Government of Premier Ed Stelmach has announced that it is retracting Bill 36 and Bill 19, two notorious pieces of legislation that have come under severe criticism from a wide variety of quarters ever since they were introduced in the provincial parliament.
Criticism surrounding the two bills focus mainly on the fact that, in essence, these two pieces of legislation violate property rights of landowners and put the provincial government in a position of being both the judge and the jury when it comes to contesting the provisions and application of those legislative acts.
By retracting and promising to review them, is the provincial government really correcting a mistake or is this just another populist step aimed at saving the next election?
Let’s first look at the timing of the retraction of the legislation.
The decision to review the two bills came only a day after the announcement by the Wildrose Alliance that they would repeal those two bills and a third one, Bill 50, if they came to power. The Wildrose announcement went on further to commit the party to have the property rights enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
One can not help wondering why the Stelmach government waited until the Wildrose announcement condemning those bills to think of a review, despite all the criticism voiced by the electorate until then.
Secondly, there is the highly justifiable question as to whether the review is going to be really a review or amount to practically killing those bills.
In essence, those two bills are widely speculated to have been designed for a specific agenda with a view to promoting certain economic projects, which, in turn, will likely make a few companies very rich; namely the construction of power transmission lines with a cost of some 30 billion dollars minimum.
Independent observers say there is no established pattern that indicates that Alberta will actually need the power that these transmission lines are supposed to carry in the foreseeable future.
If the bills are, as suspected, being withdrawn just to sooth tensions among the farmer communities throughout the province to prevent a shift of political allegiances to Wildrose Alliance, one can safely assume that those bills will have to be shelved until after the next provincial election; because if the bills are really reviewed to address the concerns of the electorate, then they will be almost totally toothless.
This brings us to the question of how this government perceives the legislative function in the process of democratic governance.
Properly conceived and implemented, legislation is a function aimed at strategically laying down principles and regulating practices for good governance.
In Alberta, as witnessed time and again with health care legislation, it looks like it is perceived as a way learning how to govern by trial and error.