Alberta Premier Danielle Smith’s controversial proposed Sovereignty Act legislation is dominating discussion in the province and throughout political circles across the country.
Smith first pitched an Alberta Sovereignty Act during the United Conservative Party (UCP) leadership race to bar federal legislation deemed harmful to the province and its interests.
Smith tabled the proposed bill, now known as the Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act or Bill 1, in the Alberta Legislature on November 29. It passed the first reading on division, with Alberta NDP MLAs voting against it.
The government says the act would allow the province “to stand up to federal government overreach and interference in areas of provincial jurisdiction, including… private property, natural resources, agriculture, firearms, regulation of the economy and delivery of health, education and other social programs.”
It lays out a legislative framework for Alberta to formally defend its provincial jurisdiction while respecting Indigenous and treaty rights, Canada’s Constitution and the courts.
Smith said she hopes the province will “never have to use this bill.”
“It begins the conversation with Ottawa so that they do not continue to pass aggressive policy targeted specifically at our industry and specifically at our development of our natural resources,” she said.
In a statement, the Opposition said the proposed legislation would create “investment uncertainty, jeopardize federal funding agreements and risk Alberta’s economic future.”
NDP leader Rachel Notley also said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should revoke the bill.
“I think if they [the federal government] revoke the Act, that would be the right thing to do.”
She was responding to Trudeau’s comment that while he’s “not looking for a fight” with Alberta, the federal government is not taking anything off the table when it comes to how it may respond to the Sovereignty Act.
Immediately after the tabling of Bill 1, the government was criticized for including sweeping powers for cabinet to rewrite laws outside the legislative process. The proposed act had authority for cabinet to “direct provincial entities to not enforce specific federal laws or policies with provincial resources.”
While the government has since put forward amendments to remove those powers, Smith won’t say whether the wording was intentional.
“The sovereignty act wasn’t perfect in its wording. That’s why it’s being amended,” Smith told reporters Tuesday. “There are a couple of clarifications that we needed to make.”
Justice Minister Tyler Shandro declined to characterize the wording “as a mistake,” saying on Monday that the UCP government understood the bill.
The minister said he gave legal advice to cabinet “about what the options are, and what the advantages and disadvantages are for the various different decision points.” He wouldn’t comment on the specifics of that advice, citing cabinet confidentiality.
During question period on Tuesday, NDP justice critic Irfan Sabir told the Premier to waive cabinet confidentiality so Shandro could explain what legal advice he delivered.
“This bill was a poorly drafted attempt at giving extreme power to the cabinet at the expense of the democratic rights of Albertans,” Sabir said. “Albertans deserve to know how such a disaster was created.”
On Wednesday, new problems arose for the UCP government, with First Nations chiefs from Alberta and Saskatchewan calling for their respective provinces to toss sovereignty-style legislation.
In November, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe introduced the Saskatchewan First Act to assert provincial autonomy over matters assigned to the provinces in the 1867 Constitution Act.
Chief Tony Alexis of the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation northwest of Edmonton said there’s been no consultation or dialogue with First Nations on the proposed Bill 1.
“We are not looking for change or amendments to the bill. We want it withdrawn,” he said Wednesday on behalf of Treaty 6.
Chiefs will put forward an emergency resolution at the Assembly of First Nations special assembly to reject sovereignty bills before both provincial legislatures.
The calls come even though the Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act stresses that the bill cannot infringe on First Nations rights.
On Tuesday, the bill passed second reading and was referred to committee to be studied in detail.