On Tuesday, after months of blame and controversy, Albertans and Canadians will finally be able to see what Premier Danielle Smith’s Sovereignty Act actually says and does.
The full title is the Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act.
It’s reminiscent of the Quebec comedian who made people laugh with his signature line during the referendum years: “What Quebecers really want is an independent Quebec in a strong and united Canada.”
Smith must convince Albertans and Canadians that the province can be much tougher on Ottawa without threatening the national fabric, risking losing investment or seriously damaging Alberta’s reputation.
Notably, the legislature would not deal with Smith’s promise to encode rights for the unvaccinated in the Human Rights Act.
She said it was a complex job that required several legislative amendments, but that would come later.
Smith also revealed that she and her ministers have personally called organizations when she hears they are “discriminating” by requiring vaccination. She mentioned a sports organization and a film set, strongly implying that provincial funding is at stake.
But the overarching theme on Tuesday will be the Sovereignty Act.
Five of her six opponents in the UCP leadership race opposed her plan. Her people say no public opposition from them or other UCP caucus members is expected.
There is a genuine will among UCP MPs to remain calm through the election next May, but that could change very quickly if the public reception turns hostile.
Smith does not see the act as mere symbolism. She intends to use it immediately.
It is crucial that it be retroactive.
The law can be used to push back against actions Ottawa has already taken, not just new ones the Trudeau government brings in after the legislation is passed.
Smith will tell her ministers that under the Act they must review federal policies and legislation for federal “overreach”. When they find them, they will prepare resolutions for the legislative session early next spring.
These resolutions, once passed by MPs, will enable specific actions, including legal challenges.
Very often when Alberta loses in court – as with the federal carbon tax – nothing happens further. Albertans are still paying the very taxes former Premier Jason Kenney so vehemently opposed.
Smith’s bill goes a long way further. It would allow retaliation against existing federal laws and measures, either through refusal to comply or more specific actions.
A key target to begin with is federal Bill C-69, the project approval law that the Alberta government has always claimed is harmful and discriminatory.
Other potential areas for action include the federal move to reduce fertilizer use; the proposed federal oil and gas emissions cap (which Ottawa claims is not a cap on production); and possibly the new federal firearms law.
There will be others as ministers come forward with cases of federal intrusion into provincial jurisdiction.
Smith’s key claim to legitimize this bill is that Ottawa often reaches far beyond its own constitutional authority. If the feds don’t like the backlash, she says, they can try to sue the province for a change.
The approach has wide support in the PCP. Polls show the general public is not convinced. Still, Smith’s strategists and advisers are convinced it will win them the election.
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But they will still push hard on other fronts. The throne speech to be delivered on Tuesday is said to focus in order on affordability, health care, jobs and the economy and, ultimately, standing up to Ottawa.
The Sovereignty Act, Bill 1, is introduced on Tuesday.
Later comes Bill 2 on inflation relief. Most of the details were released last week, including $600 payments to seniors and families with children under 18.
Bill 3 will focus on the new payment agreement with doctors. Legislation is needed to enable part of that transaction.
Another bill will deal with property rights. Joseph Schow, leader of the government house, also said that the Police Act will be changed to make the courts more efficient, and to give extra crime-fighting tools to the police.
On Monday, Smith and several ministers announced re-indexing to inflation of financial benefit programs, including AISH, the seniors benefit and the Alberta Child and Family Benefit.
Six percent increases will start arriving quickly. AISH and income support recipients will see the money on December 22, others in January.
Tuesday’s opening of the legislature marks Smith’s first appearance in the legislature since 2015. NDP Leader Rachel Notley will finally be able to challenge her face-to-face.
Previous legislative sessions have been increasingly bitter and contentious. They may soon seem tame.
Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald.