Alberta Sovereignty Act would give Cabinet unilateral power to change laws

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith’s landmark legislation would grant her cabinet new powers to bypass the legislature and unilaterally change provincial laws.

The measure is outlined in Bill 1, the Alberta Sovereignty within a United Canada Act, introduced Tuesday in the provincial legislature.

The bill outlines how the Alberta government plans not to enforce federal legislation, policies or programs that it deems « harmful » to Alberta’s interests or that violate the division of powers in the Constitution.

Smith pitched the idea for the bill last summer during the race to replace Jason Kenney as leader of the ruling United Conservative Party.

Although the bill was criticized by most of its opponents in the leadership race, many UCP members embraced the idea of ​​taking concrete action to push back against the federal government.

Smith emerged as leader after winning the sixth ballot on October 6. All but one of his opponents in the current race sit in his cabinet.

On September 6, the Smith campaign released an overview of how the law works. However, he did not mention the broader scope of powers granted to the cabinet.

Under the existing rules, Cabinet has the power to make and amend regulations by Orders in Council. Giving the power to unilaterally change legislation is normally allowed in emergency situations.

In April 2020, the Kenney government gave itself that power under Bill 10, the Public Health Emergency Powers Amendment Act, to keep public services running for the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The government ended up repealing that law a year later after facing widespread public criticism and a constitutional challenge for giving itself too much power.

Smith was sworn in as an MP on Tuesday

Smith introduced the sovereignty legislation on Tuesday afternoon shortly after being sworn in as Member of Parliament for Brooks-Medicine Hat. The four-week session of the fall legislature began with a Speech from the Throne and is expected to end just before Christmas.

Smith has instructed his ministers to research federal « intrusions » into provincial jurisdiction, past and future, and create special resolutions to be introduced and debated in the spring 2023 legislative session.

MPs would be entitled to a free vote on motions, which would outline the alleged offense and how it harms Alberta. Once passed, resolutions become non-binding recommendations to Cabinet.

The legislation would allow Cabinet to order provincial entities, including municipalities, municipal police forces, post-secondary institutions, school districts and regional health authorities, not to enforce federal laws. Cabinet could also direct a minister to issue an order or directive.

The bill says nothing about what will happen if an organization refuses to follow Cabinet directives and continues to follow federal law.

All actions taken by Cabinet must be constitutional and cannot infringe on Indigenous rights. The government says it will respect court decisions that find its actions unconstitutional.

The powers used by Cabinet would end two years after the passing of a resolution. The Cabinet could decide to extend them for another two years.

The bill also limits the time in which an organization can seek judicial review to 30 days, instead of the usual six months.

The court must judge the government’s actions using the standard of « patent unreasonableness » instead of the less stringent and more common thresholds of unreasonableness or correctness.

The bill also aims to protect the government and provincial entities from civil lawsuits brought as a result of the consequences that flow from the law.


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