What changed for business in the spring legislative season

Posted by: Kaitlyn Mason on June 27, 2017

In this blog, Policy Director Zoe Addington outlines the policy changes made during the spring sessions, along with the work that the Chamber has done advocating on your behalf.

The 2017 spring session of the Alberta and federal Legislature was anything but dull. Many new policies have been implemented or updated that may significantly impact business activity in Calgary.

Alberta’s Spring Sitting in the Legislature

At 2:18 am on the morning of June 6, 2017, the Alberta Legislative Assembly adjourned for the summer. The fall session is expected to resume in Edmonton on Monday, October 30, 2017.

The Assembly stayed up past 2:00 am in order to pass Bill 17 – The Fair and Family-friendly Workplaces Act which, as we have described in previous Chamber blogs, included changes to both Alberta’s Labour Relations Code (LRC) and Employment Standards Code (ESC).

Together, these acts legislate most of the employer-employee relationship. As such, the changes made this spring will likely impact Calgary businesses for years to come.

This Spring Session (March 2, 2017 – June 6, 2017) also saw the passing of 17 other government bills, the most relevant of which was the annual Provincial Budget.

The Alberta Investor Tax Credit, which was announced in Budget 2016, entered its second year. In an effort to address some of the initial issues with the program, the Alberta Government introduced several regulatory changes and policy clarifications that came into effect on April 11, 2017.

Bill 14 - An Act to Support Orphan Well Rehabilitation allowed the government to loan $235 million to the Orphan Well Association (OWA) to address the backlog of wells and put some oil and gas industry workers back to work. The oil and gas industry funds the OWA to pay for the clean-up of wells that are “orphaned” when their corporate owner goes bankrupt without enough assets to pay for the cleanup. The Alberta Energy Regulator now has rules in place to make sure companies retain enough assets to cover their clean-up costs to minimize the creation of new orphaned wells.

While legislation was passed in previous sessions, we saw progress on the implementation of the Climate Leadership Plan, including the move to transition Alberta's electricity market from a deregulated structure to a capacity market. We also saw the launch of a new government agency called Energy Efficiency Alberta, with business and individual rebate programs for energy efficient appliances and solar panels.  

While some were disappointed by the decision not to approve Northern Gateway Project, Alberta legislators welcomed the federal government’s approval of the Trans Mountain Expansion Project. The recent provincial election in BC, however, has raised questions regarding the future of the pipeline expansion.  

Meanwhile, in Ottawa...

In Ottawa, we saw the House of Commons adjourn for the summer on June 21, 2017. Members of Parliament (MP) are expected to return to Ottawa on Monday, September 18, 2017.  

20 bills have received royal assent in Ottawa since January, including the Federal Budget, and a bill to legalize cannabis starting in July 2018, which could have implications for your workplace.  

Parliamentarians were looking to pass the Budget bill before the summer when the Senate decided to try out its independence, and propose amendments. Senators accepted the government's proposal for a two per cent increase to the alcohol excise duty applied to alcohol, but rejected the inclusion of provisions to tie the tax to the rate of inflation in future years.  

On April 26, 2017, we hosted a conversation about the role of the Senate with the perspective of three generations of Senators appointed respectively through a non-partisan selection committee, through an election and through a political process: 

  • The Government Representative in the Senate, the Honourable Peter Harder
  • Calgary elected Senator, the Honourable Doug Black 
  • Former Senator from Calgary, the Honourable Dan Hays

The Government was quick to argue that the unelected Senate had no right to amend Budget Bills. While some Senators disagreed, the Independent and Liberal Senators acknowledged the difference in their accountability and respective political roles, and ended the possibility of a standoff by passing the Budget with no amendments.  

We were pleased when the government announced in February they were not going to tax your health and dental benefits.  

Bill C-25, encouraging gender parity on the boards of federally regulated organizations has passed third reading and been sent to the Senate for review, and Bill C-48, the bill to impose a moratorium on oil tankers off the B.C. coast, will be back before the House this fall.  

This spring saw the U.S. Administration announce their intent to renegotiate NAFTA, as soon as August 16, 2017. We will be following this as it progresses.  

While governments keep operating and Cabinet keeps meeting, most of your MLAs and MPs will head back to their ridings to meet with their constituency, attend summer BBQs, and, of course, take in the festivities at the Calgary Stampede. 

Through all the summer fun, we will continue to keep you updated on any policy developments that could impact your business.

Zoe Addington is Director of Policy and Government Relations at the Calgary Chamber.