UCP says it held government to account, despite refusal to vote on abortion clinic bill

United Conservative Party House leader Jason Nixon said his caucus held the government to account last session even when repeatedly refusing to vote on the abortion clinic bubble zone bill.

“Yes, I believe that the UCP opposition did an excellent job holding the government to account, including Bill 9,” Nixon said at a news conference to mark the end of the spring session.

“We made a statement and stuck to it.”

The bill, which passed last week, sets up 50-metre protester-free zones around the standalone abortion clinics in Calgary and Edmonton.

UCP MLAs refused to vote on the bill during every stage of its passage through the legislative assembly.

On each occasion, they walked out of the chamber and then returned to their seats after the result was recorded.

UCP Leader Jason Kenney claimed the bill was an attempt by the governing NDP to distract from its economic record.

Angela Pitt, the UCP MLA for Airdrie, was the only caucus member to speak about the bill. She used her speech to indicate the caucus would not be voting and walked out moments later, claiming she was being heckled by the NDP.

Opposition House Leader Jason Nixon says The Protecting Choice for Women Accessing Health Care Act was political gamesmanship and defends abstaining from debating the bill. 2:26

Health Minister Sarah Hoffman said the bill was in response to a request from the staff at Calgary’s Kensington Clinic, who said court-ordered injunctions had been ineffective at preventing anti-abortion protesters from harassing patients and staff.

Nixon said the NDP was playing a political game by introducing the bill after Kenney became leader. He said the government never spoke about the need for the bill prior to that. 

Kenney is devout Roman Catholic who opposes abortion. 

‘It’s shameful’

Alberta Party House leader Greg Clark called the UCP walkout “unsettling,” noting that the MLAs waited inside the door for the vote to conclude.

“They didn’t have other things to do. They weren’t at constituency meetings. They were consciously choosing not to be part of that vote,” Clark said. “It’s shameful.”

The spring session, which started March 8, was the first with Kenney as leader of the Official Opposition. Kenney set a different tone in the legislature, ordering his MLAs not to thump their desks and to stay quiet during question period.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley held a jubliant news conference the day the federal government announced it was taking over the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion to British Columbia. She was criticized by UCP Leader Jason Kenney of taking a premature victory lap on a project that was still in limbo. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press)

During the session, the government passed a budget with a plan to bring government finances into balance by 2023 —and also leave the province $96 billion in debt.

But the session was overshadowed by the fight with British Columbia over the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, and Kinder Morgan’s May 31 deadline for a decision on the future of the project.

The federal government’s decision to purchase the Trans Mountain pipeline days before the deadline relieved some of the political pressure on Premier Rachel Notley.

While Notley was confident construction will resume this summer, a case before the Federal Court of Appeal could turn that timetable upside down.

B.C. First Nations and environmental groups have challenged the National Energy Board and federal cabinet’s approvals of the project. The ruling is expected any day.

The legislature passed Bill 12 which enables Alberta’s energy minister to limit or halt the flow of gasoline to British Columbia, but it hasn’t yet been proclaimed.

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