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HomeWorldDanielle Smith’s Alberta ‘sovereignty’ act introduces sweeping new powers to resist Ottawa

Danielle Smith’s Alberta ‘sovereignty’ act introduces sweeping new powers to resist Ottawa


EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Danielle Smith’s government has proposed a bill that would enable her province to deem federal laws unconstitutional, allow it to make unilateral changes to provincial legislation, and direct provincial entities to ignore “harmful” federal policies.

The slate of broad, new asserted powers is part of Alberta Sovereignty within a United Canada Act, introduced Tuesday as the first bill to reach the legislature since Smith took over the governing United Conservative Party from Jason Kenney.

The bill has been a lightning rod for criticism since it was revealed as a cornerstone of Smith’s UCP leadership election platform. Critics and constitutional law experts have called it a step dangerously close to Alberta separatism, but Smith has said the bill would be constitutional and, according to her, strengthen Confederation.

The act doesn’t give the provincial government the power to direct a private business or citizen to do anything, but it does let a minister issue a directive to a provincial entity — like a municipal police force or non-governmental organization — telling it to ignore a federal policy or law.

Such public entities could include public agencies, organizations controlled by the province, groups receiving public funds, regional health authorities, post-secondary institutions or school boards.

Examples of where this new legislation could be used, as given in a news release from the province, include federal laws regulating natural resources in Alberta; strings-attached social services funding, such as health-care and education transfers from Ottawa; and the federal gun buyback program.

In addition, the bill lets cabinet ministers directly change legislation without debate in the legislature, after following a specific process: First, the legislature would have to approve a motion would stating that a particular federal law or policy is unconstitutional or harmful to Alberta; then, the new powers of the sovereignty act could be used to thwart Ottawa.

That could then be done by the province amending a provincial act without having to debate those changes in the provincial legislature. Cabinet could also direct changes to regulations or order a provincial entity to ignore a federal policy or law.

The new powers, if used, must end either two years after the motion is passed, or when it is rescinded by the legislature, whichever comes first. Cabinet can extend the powers to a maximum of four years, however, and the whole process could also be restarted under a reinvigorated motion.

The bill also says the government isn’t liable for anything done under the act. Those civil liability protections also extend to provincial entities following orders to ignore federal laws.

However, an unconstitutional order can’t be made under the act, according to the act itself, and it also can’t undermine constitutionally protected Indigenous rights. If someone wants to seek a judicial review in court, arguing that a government move under the act is unlawful, it has 30 days to do so, instead of the usual six-month window for such an application.

The ideas behind the legislation, once known simply as the Alberta Sovereignty Act, have changed over time. Last month, the First Nation Treaty 6, 7 and 8 leaders repeatedly pushed back against it, saying their treaty agreements were made with the Crown, not the province.

It was then given the new, longer name by Smith, who appeared to be waving away notions that she was pushing for Alberta separatism.

At one time during her UCP leadership bid, she suggested that the bill, which was always to be her first introduced, wouldn’t respect Supreme Court decisions, but that was walked back.

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