Is the Alberta Sovereignty Act something to worry about as an Albertan?
Mikaela Delos Santos, News Editor
United Conservative Party (UCP) leader and Alberta Premier Danielle Smith has caused quite a stir after proposing Bill 1: the Alberta Sovereignty within a United Canada Act. The proposed act has been one of Smith’s front-running policies on her campaigns during the Alberta UCP leadership race back in September 2022.
If passed, the act will give the Alberta government the legal authority to fight federal laws or policies that do not benefit the province. This will include providing the cabinet authority to direct the provincial entities, whether or not to carry out policies and laws that use provincial resources by the federal government.
Some of these measures include (1) directing a minister to exercise power vested to that minister by legislation or regulation, (2) giving specific directives to deemed ‘provincial entities’, (3) temporarily amending enactments that is in accordance with the resolution and (4) any other legal action that the cabinet can take.
Alberta justice minister, Tyler Shandro, says that “this isn’t just an opportunity for the assembly or the cabinet to start making emergency changes to legislation.”
If enacted, the process of the act would function as such: first, a member of the executive council will introduce a motion in the legislative assembly to use the act. This policy or legislation must be considered as a federal initiative that is regarded as unconstitutional, contrary to the charter, or harmful to Albertans in the opinion of the assembly.
The legislative assembly would then debate the resolution, passing if a majority of the MLA’s vote in favour; the government MLA’s will have a free vote on any of the resolutions.
The Alberta government has campaigned this bill to Albertans as a way to defend the province from Ottawa.
Premier Smith says that, “the Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act will be used as a constitutional shield to protect Albertans from federal overreach that is costing Alberta’s economy billions of dollars each year in lost investment and is costing Alberta families untold jobs and opportunities.”
During the Dec. 1, 2022 assembly at the Alberta Legislature, Hon. Tracy Allard, ECA MLA for Grande Prairie UCP says that, “Albertans are tired of having [their] economic prosperity obstructed and provincial jurisdiction encroached… by federal overreach and federal politicians such as Justin Trudeau and Jagmeet Singh.”
Hon. Deron Bilous, ECA MLA for Edmonton-Beverley-Clareview NDP, says that, “this bill is damaging and has already caused damage to Alberta’s reputation.”
“The problem is that this bill is so problematic that it cannot be amended to be good enough to be legislation that’s passed in this Chamber, so this bill needs to not proceed. The government needs to go back to the drawing board on this,” Bilous adds.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also says that, “we’re gonna see how this plays out. I’m not gonna take anything off the table, but I’m also not looking for a fight.”
Albertans are impacted
Political science professor at Mount Royal University (MRU), Duane Bratt, finds that the Alberta Sovereignty Act will affect Albertans negatively.
“Typically jurisdictional disputes between the federal govt and provincial govts are decided by the courts. However, Bill 1 grants the AB government the unilateral right to determine what is constitutional.”
“The courts will likely toss it out, but in the meantime it will cause uncertainty,” Bratt adds.
Smith’s proposal of the act could hurt her chances in the next election against NDP’s Rachel Notley.
“The Sovereignty Act was her signature promise during the leadership race. She won the leadership and became premier because of it. Unfortunately, it is unpopular among most Albertans. So she is adhering to her promise but it might (likely) cost her the next election.”
Bill 1 has passed the third reading in the Alberta legislature on December 8 2022, at around 1AM. The final vote was a split along party lines with the UCP at 27 to the NDP at 7.