Alberta to make changes to its ‘sovereignty’ bill


Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

EDMONTON — The Alberta government is working on changes, to be debated next week, to amend current provisions of the province’s « sovereignty » bill that would give cabinet the power to rewrite laws behind closed doors, without having to go through the Legislative Assembly.

That’s what Alberta Premier Danielle Smith said in a radio interview on Saturday. She argued that the bill should not give such powers to the cabinet and that her government is determined to make it clear that the cabinet will not have the right to rewrite laws in private.

« You can’t get anything 100% right the first time, » Smith said. I think there is a bit of confusion in all this, so we are working on amendments that will clarify everything.

The bill, introduced this week, has been met with very cold reception, since once passed, it would give Ms. Smith and her cabinet the power to revoke any federal policy, law or program they deem harmful to the interests of Alberta.

Several people have criticized the fact that such a power exercised behind closed doors, without the oversight of the Legislative Assembly, constitutes a threat to the principles of checks and balances essential in a healthy democracy.

The bill also raised concerns about the provision that gives cabinet the right to order provincially legislated or funded entities to reject federal laws.

These entities include municipalities, police forces, health regions, post-secondary institutions and school boards.

In the days following the introduction of the bill, Ms. Smith and members of her cabinet repeated loud and clear that the new law did not give unilateral powers to the cabinet to amend laws.

But on Friday afternoon, the premier acknowledged in an interview with CBC that changes might be needed. On Saturday morning, she confirmed that changes would be made.

« Some people are concerned that the bill is written in a way that suggests cabinet could unilaterally change laws, but we can’t do that, » Smith said in a radio interview. If we want to change laws (once the bill is passed), we will have to come back to the Legislative Assembly. We are working to make this clarification possible.”

The Alberta premier added that these amendments will be debated next week and that she is aiming for a “fair” approach.

« If we’ve caused some confusion with awkward wording, then let’s change it so we can talk about the bigger issues, » she said.

Ms Smith floated the idea of ​​an Alberta ‘sovereignty’ bill in June.

She called it a deliberately confrontational tool to restore the relationship with a federal government that she accuses of interfering in areas of provincial jurisdiction, such as energy development and health care.

Under this new law, Cabinet would have the power to determine whether Ottawa is interfering with an Alberta jurisdiction through a law, policy or program that it believes could harm the province.

The Cabinet would then send a resolution to the Legislative Assembly, specifying the nature of the harm and the ways to remedy it.

If the legislature passes the resolution, its involvement ends and the cabinet takes over. The cabinet could then use the bill’s extraordinary powers to rewrite legislation and order provincial entities to ignore federal laws based on what it deems « necessary or desirable. »

Ms Smith did not say how she will use the bill. She has oscillated in recent days between saying it is a measure of last resort and saying she hopes to start using it as early as spring.


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