Alberta Premier Danielle Smith is rejecting suggestions she made a mistake when she introduced a bill that would have given her cabinet overriding powers to rewrite laws outside the legislative process.
Smith says the changes being made to her sovereignty law that reverse that authority simply reflect the normal process of honing and clarifying legislation.
“The sovereignty law was not perfect in its wording. That’s why it’s being amended,” Smith told reporters Tuesday. “There are some clarifications we had to make.
“I’m just looking at this as part of the process. You introduce bills with three readings for a reason.”
Smith has been widely criticized for introducing those unchecked powers into her sovereignty act as part of a broader plan to fight what she sees as federal intrusion into areas of provincial responsibility.
After accusations last week that the bill gave her those powers, Smith reversed course over the weekend and said there would be amendments to correct it.
Her comments echoed those of Attorney General Tyler Shandro on Monday, when he told reporters, “I’m not going to characterize this as a mistake.”
Neither Smith nor Shandro explained how the powers ended up in the bill when they weren’t supposed to be there.
Shandro hit back at reporters on Monday, who suggested he and the other members of Smiths United Conservative government did not understand the bill contained the sweeping powers provision.
“Of course the bill is understood,” Shandro said.
When asked if he was okay with the way the original bill was worded, Shandro, a lawyer, replied: “I gave legal advice to (Cabinet) about what the options are and what the pros and cons are for the different decision points are. .”
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“I am one member of (cabinet) who votes on it,” he said. “I’m not going to talk specifically about one specific decision point and what my advice was on that. I think it would breach the cabinet’s confidentiality.”
The Opposition NDP says Smith was either caught trying to stage an end-of-run power grab or is so incompetent that she introduced an authoritarian bill without knowing she was doing it.
On Tuesday, NDP justice critic Irfan Sabir called for cabinet to waive confidentiality for Shandro so he can explain to Albertans what legal advice he provided.
“If the government wants an iota of credibility, they must release the legal advice they have received,” Sabir said in a statement.
“All this uncertainty harms our reputation and our economic future.”
The bill is in second reading. The next stage, committee of the whole, is when the bill must be debated in greater detail, and this is when amendments are expected.
READ MORE: Danielle Smith says she’s happy to clear up confusion about sovereignty bill
On Monday, UCP caucus members said they would forward two amendments.
The first change would clarify that any changes the cabinet makes to laws under the Sovereignty Act cannot be done in secret, but must instead come back to the house for the normal process of debate and approval.
The caucus also voted to propose an amendment to spell out when the cabinet can take action.
Under the bill, the cabinet has wide latitude to respond to any federal legislative policy or program it deems harmful to Alberta’s interests.
With the amendment, harm would be defined as anything that a majority of the legislature considers an unconstitutional federal intrusion into provincial areas of responsibility.
Caucus Whip Brad Rutherford said the changes reflect concerns members have heard from constituents.
Smith said she welcomed the amendments.
The bill has been criticized by political scientists and legal experts as constitutionally questionable and a threat to the checks and balances of democracy.
Indigenous leaders have come out against it, saying it tramples on treaty rights. Business groups, including the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, warn the legal uncertainty surrounding the bill is not good for investment.
There is also concern that the legislature is usurping the role of the courts by deciding on its own under the bill what is constitutional and what is not.
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