Premier of Alberta Danielle Smith introduced the Alberta Sovereignty within a United Canada Act in the Alberta legislature Tuesday. The bill would empower the provincial cabinet to dismiss federal laws, programs, and policies. If the cabinet considers a federal law “unconstitutional or harmful to Albertans,” the cabinet would be empowered by the legislature to render inoperative portions or the entirety of federal statutes in the province, and to replace these disregarded federal laws with substitute legislation.
In a lengthy preamble, the bill situates itself as a remedy to federal infringements on provincial powers that “have unfairly prejudiced Albertans” and have “infringed on the[ir] rights and freedoms … in an unjustified and unconstitutional manner.”
If the act passes the legislature, the government intends to use it to “stand up to federal government overreach and interference in areas of provincial jurisdiction, including in the areas of private property, natural resources, agriculture, firearms, regulation of the economy and delivery of heath, education and other social programs.” This is consistent with past Albertan administrations, which have challenged the constitutionality of federal firearms legislation and the federal government’s carbon tax scheme. Earlier this year, Smith’s Minister of Justice Tyler Shandro stated he would direct Albertan police not to enforce federal gun control legislation. The current Albertan government has been a regular and vocal critic of the federal government’s emission reduction targets.
The bill fulfills one of Smith’s election pledges made prior to winning the United Conservative Party (UCP) leadership race in October. The Alberta Sovereignty Act originated as a plank of the Free Alberta Strategy, and sought to empower the government to ignore court decisions as well. However, this policy–which was widely criticized by experts as “unconstitutional on its face”–did not make it into the bill.
The bill does contain a highly controversial provision that transfers unilateral powers to the provincial cabinet to override provincial legislation and amend legislation. Provisions of this sort are typically called “Henry VIII clauses,” after the English monarch who sought to circumvent his parliament by legislating directly through royal proclamation. While these clauses are often controversial because they are generally regarded as violating the constitutional principle of parliamentary sovereignty, last year a majority ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the constitutionality of such provisions. However, because the powers outlined in the Alberta Sovereignty Act are much wider in scope, it is unclear whether the act will hold up in court.
Smith stated, “I am honoured to stand with my colleagues in the legislature today and introduce the Alberta Sovereignty within a United Canada Act. Albertans are proud Canadians–we simply want Ottawa to no longer interfere in our constitutional areas of jurisdiction.”
The act is highly controversial, and is expected to be challenged in court.
Smith’s predecessor, former Premier of Alberta Jason Kenney, criticized the bill as a “full-frontal attack on the rule of law.” And Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Wednesday responded: “We know that the exceptional powers that the premier is choosing to give the Alberta government in bypassing the Alberta legislature, is causing a lot of eyebrows to raise in Alberta. We’re going to see how this plays out. I’m not going to take anything off the table, but I’m also not looking for a fight.”