The spring session of the Alberta Legislature began last week and both the Tories and Liberals have put forward their legislative agendas.
Tory Premier Ed Stelmach introduced Bill 1: The Lobbyists Act, which implements a long-needed Lobbyist Registry. Hopefully this means they'll be less mini-buses picking up and dropping off Tory MLA's from the Petroleum Club on Wednesday evenings. The Bill introduces strict penalites of up to $200,000 for lobbyists who break the law. Though this is a very positive step for Alberta, as Duff Conacher of Democracy Watch points out, there are still some large loopholes in The Lobbyists Act:
"If you're friends with a cabinet minister, he can request you to come and give him advice, and then you don't have to register," Duff Conacher of Ottawa-based Democracy Watch said. "That has to come out (of the legislation) for sure."Kevin Taft's Alberta Liberals have put forward Bill 201: Funding Alberta's Future Act. Bill 201 would create a number of new endowments and increasing the funding to others such as the long ignored Heritage Savings Trust Fund. Bill 201 would invest 30% of Alberta's resource revenues into the Heritage Savings Trust Fund and other funds into newly created Post-Secondary Education Endowment Fund, a Humanities, Social Sciences, and Arts Endowment Fund, and an Oppurtunity Fund while also provding funding to slay Alberta's massive infrastructure debt.
Once the former Liberal government axed that same loophole from the federal lobbyist registry in 2005, the number of registered lobbyists more than tripled in a single year. In the category of in-house corporate lobbyists, the figure shot from 191 to 1,802.
Justice Minister Ron Stevens, who sponsored the Lobbyist Act, could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening.
Liberal MLA Hugh MacDonald quipped that such loopholes suggest the Lobbyist Act must have been drafted by Rod Love or Kelley Charlebois, two former government aides who have been embroiled in past lobbying controversies. "It's going to be business as usual," MacDonald said. "This is just a public-relations exercise."
If Premier Stelmach's weak performance during last week's Question Period assaults by the opposition are any indication, it's going to be a baptism-by-fire for Stelmach in his first session as Premier. I wouldn't count the Tories out yet, but it's too early to tell how much Stelmach will get burnt.