While affordability and health care were key features of the Throne speech that Premier Danielle Smith prepared for the opening of the Fourth Session of the Thirtieth Legislature on Tuesday afternoon in Edmonton, it was the Sovereignty within a United Canada Act that she introduced into the legislature later on Tuesday afternoon that was the focal point of her not only her speech but also a key campaign promise she was intent on delivering.
"Over the years, there have been a shamefully large number of missed opportunities for shared growth and prosperity between the provinces and the federal government. In particular, a long and painful history of mistreatment and constitutional overreach from Ottawa has for decades caused tremendous frustration for Albertans," Premier Smith said during a press conference addressing the Act.
While Smith did reassure Albertans during a press conference that legislation does not involve anything related to separation from Canada and that it will not compel any private citizen or business to violate federal law, questions remained as to how this Act, if passed will work.
According to government documents released to the media earlier in the day, the functions of the act would allow a member of the Executive Council, which includes any minister and the Premier to introduce a motion in the legislative assembly for a proposed use of the Act.
"This motion would identify a federal initiative (i.e., policy or piece of legislation) as being, in the opinion of the legislative assembly, unconstitutional, contrary to the Charter or otherwise harmful to Albertans, along with the nature of that harm. The motion would also propose specific measures for the Cabinet to consider with respect to the federal initiative in question," the document stated.
Justice Minster Tyler Shandro explained that steps can only be taken after a motion passes.
"If the motion doesn't pass, the resolution would fail, and the proposed use of the Act wouldn't take place. If the motion does pass, the cabinet would then decide what specific steps or actions the province should take in response to the federal government's overreach. The steps or actions taken would depend entirely on the motion passed, and on what cabinet believes would be most effective as a means to ensuring that the federal government does not overstep its authority," he said.
Shandro also underlined that no matter what the particular steps or actions in response may be, they would have to meet all applicable constitutional and legal requirements.
"Cabinet could, for example, decide to change any provincial enactments. This could include amending legislation, regulations or other orders in order to assert provincial jurisdiction," he added. "The Act would only allow Cabinet to issue orders in council which are constitutional; that is to say, directives which fall within provincial legislative jurisdiction."
He underscored that if the use of the Act against a federal program or federal piece of legislation was approved by the Legislative Assembly, and later challenged in court, Alberta's government would respect the court's decision.
"Nothing in this bill changes the government's commitment to Canada in our respect for the rule of law. Rather, this bill is a rallying call for the provinces to assert our constitutionally mandated rights and jurisdiction."
The government documents claim that the Act would in all likelihood be found constitutional if challenged.
"However, the constitutionality of each resolution brought under the Act will have to be carefully drafted and reviewed on a case-by-case basis to ensure the resolutions are constitutionally defensible."
According to Smith, The Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act would be used as a constitutional shield to protect Albertans from federal overreach.
“Albertans are proud Canadians, and we love our nation dearly. The Canadian Constitution is clear that the federal and provincial governments are equals, each with our own areas of exclusive jurisdiction," she said.
The province's opposition has already voted against the bill in its first reading. According to a press release by the NDP, the vote followed repeated warnings that the introduction of this legislation would create investment uncertainty, jeopardize federal funding agreements, and risk Alberta’s economic future.
"Danielle Smith was elected by one per cent of the Alberta voters and now she wants to give herself dictatorial powers,” said Alberta NDP Deputy leader Sarah Hoffman. “Danielle Smith and the UCP are focused on creating more chaos, costs and conflict with her Sovereignty Act.”
The NDP cited that multiple Alberta economists, business leaders, UCP cabinet ministers, and the Chiefs of Treaties 6, 7 and 8 have all spoken against the Act.
"The Alberta NDP is standing up for Albertans who have deep concerns about the economic and social consequences of Danielle Smith’s decision to introduce this legislation."
If passed, the UCP government hopes to use the act to address what they see as federal government overreach and interference in areas of provincial jurisdiction, including in the areas of private property, natural resources, agriculture, firearms, regulation of the economy and delivery of health, education and other social programs.