Danielle Smith declares war on the rule of law

When it comes to Alberta politics, always go for chaos. That has been the lesson of the past decade, and it will clearly be the main theme of Danielle Smith’s tenure as prime minister. After winning the leadership of the United Conservative Party with a promise to assert Alberta’s “sovereignty” more aggressively, many (myself included) expected Smith to add water to her wine to win over more moderate urban voters. . Instead, with the Orwellian-sounding “Alberta Sovereignty within a United Canada Act,” she presented yesterday as her government’s proposal. invoice 1, he opted for a little arsenic. The question now is who will die first: his government or the rule of law in Alberta.

“We need the power to restore the relationship with Ottawa,” Smith said during the press conference explaining the proposed legislation. “That’s what all this is about. We’ve tried different things in the past, and it hasn’t worked. So we have to try something new.” That “something new” is actually something quite old: a so-called “Henry VIII.” clause” which allows the cabinet to amend existing legislation without the consent or approval of the legislature. As constitutional scholar Eric Adams wrote“the cabinet can bypass the legislative process entirely to temporarily amend, apparently for years, any other provincial law, presumably to provide more measures to resist federal law enforcement.”

These types of powers are generally reserved for times of genuine crisis, whether it be a war with another country or a public health emergency like the one we recently faced. Indeed, in April 2020, the Kenney government granted itself a similar set of powers in its Bill 10, the Public Health Emergency Powers Amendment Act. That prompted an almost immediate constitutional challenge from the Justice Center for Constitutional Freedoms, a group that has consistently opposed mandatory public health measures during the pandemic and was well represented in the recent hearings of the Public Order Emergency Commission.

So what is the current crisis seemingly demanding his return? The federal government’s determination to do something about climate change and gun crime, of course. blacksmith He suggested the Trudeau government was “actively trying to block” Alberta’s resources, a statement that is hard to square with his $21.4 billion commitment to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and his generous support of LNG Canada. Meanwhile, the oft-repeated false claim that Ottawa is forcing farmers to reduce fertilizer use by 30 percent is actually a proposed federal goal for a 30 percent reduction in fertilizer emissions by 2030, a goal that will be backed by hundreds of millions of dollars in federal largesse.

When oil and gas royalties and revenues are at record levels, companies are awash in profits, and Ottawa is funneling billions of dollars in new subsidies, it will be hard to convince anyone that this constitutes a “crisis” for Alberta. . Let alone one that demands extraordinary new powers. But Smith seems determined to test how far she can take the meaning of that word. Like Globe and Mail columnist Andrew Coyne tweeted“WELCOME TO THE PERMANENT EMERGENCY, ALBERTANS!”

For those who have been vigorously protesting the federal government’s use of the Emergency Act earlier this year (such as the JCCF), this is a deeply uncomfortable time. His continued attempts to portray Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as a “dictator” have failed, largely because it is impossible to be a dictator in a minority parliament. Smith’s bill, on the other hand, is more clearly dictator-adjacent, and if Trudeau were the one to try to implement it, he might hear howls of outrage from right-wing politicians and outer-space pundits.

But this implicit bet on the hypocrisy of their own supporters is something that conservative politicians have been doing and piling on for a while now. They understand that the people who complain the most about freedom, democracy, and the rule of law may also be the ones who are most willing to look past the threats that threaten them when they come from their own side of the partisan fence. During his first term, Doug Ford invoked the notwithstanding clause unilaterally chopped up the size of Toronto City Hall and restricted the political rhetoric of his opponents, and he won an even bigger majority in last June’s elections. The CAQ’s François Legault deployed similar heavy-handed tactics in Quebec and was rewarded in kind with his own expanded majority.

It’s not just conservative voters who show this kind of situational commitment to freedom and democracy. In September, four of the top UCP leadership candidates held a rare joint press conference to denounce Smith’s signature idea. Rajan Sawhney, one of those candidates, said: “We have a moral imperative to tell the truth about the potential of this highly destructive legislation.” That moral imperative has apparently disappeared, as Sawhney, Travis Toews, Rebecca Schulz and Brian Jean now sit at Smith’s cabinet table, all set to benefit from the enormous new powers conferred by Bill 1.

There has been talk that the federal government could use its overrule power to strike down Bill 1, or that the lieutenant governor could refuse to give it royal assent. In reality, neither is likely, and both would be catastrophic: the political and constitutional equivalent of dumping jet fuel into a burning garbage can. Instead, it’s up to Albertans to show they care more about their own democratic rights and freedoms than fighting an imagined enemy in Ottawa by voting in the election next May. If they don’t, they will only be to blame for what follows.

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