The Alberta government has introduced a bill that would grant Premier Danielle Smith and her cabinet broad powers to rewrite provincial laws behind closed doors in an effort to push back against Ottawa.
The proposed legislation would also allow cabinet to direct “provincial entities” — Crown-controlled organizations, municipalities, school boards, post-secondary schools, municipal police forces, regional health authorities and any social agency receiving provincial money — to not use provincial resources to enforce federal rules deemed harmful to Alberta’s interests.
“The Canadian Constitution is clear that the federal and provincial governments are equals, each with our own areas of exclusive jurisdiction,” Smith said in a statement Tuesday after her government introduced the Alberta sovereignty within a united Canada act.
“The (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.”
In the bill, the United Conservative Party government promises to follow court rulings and the Constitution, but says it would be up to the federal government to sue the province to resolve disputes instead of the other way around.
Smith said if the bill passes, her government would use it as early as this spring to fight the federal government on a slew of issues, including energy development, agriculture, health care, education, firearms, child care, property rights and social programs.
It was the cornerstone of her successful campaign to win the leadership of the United Conservative Party last month to take over from Jason Kenney as premier.
The bill has been criticized by Kenney and even some of Smith’s leadership rivals — four of whom now sit in her cabinet — as a recipe for legal uncertainty, investment flight and the first step toward separation.
The bill was tabled after Lt.-Gov. Salma Lakhani read aloud in the chamber the speech from the throne, launching a new legislative session.
In the speech outlining government plans and priorities, Lakhani said the four-week fall sitting would focus on helping Albertans with inflation, health care and battling the federal government.
“Ottawa is not our ruler. Ottawa is our partner and it needs to begin acting like it,” Lakhani told the assembled legislature members and dignitaries.
The sovereignty bill sets out the framework to launch fights with the feds.
Under the bill, cabinet ministers or Smith would decide whether federal rules are harmful to Alberta. The bill does not give a legal definition of what constitutes harm.
Cabinet would then craft a resolution laying out the nature of the harm and steps that need to be taken to fight back. The 87-member legislature would vote on the resolution and if it gets a majority, the resolution passes and cabinet goes to work implementing it.
Cabinet can implement the resolution by using existing powers in legislation or it can unilaterally amend any provincial laws it deems applicable. Those laws are normally debated and passed in the legislature.
The bill says while cabinet can then direct any “provincial entity” to not enforce those federal laws or policies, it cannot do so with individuals or private businesses.
It also stresses that the bill cannot infringe on First Nations rights, a concern Alberta treaty chiefs have raised.
Any resolution passed by the assembly would expire after two years, unless the legislature votes to end it earlier. However, cabinet can extend orders and rules made under any resolution for a maximum of two extra years.
The window to fight the act in court in a judicial review is reduced from the normal six-month time frame to 30 days.
The Saskatchewan government introduced legislation with a similar aim last month, focusing on reinforcing provincial rights over natural resources.
Earlier Tuesday, Smith was sworn in as the new member for Brooks-Medicine Hat after winning a byelection for the seat earlier this month.
It was her first time back on the floor the legislature chamber since the spring of 2015.
At that time, Smith was with the Progressive Conservatives, having led a mass floor crossing of her Wildrose Party months earlier. She failed to win a nomination for the PCs in 2015 and returned to journalism as a radio talk-show host for six years.
Kenney remains a backbench UCP legislature member. He was not in the chamber for the throne speech or the introduction of the bill.
—Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press