EDMONTON — Lawmakers at the Alberta legislature have wrapped up a fall sitting that included major legislation and a significant reconfiguration of the political landscape.
Over the last seven weeks, Premier Rachel Notley's NDP government passed new rules to protect students in gay-straight alliances at schools and overhauled laws to give workers more say in safety and in getting compensation if they are hurt on the job.
New rules were brought in to expand participation in elections, crack down on money influencing elections through third-party entities, and implement the legalization of cannabis next summer.
The government also passed legislation to prevent gas and dashes, and rules giving the province and consumers more legal recourse when bots snap up online tickets to concerts and other events.
"We've been working hard for everyday Alberta families," Government House Leader Brian Mason told reporters on Wednesday.
"Our focus has been on practical changes for Albertans."
The sitting saw Alberta's two conservative parties formally push their desks together in the house as the new United Conservative Party.
Jason Kenney won the leadership of the UCP, and is running in a byelection in Calgary Lougheed, with voters going to the polls on Thursday.
The UCP criticized the government for bringing in major, complex legislation, such as changes to workers compensation rules, late in the session with little time for debate.
Mason said the government was willing to keep the legislature sitting.
But he said it was the UCP that wanted to end the session to avoid further fallout from Tuesday's revelation that UCP house leader Jason Nixon had been speaking on changes to sex harassment rules, but had failed to disclose he had once been fined for firing an employee after she complained about sexual harassment by a client.
"They have their tail between their legs and they're just getting out of there as fast as they can," said Mason.
Nixon dismissed Mason's statements. He said while the party had concerns with the complexity of the legislation, they put forward the amendments they wanted to, and said it was Mason pushing to get out.
"That's just not how the process went," said Nixon.
"Mr. Mason last week was trying to get us to come out, and was already expressing frustration to us that we wanted to go further into session, but we believed we needed to, to get our job done."
There were also changes to the Alberta Party, which doubled its size in the house when party leader Greg Clark was joined by former NDP backbencher Karen McPherson.
The new caucus of two got amendments passed on two bills.
Clark called it a "fractious" session, with the UCP and the NDP staking out sharply opposing policy viewpoints.
"I see the legislature getting ever more polarized, and that concerns me," said Clark.
The Alberta Party, with its commitment to social progressivism and fiscal conservatism, is seeking to grow by positioning itself as the centrist alternative to the UCP and NDP.
Clark quit as party leader during the session, and the party is now running a leadership contest.
Clark remains interim leader and has not ruled out running for the top job again.