The UCP smooths the sharp edges of the sovereignty law.
It will still be one tough Alberta bill, but amendments from the UCP caucus will eliminate two massive problems with the original Bill 1 – the use of a dictatorial “Henry VIII” clause, and the ability to allow anti-Ottawa movements to activate over anything seen as a political slight.
If passed, these would be significant and meaningful changes that would make the bill constitutionally acceptable and (with lingering doubts) even workable.
That won’t stop the raging debate over whether such a bill is necessary at all. Members of the Assembly of First Nations on Wednesday called for the law to be withdrawn, not simply amended.
Chief Darcy Dixon of the Bearspaw Nation said, “we see this as a veiled attempt to flout treaty and as a way to gain illegal access to our land without restriction.”
The bill states that it cannot be construed as “abrogating or derogating from any existing treaty rights of Aboriginal peoples.”
Opposition will continue. People have every right to ask what Bill 1 means for their lives and their province. First Nations are naturally suspicious of any tampering with their Crown relationship.
Hours after the amendments were tabled, an Angus Reid Institute poll emerged showing Premier Danielle Smith has about 43 percent public support, with it almost evenly split between strong and moderate support.
Her disapproval is 54 percent, with fully 44 percent strongly opposed.
For a new prime minister, this is not a great place to be.
But the poll was conducted from November 28 to December 3. The questions were asked for three full days after the bill was dropped and the national uproar began.
The retreat to common sense may now help the prime minister’s approval rating. Some even wonder if the whole show was a set-up — introduce an outrageous bill, grab the nation’s attention, then backtrack a bit after indelibly branding “Alberta sovereignty” on the nation.
Government sources strongly deny this. There was some confusion and misunderstanding in the complex setup of the Justice Department, they say. Mistakes were made and they are being corrected.
The first mistake was language that clearly said Smith and her cabinet could write new laws and change existing ones.
Every Canadian lawmaker — including the prime minister — knows that these are exclusive matters of the legislature.
Each bill must be tabled, debated, read and voted on three times by elected members.
The Cabinet – the executive branch – has a lot of power over bills that come into the house, but no right to change or proclaim them. This is a fundamental principle of our democracy.
King Henry VIII, who beheaded two of his six wives, was forever tied to the executive grip. This is always a temptation for governments.
‘No jurisdiction’: Assembly of First Nations chiefs calls for sovereignty law to be withdrawn
Link: Dictatorial, Unworkable Sovereignty Act Could Be Worst Legislation in Alberta History
Carson Jerema: Danielle Smith’s act of sovereignty won’t be enough for her anti-Trudeau base
City attorney sees no positives for Calgary in proposed Alberta sovereignty law
The federal government used the trick in a limited way. When Justin Trudeau’s Liberals did it, Alberta was quick to shout angry disapproval.
In the new version of the Sovereignty Act, all references to cabinet power by law or statute are removed. Amendments clarify that the cabinet can only change regulations arising from laws, not the laws themselves.
“Regulation” is newly and narrowly defined as any rule, tariff, fee or other measure made possible by law.
I think we can return Henry VIII to his well-deserved crypt, even if some very angry Albertans were very pleased with his reappearance.
They feel Ottawa is pulling so many dirty constitutional tricks that almost any retaliation is justified. But most Albertans, I think, expect fair behavior from their government.
The second amendment is even more important. It now defines “harm” as a federal action that affects or interferes with an area of provincial legislative jurisdiction under the Constitution of Canada.
Action can also be taken if a federal step interferes with rights “of one or more Albertans” under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
It is an unwelcome aftertaste of the pandemic culture wars. If the UCP wants to pursue every possible COVID-induced violation of Charter rights, it can start by suing itself.
Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald.