Danielle Smith’s Alberta ‘sovereignty’ law introduces sweeping new powers to resist Ottawa

EDMONTON — The government of Alberta Premier Danielle Smith has proposed a bill that would allow her province to declare federal laws unconstitutional, allow it to make unilateral changes to provincial legislation and order entities provincial governments to ignore « harmful » federal policies.

The list of sweeping new powers asserted is part of Alberta’s sovereignty within a United Canada Act, introduced Tuesday as the first bill to reach the Legislative Assembly since Smith took over as leader of the United Conservative Party in power of Jason Kenney.

The bill has been a lightning rod for critics since it was revealed as the cornerstone of Smith’s campaign platform for UCP leadership. Critics and constitutional law experts called it not dangerously close to Alberta separatism, but Smith said the bill would be constitutional and, she said, would strengthen Confederation.

The law does not give the provincial government the power to order a private company or a citizen to do anything, but it does allow a minister to issue a directive to a provincial entity — such as a municipal police force or a non-governmental organization — telling him to ignore a federal policy or law.

These public entities could include public bodies, provincially controlled bodies, groups receiving public funds, regional health authorities, post-secondary institutions or school boards.

Examples of where this new legislation could be used, as noted in a provincial press release, include federal laws governing natural resources in Alberta; conditional funding for social services, such as transfers from Ottawa for health care and education; and the federal gun buyback program.

In addition, the bill allows cabinet ministers to directly amend legislation without debate in the Legislative Assembly, after following a specific process: first, the Legislative Assembly would have to approve a motion that a law or policy federal government is unconstitutional or prejudicial to Alberta; then the new powers of the Sovereignty Act could be used to thwart Ottawa.

This could then be done by the province amending a provincial law without having to debate those changes in the provincial legislature. Cabinet could also order changes to regulations or order a provincial entity to ignore a federal policy or law.

The new powers, if used, are to expire either two years after the motion is passed or when it is struck down by the legislature, whichever comes first. The Cabinet can, however, extend the powers to a maximum of four years, and the whole process could also be revived under a reinvigorated motion.

The bill also says that the government is not responsible for anything done under the law. These liability protections also extend to provincial entities following orders to ignore federal laws.

However, an unconstitutional order cannot be made under the law, according to the law itself, nor can it infringe upon constitutionally protected Aboriginal rights. If someone wants to seek judicial review in court, arguing that a government decision under the law is illegal, they have 30 days to do so, instead of the usual six-month window for such a request. .

The ideas behind the legislation, once known simply as the Alberta Sovereignty Act, have changed over time. Last month, First Nations leaders under Treaties 6, 7 and 8 repeatedly objected, saying their treaty agreements were made with the Crown, not the province.

He was then given the new, longer name of Smith, which seemed to dismiss notions that she was pushing for Alberta separatism.

At one point during her bid for the UCP leadership, she suggested that the bill, which was always to be her first presentation, would not abide by Supreme Court rulings, but this was backed down.


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