One of the frontrunners to replace Jason Kenney as Alberta’s prime minister says that if she wins, legislation will come in the fall to ignore federal laws along with steps to set up a provincial police force and tax collection agency.
Danielle Smith said the legislature would need to pass an Alberta sovereignty law as soon as possible to allow Alberta to reject federal dictates on COVID-19, such as ordering vaccine shots for children or third doses for everyone.
Alberta’s premier rejects separation threats: ‘Either you love your country or you do not’
She also said it was imperative to get the ball rolling on an Alberta police force and a separate agency to collect taxes – needed to set teeth on sovereignty legislation – because they are multi-year initiatives.
“We want clear legislation so that (federal officials) understand that we just do not want to adopt a policy that violates Albertan’s rights,” Smith said in an interview.
“It would be a mechanism so they know we take enforcement of our jurisdiction seriously.”
The Alberta Sovereignty Act will give the legislature power to refuse to enforce federal laws or court decisions that it deems to be an infringement of the province’s rights or a threat to the province’s interests.
Smith said with Alberta’s economy and growing population that it is crucial to act now to send a message to the federal government and to her members of the United Conservative Party that the time for pure saber race is over.
She said she is not a pioneer, but that she follows in the footsteps of provinces such as Quebec and British Columbia, which have chosen with impunity to reject Ottawa’s dictates on policies from drug laws to pipelines.
She said the UCP has a mandate to implement such comprehensive legislation immediately instead of running on it as a platform at the May 2023 election.
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She pointed to a provincial vote last fall in which nearly 62 percent said they wanted to see equalization removed from the constitution.
She also highlighted a Fair Deal panel that issued a report two years ago calling on the province to pursue issues of autonomy such as a pension scheme in Alberta and police force.
“There’s been enough conversation around this that I have a pretty good measure of where people are,” Smith said. “It seems to me that we have a mandate to move.”
In Calgary, opposition NDP leader Rachel Notley said Smith had no mandate to pursue such “extreme political views.” She said the UCP should be focused on solving problems for the Albertans, such as waiting times in health care and rising costs due to inflation, rather than “pretending to fight Ottawa.”
Three law professors from the University of Calgary have also rejected Smith’s ideas.
They said such a sovereignty law would not only be “fundamentally illegal”, it would take a devastating blow to Canada’s constitutional order, the separation of powers and the rule of law, which supports a healthy democracy and protects against “arbitrary state power.”
“Alberta’s sovereignty law sets a dangerous course in that direction,” write Martin Olszynski, Jonnette Watson Hamilton and Shaun Fluker in their analysis. Fluker is also running for the NDP in the 2023 election.
Olszynski said in an interview Thursday that while there are concerns and debate about how other provinces interpret or enforce federal laws, “it is unprecedented in modern Canadian history for a political movement to declare that it will ignore the courts.”
He added that politicians who speak in this way should not be tolerated.
“Once you give power to someone who has explicitly and very deliberately told you that they are ready to ignore the rule of law, then they are ready to ignore it whenever they want.”
The Sovereignty Act is the central policy proposal in the Free Alberta Strategy.
The strategy was introduced last September in a political paper written by former Wildrose party member Rob Anderson, a professor of political science at the University of Calgary, Barry Cooper, and attorney Derek From.
They claim that federal laws, policies, and excessive reach seriously hurt Alberta’s development.
They urge a two-track strategy to assert greater autonomy for Alberta within the Confederacy, while at the same time laying the political and administrative foundations for the transition to Alberta to separation and sovereignty if negotiations fail.
Smith is one of eight candidates running in the race to replace Kenney as party leader and prime minister.
She is the former leader of the Wildrose Party, which merged with the Kenyan Progressive Conservatives in 2017 to create the current UCP.
The winner will be announced on October 6th. Early opinion polls suggest Smith is one of the favorites.
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