Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and her New Democrats will stick closely to the campaign script that swept them to power, vowing in a Throne Speech to eliminate political donations from businesses and unions while immediately raising taxes on corporations and wealthier residents.
Ms. Notley had largely been tight-lipped about her party's plans for government since an unprecedented NDP victory on May 5 ended over 43 years of Progressive Conservative rule in Alberta. On Monday, however, the new Premier said the speech delivered by Lieutenant-Governor Lois Mitchell "lays the path for the way forward."
With only three pieces of legislation unveiled in the address, opposition leaders quickly pointed out the numerous issues left unmentioned in the government's blueprint, including any details on a planned review of energy royalties that has unsettled business leaders.
"I'm a little disappointed by how thin a Throne Speech it was," said Wildrose Leader Brian Jean. "It really is a speech about how the government wants to return with a Throne Speech and a budget in the fall."
The province's first legislative session under an NDP government is expected to last only a few weeks.
The NDP government's flagship bill, entitled An Act to Renew Democracy in Alberta, will end all corporate and union donations to political parties. Ms. Notley also announced plans to strike a special committee of MLAs to conduct a larger review of the province's elections laws.
"Our political system has been far, far too dependent on funds from a narrow range of donors with deep pockets," Ms. Notley said before the speech. "We will tilt the playing field back in Albertans' favour."
The heads of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees and the Alberta Federation of Labour favour the ban. The bill is expected to receive wide support in the legislature, except from the PC party.
Interim Tory Leader Ric McIver caused raised eyebrows in a press conference on Monday morning when he said that banning corporate and union donations could be seen as anti-democratic. He added that businesses would continue to contribute to parties, despite the ban.
"It's a naked attempt to tilt the political scale in the current government's balance," he said of the ban. "It's not a surprise to anybody that conservative parties have done well raising money from businesses."
After the spring election, insiders say the PC party is carrying large debts and Mr. McIver acknowledged he was concerned about paying them off without corporate donations. However, he said businesses would find a way to support parties.
"If businesses and corporations want to give money, they'll have to find a legal way to encourage other people to do it," said Mr. McIver.
Moments later, interim Liberal Leader David Swann said that Mr. McIver's comments were "nonsense."
The NDP will move in its second piece of legislation to increase the province's corporate tax rate from 10 to 12 per cent and end the province's flat income tax – also now set at 10 per cent. Ms. Notley characterized the 14-year-old flat tax as a "brief and unfortunate experiment."
"We are returning to a more typical Canadian tax system," she said, adding that Albertans would still pay the lowest overall taxes in Canada.
The New Democrats campaigned on a pledge to increase income tax for those making more than $125,000 to 12 per cent, while also adding a second bracket of 15 per cent for those making more than $300,000.
Ms. Notley said the issue of higher taxes has been barely raised in her meetings with business leaders.
However, a business advocacy group was critical of the move. "Bill 2 is called An Act to Restore Fairness to Public Revenue. A lot of nasty things are done in the name of fairness," said David MacLean, vice-president of the Alberta Enterprise Group.
"Corporate tax increases aren't a deal breaker for the province of Alberta, but what they do is erode ever so slightly an advantage that paid off handsomely for Albertans."
Despite the lack of details on a royalty review that was a central plank of the NDP campaign, the Premier confirmed Monday that she will move ahead on the issue. Details on the mandate and structure of the review will be confirmed by the end of the summer, she said.
The third bill will fund government operations over the summer as the NDP writes a full budget due in the fall.