Premier Smith stands by Sovereignty Act, denounces NDP claim that it 'subverts democracy'

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith set the record straight Thursday on the province's freshly minted Sovereignty Act in her address to the government and members of the Official Opposition.

Premier Smith stands by Sovereignty Act, denounces NDP claim that it 'subverts democracy'
The Canadian Press / Jason Franson
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"Over the past several days, we have heard non-stop hysteria both in and out of this house as the NDP Opposition, its leader, and their allies continue their desperate attempt to paint the Alberta Sovereignty Within A United Canada Act as [an] undemocratic power grab," said Smith. 

The Alberta NDP claimed controversy over the autonomy-driven legislation, arguing it "threatened the very foundation of democracy."

Municipal Affairs Critic Joe Ceci sounded the alarm on Twitter by demanding the Alberta government call an election before Bill 1 became law. 

"Danielle Smith wants to hijack your CPP, set up an Alberta Police Force, make Albertans "get used" to paying for healthcare, and give herself the power to amend provincial laws unilaterally," he tweeted.

Finance Critic Shannon Phillips bemoaned the Sovereignty Act as "a disaster for the Alberta economy — for business conditions, regulatory certainty and job growth."

She called the premier a 'dictator' despite calling for an early election to subvert the will of Albertans.

NDP MLA for Calgary-Bhullar-McCall, Irfan Sabir, even claimed the UCP gave Cabinet the power to alter legislation unilaterally behind closed doors. Smith corrected the matter, simply stating, "it does not."

Smith added:

It is a shameful display of fear-mongering and fabrication that Albertans will remember well when they see how democratically and effectively this constitutional shield will be used in the coming months and years ahead to protect the rights and welfare of Albertans from Ottawa's continuous, unconstitutional and harmful overreach.

As unseemly as the NDP has acted these past 72 hours, voting against a bill they hadn't even read — making accusations and statements without a shred of truth that had to be deleted from Twitter — they sort of antics and tactics, for better or for worse, are part of our democratic process.

The premier made it clear that her UCP government is committed to upholding debate at the Legislature, where her government colleagues and the opposition can "advocate [their] positions passionately" per the will of their constituents. 

She said the Sovereignty Act is not above the rule of law but is crucial to maintaining the rule of law in her province. 

According to a government backgrounder, Bill 1 provides a legal framework to fight 'unconstitutional' or 'harmful' federal laws or policies that negatively impact the province, including those that overreach and interfere in provincial jurisdiction. Sections 92 and 92A of the Constitution grant provinces the ability to make laws on matters concerning but not limited to firearms, energy, natural resources and COVID healthcare decisions.

"The act would give Alberta a legislative framework and democratic approach for defending the federal-provincial division of powers while respecting Canada's constitution and the courts," reads the backgrounder. 

Smith told the Calgary Eyeopener that relitigating Canada's Supreme Court on their federal carbon tax ruling could be in the cards upon receiving new information, according to legal advice she received. In March of 2021, the Supreme Court upheld the federal carbon tax in a 6-3 decision despite legal challenges from Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario.

"We have new information. We have a war in Ukraine. We have a global world increase in prices. We have global instability. We have an affordability crisis." 

Smith said a potential relitigation of the federal carbon tax is one way to address Albertans' concerns about the rising cost of living. 

According to the government backgrounder, "the constitutionality of each resolution brought under the act must be drafted carefully and reviewed case by case to ensure the resolutions are constitutionally defensible." 

Smith ensured they would meet all constitutional and legal requirements before challenging perceived federal overreach and would respect court decisions if a response is contested successfully. 

In an interview with CBC last month, the premier said, "When we identify an issue where we feel Ottawa has overstepped into our constitutional authority, we will put forward a motion in the Legislature and have that debate as well." But before that debate, Smith stressed the importance of putting a structure in place "to put Ottawa on notice." 

Smith denounced Opposition Leader Rachel Notley for supporting the Trudeau Liberals should they threaten to revoke and quash the Sovereignty Act unilaterally if it passes and becomes provincial law. "If they [the federal government] revoke the Act, that would be the right thing to do," said Notley. 

When asked during a CBC interview whether the federal government should enact the Power of Disallowance under the Constitution to disallow the Sovereignty Act, Notely said, "I certainly don't want to see something like that — that would be a horrifying and controversial position for everyone." 

Smith decried Notley's claim that the Sovereignty Act 'subverts democracy,' firing back that the NDP would put Ottawa before Alberta. 

"I will never apologize for defending Albertans against federal actions harmful to our province," she said. "My loyalty is to Albertans - a proud and free people who are not mere subjects of politicians in Ottawa." 

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