Danielle Smith, who took office as the new Premier of the western Canadian province of Alberta in October, said Saturday that her government is considering revising the provisions of the proposed provincial Sovereignty Act which would empower the provincial cabinet to unilaterally rewrite laws without legislative approval. The bill passed its First Reading on November 29th but has not yet passed Second Reading, debate on which was adjourned on December 1st.
Prompted by a question from a listener while speaking on the radio show Your Province. Your Premier, Smith stated that delegating excessive powers to the provincial cabinet is not the purpose of the Act. The government will be seeking to correct the highly controversial provisions via amendment next week, when the legislature reconvenes to discuss the bill. “There is some confusion on that, and so we’re working on some amendment to make it clear,” stated Smith. “I think where it’s unclear is if there was any change to the legislation it has to come back to the legislature, so if we need to clarify that in an amendment, we’re going to do that next week.”
The proposed legislation has generated significant controversy since it was announced last week. Leader of the Canadian federal NDP party Jagmeet Singh visited Calgary on Friday and criticized the Sovereignty Act. “It’s dangerous and it’s undemocratic, and there was no mandate for this,” stated Singh. The bill has also been criticized by the Calgary Chamber of Commerce and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, who claim that the Act will drive investment from the province.
However, while the Act has been widely criticized as potentially unconstitutional, various experts – including Jesse Hartery, a Toronto federalism lawyer, Geoffrey Sigalet, the Director of the UBC Centre for Constitutional Law, and Jack Major, a former Supreme Court justice of the Supreme Court of Canada – have suggested that the Act may be constitutional.
Smith maintains that the purpose of the Act is not to stealthily deliver unconstitutional powers to the Albertan government, but rather to allow the provinces to challenge unconstitutional laws implemented by the Federal government. Under the Canadian constitution, the provinces have the constitutional right to develop their natural resources. Smith claims that crucial components of federal laws, such as carbon tax policies, violate that provincial power. Under normal circumstances, it would be up to the Albertan government to sue the federal government and prove that the federal law is unconstitutional. However, by acting as a “constitutional shield,” the Sovereignty Act would allow the province to disregard impugned federal statutes, and transfer the onus to prove the legality of the legislation to the federal government.