Alberta MLAs pass budget ahead of spring vote

EDMONTON - The spring session of the Alberta legislature moved close to the finish line Tuesday, beginning the countdown to the kickoff of the provincial election.

MLAs debated several pieces of legislation late Tuesday, including the 2012-13 budget, which passed by a vote of 23 to seven.

Premier Alison Redford has said she would call an election shortly after the budget was approved. That is expected to happen next Monday, paving the way for an April 23 vote, though the premier has not confirmed a specific date.

Also expected to pass late Tuesday was legislation creating a new property rights advocate, and a bill that would allow seniors to defer paying the property tax on their homes. Under the program, the province would pay the taxes on a senior's home until it is sold, at which point the taxes would be repaid to the province, with interest.

In addition, MLAs were expected to approve legislation that would provide for non-religious schooling in Morinville.

What is less clear is the fate of the Education Act, which has come under controversy in recent days, particularly from home-schooling parents worried about the inclusion of human rights in the act. Opponents say the legislation will undermine parents' ability to teach children in accordance with their values — a claim Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk has said is unfounded.

Lukaszuk said he hopes the act can still pass, despite the controversy. MLAs continued to debate the Education Act as of press time Tuesday.

During a heated question period, Redford rebuffed demands from the Wildrose to fire Lukaszuk over comments he made about opposition MLA Rob Anderson, who represents Airdrie-Chestermere.

In a conference call with parent councils on Monday evening, Lukaszuk was questioned about school overcrowding in Airdrie.

He suggested the residents "call your MLA and ask him not to oppose me every day on considering new ways on funding infrastructure."

He then spoke about the need to amortize funding of new schools needed across Alberta, an idea the Wildrose opposes.

Anderson, a Wildrose MLA, accused Lukaszuk of "threatening" Airdrie residents that they would only get a new school if he "shut up."

Redford said the education minister's comments were appropriate because he was simply talking about the debate over infrastructure funding, something Anderson called a "spineless answer."

The session could wrap up Wednesday.

Calgary Herald, Wed Mar 21 2012

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