Danielle Smith and her leading UCP activists have cleverly fostered the impression that she wears the anti-Ottawa crown. Fighting Ottawa is the whole point of the leadership race, she says, the whole point for Alberta.
But all the candidates outlined strategies for dealing with the Trudeau government during Wednesday’s candidate debate.
The others even find parts of Smith’s Sovereignty Act proposal with which they agree, for example, a provincial police force and a pension.
They just don’t support his promise to overturn federal laws, because they think it guarantees a chaotic flight from Alberta. His only supporter of the annulment is Todd Loewen.
It is somewhat surprising, therefore, that former treasurer Travis Toews offers the most surprising anti-Ottawa proposal of all.
It would impose Alberta tariffs on goods and services from areas considered hostile to Alberta. He didn’t mention this in the debate (or not that I’ve heard, given the many amateur broadcast freezes), but it’s right there on his campaign platform.
He says that as prime minister, he would “pass enabling legislation, so that when Ottawa attacks Alberta’s economy, we have a potential set of property- and contract-specific levies that we can begin to enforce and escalate as needed.”
When Alberta’s economy prospers, manufactured goods come from other provinces, and companies from outside the province do much of the work.
It’s not entirely clear how the “specific levies” would be used, although one of Toews’s campaign team members suggested it could affect Quebec products if the province further hampered pipelines with federal collusion.
This would be intended to “support Alberta’s energy and agriculture sectors against targeted attacks from Ottawa.”
Toews apparently got this notion from Ottawa itself. When the US threatened trade discrimination based on country of origin labeling, Canada responded by threatening to impose tariffs on such goods.
The Americans repealed some of their legislation, perhaps because of the Ottawa threat, but also because the World Trade Organization banned country-of-origin labeling for some products.
Toews says his moves against any Ottawa predation would be equally strategic and targeted. He would prevent a large nullification motion that could very well be declared unconstitutional in court. More cautious by nature, Toews is right. A constitutional declaration that was simply ridiculed and defeated would be more damaging than doing nothing.
(Smith says that Ottawa is the “lawless” party that consistently ignores the Constitution. His override response, based on provincial powers, would be “legal.”)
Brian Jean supports many ideas of the Sovereignty Act, but is limited to the nullification of federal laws.
He said the key is to go ahead with measures like provincial referendums on key issues, unlike Prime Minister Jason Kenney, who won the equalization referendum but then did nothing else when the rest of the country ignored him.
Rebecca Schulz said there is much to be gained from Ottawa with tough bargaining, citing her own victory with the federal-provincial child care agreement.
Rajan Sawhney took on Smith more directly. “We can respond aggressively (to Ottawa) but the response is not to threaten sovereignty or separation.
“A Danielle Smith win today means a Rachel Notley win tomorrow,” he added, calling Smith’s idea “risky and impetuous.”
The candidates, including Loewen and Leela Aheer, debated and often criticized each other for two hours, but ended up saying how wonderful they are, each and every one. They even offered each other cabinet posts.
Aheer came out with the only moment of true inspiration when he called for “a collective wave of energy and strength” to lead the province to greatness.
Loewen, who was kicked out of the government caucus for criticizing Kenney, chided Toews for not speaking up. Toews fired back that he didn’t “cut and run,” but spoke his mind at the cabinet table.
The candidates are trying to win for themselves as they unite the party and defeat the NDP next year. It’s complicated.
Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald.