EDMONTON — Premier Jason Kenney says his party was founded on a strong Alberta within Confederation and he won’t sit idly by while one of the candidates vying to replace him pitches a "risky, dangerous, half-baked" and "banana republic" plan for more provincial independence.
Kenney was commenting Tuesday on a promise by Danielle Smith to immediately introduce what she calls an Alberta sovereignty act this fall, promising her government would ignore federal laws and court rulings it deems against Alberta's best interest.
“The so-called sovereignty act would effectively take us to the brink of separation from the Canadian federation, would shred the rule of law and would do devastating damage to jobs, the economy and the prospect of pipelines,” Kenney said at a news conference in Calgary.
Kenney said while he shares the frustration of some Albertans with federal policies under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, “I have always been unapologetically a Canadian patriot."
“I’m not about to become spineless on my patriotism or my support for the rule of law because somebody in a leadership campaign disagrees.”
The Alberta sovereignty act is the signature platform promise of Smith, the former Wildrose party leader.
Smith announced the plan in June, grabbing headlines and large crowds at party events. She has since been the focus of attacks from most of the other six candidates, leading to the perception she is the front-runner to replace Kenney as United Conservative Party leader and premier when the votes are counted Oct. 6.
Ballots began being mailed out last week.
Smith has said the bill is needed to declare a shock to a “lawless” federal government passing policies she claims are profoundly undercutting Alberta’s energy development.
Alberta announced last week it expects to take in a record $28.4 billion in non-renewable resource revenue this budget year.
Smith, in a statement earlier Tuesday, reiterated that her government would only use the sovereignty act sparingly, subject to a free vote in the house, in situations where it believes its constitutional rights have been violated.
She said if the federal government doesn’t like it, it can take Alberta to court.
The plan, she said, is not about leaving Confederation, but in fact saving it.
“The restoration and reassertion of provincial rights across our country will protect all provinces from the destructive outreach of Ottawa, and is likely the only viable way for Canada to remain a unified nation," she wrote.
Government house leader Jason Nixon and Kenney have questioned whether the act would even pass in the house. Lieut.-Gov. Salma Lakhani said last week she is duty-bound to refuse to sign into law any bill offside with the Constitution.
Smith has accused Kenney of breaking his promise to be impartial in the leadership race, but Kenney said he is simply defending his government’s policies.
Two law professors say Smith’s plan would be a fundamental betrayal of the rule of law — and an unnecessary one.
Martin Olszynski, with the University of Calgary, said provinces have the power now to challenge the federal government through the courts, and can seek immediate remedies and injunctions if necessary while the cases move through the legal system.
“We don’t decide the constitutionality of laws by vote — popular or otherwise. That’s not how it works in a functioning democracy,” said Olszynski, with the University of Calgary.
“That’s fundamentally what Smith rejects. She rejects the idea that an independent court would make these decisions.
"She wants to make these decisions.”
Eric Adams, with the University of Alberta, said if the province wants to start ignoring the Constitution, then the issue becomes one of separation or sovereignty-association, and should be addressed as such.
“Those are issues that should be put honestly, squarely, and directly to the Alberta public,” said Adams.
“The idea that an individual who wins a leadership race takes control of a party and then places a particular province on the road to a kind of quasi-independence is just so completely unprecedented in Canadian constitutional history.
“In my view, (it’s) deeply undemocratic.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 6, 2022.
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press