support needed to avoid legislation.

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