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In the Province of Alberta, the British monarch is the official head of state with the Crown represented by the Alberta Lieutenant-Governor who is appointed by the federal government.
Based on provincial population statistics, Alberta is divided into 87 regions which are known as constituencies. During a provincial election (held by law every 4 years), the candidate in each constituency who wins the highest number of votes becomes the constituency representative as Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA). The leader of the political party with the most winning candidates becomes the Premier of Alberta. The premier, as head of the elected government, governs the province on a daily basis in the monarch’s name.
All provincial governments in Canada are unicameral, meaning that there is only one body of elected representatives. (Federal or municipal governments are separate). In Alberta, this body is called the Legislative assembly where elected representatives from the 87 constituencies meet to determine and debate government priorities.
The Speech from the Throne opens each new session of the Legislative assembly and outlines the broad goals and direction for the elected government.
Members meet for a new legislative session of the assembly each spring and may continue into the fall to introduce the provincial budget and, if desired, pass new laws or update, amend or repeal existing ones.
The provinces’ areas of responsibility, as defined in the Constitution Act, 1867 (earlier referred to as the British North America Act, 1867), include health, child welfare, municipal government, transportation, labour, property and civil rights and education.
A law can also be called an Act or a Statute. Laws are introduced as bills which have 3 main types:
- Government-sponsored public policy Bills
- Private Members’ public non-monetary policy Bills
- Private Bills relating to specific matters not of general public concern
Members introduce Bills in the assembly for ‘1st reading’ termed as such from earlier days of the British Parliament when printing was not commonplace. At that time, the entire Bill was read aloud in the House to inform members of its contents.
Today, the Clerk reads only the Bill title aloud, and 1st reading means that the Bill is formally introduced into the assembly process for further scrutiny. A Bill must receive 3 separate readings on different days before being passed.
After 1st reading, members study the proposed contents of the Bill and decide whether to support all of it, some parts of it or oppose it altogether when 2nd reading begins.
The 2nd reading stage is where members debate the principle and purpose of a Bill.
Debate of Bills is sometimes emotional and has to be moderated. This is the Speaker’s duty. The Speaker keeps the debate running as smoothly as possible while giving all members a fair chance to speak before calling for a vote. Voting is by simple majority.
If passed by a majority of voting members, the Bill is sent to Committee of the Whole, which consists of all MLAs, as the next stage. At committee, a more detailed Bill discussion, clause by clause if necessary, is heard. Amendments may come about here as a result of points raised in debate or concerns expressed by constituents.
The final stage of a Bill’s journey is 3rd reading. Again members have a chance to comment on, criticize or ask questions about the Bill before voting on it for the final time.
If a Bill fails to pass any one of these 3 stages, it cannot become law and must be reintroduced, usually not until the next session of the Legislature.
Most government-sponsored Bills pass because the governing party normally has a majority of the members in support. Because they do not enjoy the same degree of backing, most private Members’ Bills do not get past 2nd reading. However, sometimes even government Bills do not reach the final stages. This may be an indication the government did not intend the Bill to pass but was instead trying to gauge public opinion on the issue the Bill addresses. In that case, the Bill may be amended and introduced in a later session or dropped altogether and rewritten. In other instances public opposition to the Bill may cause the government to withdraw it.
If the Bill is supported by a majority of MLAs, it moves to the next stage, which is Royal Assent.
Royal Assent is provided by the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta who approves the bill on behalf of the Crown. After Royal Assent the bill becomes law.
The final step is to set the date it comes into effect or into force. The Lieutenant Governor or the government sets the starting date for the law to come into force, this is called proclamation. Proclamations may be used if a bill is to come into effect at a date after Royal Assent or if different parts of a Bill are to come into effect at different times.
The law is published as a Statute also known as an Act. Within the Act is the authority to make Regulations. Regulations are rules to address details and practical applications of the law. Ministerial Orders can also make Regulations, some ministerial orders are published by the Alberta Queen’s Printer.
A Ministerial Order is created by a Minister under a Statute or Regulation. Ministerial Orders are made for a variety of purposes, including program delivery, creating committees, appointing committee members, setting rates and fees, designating positions and vesting Ministerial authority in others.
Codes and codes of practice are rules that must be followed for those operating under an Act to set safe work or environmental practices.
General decisions of government are made by Orders in Council, they are the instrument by which the Lieutenant Governor in Council makes its orders. These orders may or may not be a Regulation, as defined in the Regulations Act.
The Alberta Queen’s Printer (known as King's Printer during the reign of a male monarch) has been the official publisher of Alberta’s laws, the Alberta Gazette, the Registrar’s Periodical and official government publications since 1906.
Other assembly roles
Executive Council Office
The Executive Council Office provides support to the Premier and the members of Executive Council. It ensures effective strategic planning and coordinated policy development across government, and engagement of Albertans. The office is led by the Deputy Minister of Executive Council.
The Cabinet or Executive Council puts government policies into practice. Cabinet ministers are MLAs in charge of specific government ministries. Beyond approving Orders in Council, Cabinet ratifies policy matters and is the final authority on issues related to the day-to-day operation of government. The Premier chairs Cabinet.
The Speaker directs debates and proceedings in the Legislative Assembly. The Speaker is an elected MLA. At the beginning of the first Legislative session after an election, all MLAs vote for the Speaker by secret ballot.
The Opposition is made up of MLAs who aren’t part of the governing party. The role of the Opposition is to critique government activity, propose improvements to legislation, and present itself to the public as an alternative to the party in office. The party with the most opposition seats in the Assembly and is called the Official Opposition.
Members of the Legislative Assembly
Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) are elected by Albertans to make the laws we live by in this province. Each MLA represents a constituency. MLAs selected by the Premier to represent ministries are referred to as cabinet ministers. Those who aren’t in Cabinet are referred to as private members, or caucus members of their particular political party.
Several ministries make up the Alberta government. These departments deliver the programs and services mandated by Alberta’s laws. Each ministry is headed by a deputy minister, a member of the Alberta public service who in turn reports to a minister, an elected official and member of Cabinet.
Public agencies are boards, commissions, tribunals or other organizations established by government, but not part of a government department. They work alongside ministries to deliver programs and services. The Public Agency Secretariat helps ensure Alberta government agencies are well governed.
Government committees review policy decisions, long-range strategic priorities, legislation and regulations. These committees include Treasury Board, Legislative Review Committee and others.
Alberta’s public service is made up of over 27,000 government employees throughout the province. Each works for a ministry, or a public agency. They perform the legal, policy, administrative and practical duties needed to deliver programs and services to Albertans.
Elections Alberta is an independent, non-partisan office of the Legislative Assembly responsible for administering provincial elections, by-elections and referenda
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