Alberta Premier Jason Kenney gives the thumbs up as the speech from the throne is delivered in Edmonton on Wednesday May 22, 2019.
JASON FRANSON / CP
Back in 1896, Baltimore Orioles shortstop Hughie Jennings got hit by pitches a whopping 51 times during the season, a record that has yet to be broken (though why anyone would want to try is beyond me).That of course has nothing to do with Alberta politics, but I figured I’d begin this column with some insider baseball, since that’s a fair description what you’ll be reading the next few minutes.This is a column about internal legislature procedures and articles of protocol. It’s the kind of esoteric thing that tends to put all but the most devoted political junkies to sleep.But if you can bear with me, it’s worth noting a handful of proposed changes brought forward by the UCP, some of which would, in effect, bring the Alberta legislature closer to the workings of the “mother Parliament” in Ottawa.While some of the modifications appear beneficial, such as reducing the amount of time taken up by introducing legislature guests every day, other proposals are head scratchers.Stay with me to the end, and I’ll reward you with another bit of meaningless baseball trivia.AbstentionsAmong the UCP’s proposed amendments, one of the most noteworthy is to allow MLAs to abstain from voting.This isn’t permitted under current rules, which force MLAs to vote yay or nay if they are in the chamber. The only way to avoid voting is to leave the room.This amendment is squarely aimed at preventing another Bill 9 fiasco for the UCP. That was the legislation calling for the creation of bubble zones around abortion clinics. Every time the issue came up last year, UCP MLAs turned into frightened deer scrambling for cover.Under the suggested change, that unflattering sight would be avoided. An MLA wishing to abstain could simply stay seated, and their lack of a vote wouldn’t even be entered into the official record.Though the changes mirror procedures in the House of Commons and a handful of provincial and territorial legislatures, I’m not a fan of bringing this to Alberta.In my view, while MLAs will miss votes occasionally, they are elected to make decisions.Abstentions, in all but extreme circumstances, are a cop out. It should not be made easier to sit on the sidelines, and be given the cover of a blank entry in the legislature record.Floor crossingsBesides Bill 9, another infamous moment in conservative circles occurred in late 2014 when much of the Wildrose caucus crossed the floor to the Progressive Conservatives.To avoid a repeat, the UCP has introduced a motion calling on the legislature to “express its opposition” to any MLA changing parties unless they first resign and get re-elected under the new banner.The problem is the motion has no legal effect, which means it is essentially a pre-emptive shaming exercise. Any MLA who doesn’t vote for it can be called out. Anyone who does vote for it and later crosses the floor can be said to have broken a promise.While it’s appropriate for MLAs to consult constituents before changing parties, demanding they resign first is excessive.Under the law, MLAs are elected as private members whose chief responsibility is to represent their ridings — party affiliation is secondary — and they have the freedom to decide how best to do that.I would also argue this motion is hypocritical of the UCP, which has several MLAs who were first elected as Wildrosers or PCers but then crossed to the new party without resigning first.Deputy SpeakerPremier Jason Kenney has asked his government to look at developing a new process for choosing the deputy speaker, to ensure that the position goes to a member of the Official Opposition. This is a nice idea built on an Ottawa tradition to promote fairness and civility in the house.Unfortunately (or perhaps conveniently), Kenney didn’t raise the idea until after the process was already over for this particular session, in which UCP MLA Angela Pitt was selected deputy speaker for the next four years.Desk thumpingThe act of MLAs banging their desks has been a tradition in the Alberta legislature for more than a century. The UCP is now moving to outlaw the practice, which Kenney calls an affront to decorum.This is a silly solution in search of a problem.Complaints about thumping were few until the arrival of Kenney, for whom this seems to be a pet peeve.The claim the UCP is now making is that behaviour in the house is often embarrassing for the Grade 6 school groups who come to watch.The legislature conducts serious business, but portions of it are political theatre. And though it’s been a while since I was 12 years old, if today’s Grade 6 students are anything like I was, desk thumping would be regarded as one of the more enjoyable parts of a legislature viewing.OK, if you’ve made it this far, here’s your reward.Just six players in baseball history have struck out more than 2,000 times, and they must have had long careers to get that many.While strikeouts aren’t counted the same way for politicians, it’s fair to say Kenney has a few misses with this batch of largely unnecessary rule firstname.lastname@example.org/keithgerein