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Opinion | Danielle Smith’s Sovereignty Act is a glaring — and scary — example of provincial government overreach

Observers had long suspected Alberta’s Sovereignty Act, once unveiled, would look like a dog’s breakfast.

What we didn’t realize was that it would look like a dog’s breakfast after it had been through the dog.

Premier Danielle Smith’s signature piece of legislation — now rebranded as the “Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada,” to sound less like a scary separatist manifesto — is confusing, undemocratic and, well, scary.

Smith says the act is a “constitutional shield to protect Albertans from federal overreach.”

However, the Sovereignty Act is itself a glaring example of provincial government overreach.

Smith is trying to convince voters her new act will protect Albertans from the federal government foisting unconstitutional legislation, policies and programs onto the province.

Who will determine what is unconstitutional? The courts, perhaps, since it’s their job to make such pronouncements? Well, no. Smith will do it. And she’ll do it by interfering in the usual democratic process of the Alberta legislative assembly.

Here’s how the act is designed to work: If the federal government passes a law/policy/program that Smith doesn’t like, she, or a cabinet minister, will bring a motion to the floor of the legislature declaring the federal initiative to be unconstitutional.

If passed by the assembly — and that’s pretty much a given in a legislature controlled by a UCP majority — the motion would give the provincial cabinet the extraordinary power to change any existing legislation necessary to fight back. So, we will have politicians determining what is constitutional.

And cabinet ministers will be able to force provincial “entities” to ignore federal laws.

By provincial “entities,” the government means everything from public agencies to school boards to health authorities to civic government and even municipal police forces.

One hypothetical example that doesn’t sound so hypothetical is if Smith wanted to push back against the federal confiscation of banned assault weapons, she could order municipal police forces not to seize the weapons. Or ignore federal limits on greenhouse gas emissions.

Even if you’re an anti-Trudeau Albertan who likes the sound of that, you might want to think about how Smith is forging her “constitutional shield.” And whether you be so supportive if the NDP were to win next year’s provincial election and continue with Smith’s dictatorial policy.

Smith is tossing the legislative process — let’s call it democracy — into a bonfire fuelled by cynical and manipulative partisan politics.

Cabinet will be able to ride roughshod over the legislative assembly in ways never seen before in Alberta. And that’s saying something for a province that was governed by a Progressive Conservative dynasty for 44 years.

The Sovereignty Act is Smith’s version of freedom: attack institutions, policies and programs she doesn’t like.

Observers thought Smith might issue a watered-down Sovereignty Act on Tuesday to show she is pivoting from her extreme views expressed during the five-month-long UCP leadership race.

This is not a pivot but a 360-degree pirouette. In hobnailed boots.

And they’re not just stomping on legislative democracy.

On Monday, Smith admitted she called up organizers of the international Arctic Winter Games, soon to be held in northern Alberta, to convince them to drop their vaccine mandate. Smith’s argument was no doubt made all the more convincing when she reminded the organizers the Games were getting $1.2 million in funding from the Alberta government. The Games quickly announced they were dropping a mandate that had been in place to protect the health of the athletes.

The irony is apparently lost on Smith that she is protecting the “freedoms” of one group of Albertans, who don’t want mandates, by stomping on the freedoms of another that supports mandates.

In that vein, Smith is urging Albertans to call their MLAs — meaning government MLAs — to report any organizations or businesses that still insist on protecting people through mandates. This, of course, from a premier who, on her first day in office Oct. 11, declared that the willfully unvaccinated have faced the most discrimination of any group she has seen in the past 50 years.

The provincial NDP probably can’t believe their luck. The UCP booted out the unpopular Jason Kenney and replaced him with the just-as-unpopular-but-even-more-controversial Danielle Smith.

Smith said Tuesday she hopes she never has to use the act — but a government news release pointed out the premier “has tasked her ministers with preparing a number of special resolutions under this proposed act for the spring legislative session to push back on several federal laws and policies.” Smith has insisted the act is itself constitutional. However, government briefing notes given to journalists Tuesday would only say the act as written “is likely to be found constitutional if challenged.”

“Likely”? That’s the best government lawyers can do?

The Alberta government has introduced a bill to fight unconstitutional laws using a law that might itself be unconstitutional.


Conversations are opinions of our readers and are subject to the Code of Conduct. The Star does not endorse these opinions.

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