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British Columbia Western newsletter: Alberta Throne Speech sets stage for spring election campaign

Good morning, it’s James Keller in Calgary.

No one – except perhaps the premier – really knows when a provincial election campaign will begin in Alberta, but all eyes will be on a Throne Speech scheduled for Monday.

The Speech from the Throne, read by Lieutenant-Governor Lois Mitchell, will outline the NDP government’s priorities and will almost certainly form the backbone of the party’s re-election platform. There’s been speculation that the writ could drop soon after the Throne Speech, even this week, especially if the government does not intend to present a budget before voters go to the polls. The campaign must begin by the beginning of May.

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One thing that will be in the Throne Speech will be a promise to pass legislation to protect public health care. Health Minister Sarah Hoffman confirmed she is working on such a bill but isn’t saying what the legislation would actually do – or whether it will even get debated or voted on before the election. Beyond that, the New Democrats have said very little about any new policies they plan to campaign on ahead of what is expected to be a very tough election for the party to win.

That lack of detail sits in contrast to the United Conservative Party, whose leader Jason Kenney has been making regular platform announcements on a wide array of issues. His latest announcement was a promise to cut the minimum wage for workers under 18 as a way to boost youth employment. He’s also promised steep cuts to corporate taxes, increased rights for property owners, and add new protections for domestic-violence victims.

But Mr. Kenney will also be spending part of the campaign answering questions about a widening investigation into the UCP leadership race in 2017. The province’s election commissioner had been looking into an anonymous tip related to donations to leadership candidate Jeff Callaway’s campaign, and now the RCMP says it is also looking into the matter. But neither the commissioner nor the RCMP are providing any additional details.

Mr. Callaway’s campaign has been under increasing scrutiny since late last year, when an audio recording surfaced in which UCP insiders appeared to discuss Mr. Callaway running a “kamikaze” campaign in which he would attack rival candidate Brian Jean so Mr. Kenney would not have to.

Mr. Callaway and Mr. Kenney have both denied such collaboration. Mr. Kenney has answered questions about the case in almost every news conference he holds, and on Friday repeated his assertion that the investigation has nothing to do with him.

Premier Rachel Notley says Mr. Kenney needs to do more to come clean about what he knows, as the party attempts to breathe more life into the story and connect it to Mr. Kenney.

The Callaway affair won’t be in Monday’s Throne Speech, but expect the NDP to bring it up frequently over the next few weeks.

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This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here. This is a new project and we’ll be experimenting as we go, so let us know what you think.

Around the West:

EDUCATION: A Supreme Court of Canada ruling that restored contract language for teachers around class size and supports for special-needs students set off a hiring spree of 3,700 new teachers. But the ruling has had other consequences, as school boards take on unqualified teachers and, in some cases, cuts to French-immersion programs and supports of students with special needs. Justine Hunter breaks down how the ruling has shaped B.C.'s education system – sometimes in unintended ways.

OIL SHIPMENTS: B.C. will be in court in the coming week asking for the authority to regulate oil shipments. The province launched the constitutional-reference case amid an increasingly bitter fight with Alberta’s NDP government over the Trans Mountain pipeline project. The B.C. government argues it should have the power to limit any increase of heavy oil being transported through the province, whether by pipeline, rail or highway.

OIL CURTAILMENT: Imperial Oil Ltd. has delayed a $2.6-billion oil sands project and laid the blame at the feet of Alberta Premier Rachel Notley. Imperial, the Canadian arm of oil major Exxon Mobil Corp., says it will push the startup date for its Aspen project into 2023. The company says the reason for the delay is production cuts imposed earlier this year by the NDP government as a means to boost prices for Alberta crude.

HUMBOLDT BRONCOS CRASH: The fatal crash involving the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team’s bus led to an outpouring of support – and money – from across the country. A crowdfunding campaign on GoFundMe raised more than $15-million – the most successful Canadian campaign in history – to help the families of the victims and the surviving players. But it also set off a complicated and emotional legal process. Marty Klinkenberg looks at multiple court appearances that happened over the next eight months.

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AIRBNB: The City of Vancouver has issued fines, ordered inspections and written warning letters to hundreds of unlicensed short-term rental listings. The city imposed new rules last year that limit who can rent out their properties on services such as Airbnb amid concerns that such services were eating into the rental market.

KILLER WHALES: B.C.-based researchers who were looking for an elusive Type D killer whale have caught a break in the Antarctic. The team was there to gather genetic material, acoustic recordings and other data to help establish whether these whales are, in fact, a fourth species of killer whale.

Opinion:

The Globe and Mail Editorial Board on Alberta’s oil industry: “If the Trudeau government is making a mistake in its handling of the pipeline issue, it may be that it is trying to play a game whose running time extends beyond its four-year mandate, and it is failing to see how aggravating that is to voters in Alberta. They want help now, not in a few years.”

Danielle Finney on the Humboldt bus crash in an open letter to the driver: “Perhaps the fact that I never got to say ‘I forgive you’ to the man who took my mom’s life is the reason I wanted to write to you. You’ve taken full responsibility for what happened, and I’m sure you endure a terrible punishment in your heart and mind every day.”

Adrienne Tanner on Vancouver property taxes: “Rising business taxes and rent increases drove most independent businesses from Robson Street years ago. And today cries are coming from the craft breweries that brought new life to formerly down-at-the-heels areas of East Vancouver. They complain new developments that followed them into the area have pushed their assessments and taxes too high and may force them to close.”

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