‘A push’: Alberta introduces bill giving cabinet sweeping powers to fight Ottawa

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

Posted Tuesday, November 29, 2022 6:02 pm EST

Last updated Tuesday, November 29, 2022 9:13 pm EST

EDMONTON – The Alberta government has introduced a bill that would give Premier Danielle Smith and her cabinet sweeping powers to rewrite provincial laws behind closed doors in an effort to roll back Ottawa.

The proposed legislation would also allow the cabinet to order “provincial entities” (crown-controlled organizations, municipalities, school boards, post-secondary schools, municipal police forces, regional health authorities and any social agencies that receive provincial money) not to use those funds to enforce federal regulations deemed detrimental to the interests of Alberta.

Smith said that previous efforts to work with the federal government have not worked and that Ottawa continues to interfere in constitutionally protected areas of provincial responsibility, from energy to health care.

“We are going to try something new. I think we have your attention,” Smith told reporters after introducing Alberta’s Sovereignty within a United Canada Act.

“I think that starts a constructive relationship, and that’s what this was all about. You don’t have to change relationships without a push. This was a push.”

Smith told reporters he hopes the bill won’t need to be used, but briefing documents provided to reporters say the government hopes to use it as early as the spring to fight Ottawa on a number of issues, including energy development. , agriculture, health care, education, firearms, child care, property rights and social programs.

The deputy leader of the opposition NDP, Sarah Hoffman, said the bill is a flagrant undemocratic takeover by a prime minister who has not sought a popular mandate to propose such sweeping changes.

“What (Smith) wants to try to do is give himself dictatorial powers in this province so he can push whatever legislation he wants,” Hoffman said.

“That is certainly nothing any government in Canada is mandated to do, and it is certainly something that Danielle Smith and the UCP are not mandated (to), with only about one per cent of Albertans actually voting for her to be leader of the party and in turn the prime minister of our province”.

Political scientist Duane Bratt said the bill is about consolidating power.

“This is not about the federal government. That’s the coconut. That’s the excuse,” said Bratt, of Mount Royal University in Calgary.

“This is about violating the rule of law against Albertans.

“These are emergency powers that they are asking for in the absence of an emergency… you are allowing the cabinet to unilaterally change laws and bypass the legislature.”

The bill was the pivotal promise of Smith’s successful campaign to win the leadership of the United Conservative Party last month to replace Jason Kenney as prime minister.

It has been criticized by Kenney and even by some of Smith’s leadership rivals – four of whom are in his cabinet – as a recipe for legal uncertainty, investment flight and the first step towards secession.

Kenney was not on the chamber when the bill was introduced and later announced on social media that he had resigned his Calgary-Lougheed seat.

The bill was introduced after the Lieutenant Governor. Salma Lakhani read the speech from the throne into the chamber, opening a new legislative session and outlining the government’s plans and priorities.

Lakhani said: “Ottawa is not our ruler. Ottawa is our partner and it needs to start acting like it.”

The bill promises to follow court rulings and the Constitution, but says it would be up to Ottawa to sue the province to resolve disputes, not the other way around.

Under the bill, cabinet ministers or Smith would decide whether the federal rules are detrimental to Alberta. The bill does not give a legal definition of what constitutes harm.

The cabinet would then draft a resolution setting out the nature of the damage and the steps that need to be taken to counterattack. The 87-member legislature would vote on the resolution, and if it wins a majority, the resolution passes and the cabinet gets to work implementing it.

The cabinet may implement the resolution using existing powers in the legislation or may unilaterally amend any provincial law it deems applicable. Those laws are normally debated and passed in the legislature.

The bill says that while the cabinet can order any “provincial entity” not to enforce those federal laws or policies, it cannot do so with individuals or private companies. It also stresses that the bill cannot infringe on First Nations rights, a concern that has been raised by Alberta treaty chiefs.

Any resolution passed by the assembly would expire after two years, unless the legislature votes to end it sooner. However, the cabinet may extend the orders and regulations issued under any resolution for a maximum of two additional years.

The window to challenge the act in court in a judicial review is reduced from the normal six months to 30 days.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on November 29, 2022.

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