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Alberta’s 47 legislature newbies meet under the dome for orientation day

EDMONTON — As Alberta’s 47 legislature newbies gathered under the dome for orientation day, Speaker Bob Wanner urged them to respect history and embrace responsibility, while adding in a dollop of advice for the modern age.

“Use social media at your peril,” Wanner told the newly-elected politicians as they sat in the main legislature debate chamber Wednesday.

“If your grandmother would not like to read your comments on the front page of the newspaper the next day, then I suggest you pause before you push send,” he said.

There was more.

“You will not be eating healthy nor regularly,” Wanner added.

“You will miss many hockey games, graduations and birthdays. You will have an unpredictable and ever-changing and evolving schedule that is managed by others.”

All but a handful of the new members belong to the United Conservative Party, which defeated Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP in last week’s election to secure a majority government for the next four years.

Forty-four new UCP members will join incoming premier Jason Kenney and 18 other sitting UCP MLAs in the 87-member assembly.

They will be opposed by Notley, along with 20 returning members and three newcomers with the NDP.

Kenney and his new government will be sworn in Tuesday, with the first legislature sitting to begin the third week of May.

History will be made when UCP newbie Jeremy Nixon joins his brother, fellow UCP member Jason Nixon, in the house. Legislature library records show there have been four pairs of brothers in the Alberta legislature, but never at the same time.

Jeremy Nixon, who won Calgary-Klein, said he’ll get along just fine in caucus with his brother, who was the party’s house leader at dissolution and won again in Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre.

“We’re pretty tight. We shared a room for 16 years,” said Jeremy Nixon. “There were six boys and we were the oldest two. So we were kind of the ringleaders together, in cahoots most of the time.

However, he added, “Last time we wrestled, I won. Last time we arm-wrestled, I won as well.”

UCP member-elect Sonya Savage said that after knocking on thousands of doors during the campaign, it’s time to carry forward the views and concerns of her Calgary-North West constituents.

“It’s kind of surreal. When you walk into the chamber, it’s happening. It hits you really, really hard that this is months and months, a full year of work, paid off,” she said.

When the UCP takes the reins, it will face a knowledgeable, battle-tested Opposition bench led by 12 former NDP cabinet members.

“I’m excited about our role,” said NDP newcomer Rakhi Pancholi, a labour lawyer representing Edmonton-Whitemud.

“We’ve got great experience in our group, in our caucus. I’m excited to be a part of it.”

Janis Irwin, representing the NDP in Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood, said one of her priorities will be minority rights.

“I am, I believe, the only openly LGBTQ member of the legislative assembly,” said Irwin.

“It’s a huge responsibility, but I also know that I will be surrounded by a heck of a lot of strong allies.”

The first task of the new assembly will be selecting a replacement for Wanner, who did not run in the election.

UCP veteran Nathan Cooper has been touted for the job, which is voted on by all members.

“As some people around this place like to say, I’m a bit of a procedural nerd,” said Cooper. “I really like, and am passionate about, our system of democracy.

“If I was asked to serve by my colleagues, I would be honoured to do so.”