Alberta Premier Danielle Smith at a news conference yesterday, with Justice Minister Tyler Shandro in the background, on the “Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act (Photo: Chris Schwarz, Government of Alberta).

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Bill 1, the Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act, was given the wrong name. 

Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Premier Danielle Smith’s signature first piece of legislation, introduced today after Lieutenant Governor Salma Lahkani read an otherwise typically lacklustre Throne Speech setting out the United Conservative Party Government’s legislative agenda, really should have been called the Alberta Dictatorship Within a Democratic Canada Act

While the entire Alberta commentariat – journalists, pundits, professors of political science and economics, rival politicians, social media pontificators and even Yours Truly – expected some kind of lame frontal assault attempting to prevent the federal government from enacting laws in federal jurisdiction that annoy Alberta’s current government, Premier Smith has done something quite different and unexpected.

“During the UCP leadership race,” Mount Royal University political science professor Duane Bratt, who is well known to the readers of this blog, said today, “I had assumed (wrongly) that the Sovereignty Act was about asserting Alberta’s sovereignty vis-à-vis federal government. It is actually granting massive new powers to the Premier/Cabinet vis-à-vis fed govt, AB legislature, and all Albertans.”

That is to say, Ms. Smith has brought forward a law that, unchallenged, would allow the provincial cabinet to unilaterally make laws without consulting the Legislature as long as complacent government MLAs passed a motion saying the cabinet needed scope to act to counter some federal incursion into provincial jurisdiction, real or imagined. 

University of Waterloo political scientist Emmett Macfarlane (Photo: Twitter/Emmett Macfarlane).

“What Danielle Smith is advancing,” said political scientist Emmett Macfarlane of the University of Waterloo, “is an unconstitutional affront to the separation of powers, the principle of parliamentary sovereignty, the powers of the (lieutenant governor), and democracy itself. It cannot stand.”

In other words, Dr. Macfarlane continued bluntly in one of many tweets on the topic after the release of the legislation, it is “perhaps the most blatantly unconstitutional pile of crap ever introduced in a legislature in modern Canadian history.”

“By Bill 1’s own plainly stated text, a federal law could be a *valid* exercise of federal authority under the division of powers and the Alberta government could still unilaterally amend law and force provincial entities to defy it,” he said, calling it “a naked assault on the rule of law.”

“Under our system of government, purporting to let cabinet rewrite legislation and bypass the legislature is LITERALLY the end of democracy,” he continued. “It’s the evisceration of responsible government and representation. It is – without exaggeration – an attempt to impose a dictatorship.”

Interestingly, something similar was considered by Conservative Premier Blaine Higgs in New Brunswick early in the pandemic, and later abandoned. 

University of Alberta political scientist Jared Wesley (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

The New Brunswick legislation would have allowed Premier Higgs and his cabinet “to override laws without seeking the approval of the elected legislature, as long as an emergency has been declared. It’s the executive that decides whether or not there is an emergency, so the law would allow the premier and his colleagues to rule by decree.”

So, obviously Canadian “conservatives,” like their counterparts in other inconveniently democratic jurisdictions that are growing wise to the danger of neoliberal dogma have been contemplating measures that would allow them to override democracy to continue to advance their agendas. 

It’s also been clear for a while Smith’s advisors – including her campaign manager and former Wildrose Party House leader Rob Anderson and University of Calgary professor Barry Cooper – have wanted to create a constitutional crisis. 

Perhaps they will succeed with this, although it seems likely that the first place the Sovereignty Act will be going is to court, where chances are good the judiciary will make short work of it. 

University of Calgary political scientist Lisa Young (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

University of Alberta political science professor Jared Wesley suggested it is likely to be struck down on three grounds: It attempts an end-run around responsible government (the principle that the cabinet answers to the legislature), it would compel provincial entities to break federal law, and it usurps the powers of the judicial branch of government by giving the provincial cabinet the powers of the courts. 

Of course, when that happens, it will give Ms. Smith the excuse to pursue a more openly separatist agenda, which while it is unlikely to succeed, will certainly harm Alberta and Canada.

There’s plenty more where these quotes came from, and we can expect to hear a lot more on this story in the days and weeks ahead. 

I’ll give the last word today to University of Calgary political scientist Lisa Young, whose thoughtful Substack hot take on the act sets out several troubling ways the Smith Government might use the act to “hurt Albertans at least as much (if not more) as it would hurt the interests of the federal government.”

For example, by ordering police to ignore federal gun restrictions in Alberta’s cities, putting Albertans in the line of fire. 

“There is no way that the federal government will allow itself to be seen to be caving in to these antics,” Dr. Young concludes. “That would invite every province to give itself the same kind of power. At that point, the federal government becomes entirely ineffective and the constitution starts to unravel.”

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30 Comments

  1. Effectively, with the support of a compliant and well-rewarded UCP caucus, Danielle Smith has every intention of ruling as she sees fit, and without legislative review or approval. Such an action will appeal to the typical CON mindset, whose brain stem is the only active part, like the reptiles they are. They find comfort and approval in authoritarian figures, and Smith is willing to provide.

    Once the legislature is effectively sidelined, the inconvenient notion of those annoying things called elections can be dealt with. Repeal the Fixed Elections law and just have an election when you blood well feel like it. Maybe in 2024, or perhaps never again. It’s all good, so long as the right party is making all the rules.

    And what should Ottawa do? What should PMJT do? Nothing. There’s no good reason for Trudeau to do anything. Alberta continually makes an embarrassment of itself, electing the worst people to govern it, constantly tying itself to the CON hate farm. And this also can work in Trudeau’s favour: the crazy in Alberta just points out in the most brilliant terms what Skippy Pollivere will do if he ever gets his hands on the PMO.

    The Prairie Fascists are out in full force and running amok. Time to stop thinking of them as just another pack of clowns. They are truly dangerous.

    1. “Such an action will appeal to the typical CON mindset, whose brain stem is the only active part, like the reptiles they are.”
      This is a real slur on reptiles, which are fascinating creatures that fill many important ecological roles.

  2. Excuse me while I pick my jaw up off the floor.

    I knew she was batshit crazy, but this blatant power grab is unprecedented. I wonder what all the FreeDumb Truckers who were going crazy about PMJT and undemocratic governance will say about this. Oh yeah, they will support it because… FreeDumb!

  3. I suppose this law could be called the recipe for mayhem and chaos bill.

    Interestingly, former Premier Kenney is now not sticking around to see how this turns out. I suspect he wants to keep whatever is left of his reputation and dignity that remains, intact, and is jumping of the crazy train before it completely goes off the rails. Perhaps some of Kenney’s former ministers still supposedly on board should take note.

    Kenney also did give considersble power to his cabinet, but COVID was generally agreed at the time (well maybe not by Smith) to be a real emergency. He also ended that situation later. Some of the more fringe members of the UCP may argue the PM is a dictator, but unlike Smith he was actually elected and reelected several times. In any event, I don’t feel it is a good idea to replace one dictator with another.

    It is going to be a trying and confusing time over the next few months for many Albertans. For instance, I can see not for profit organizations funded by both Alberta and the Feds being caught in the middle of Smiths jurisdictional disputes, along with many others. Smith already hasn’t hesitated to throw her weight around to try influence vaccine policies of amateur athletic organizations.

    Whether one agrees if the Feds are bad or not, it surely is not a good idea to try replace bad with worse. I’m ok with everyone staying in the own lane, but I wish Smith would take that advise to heart herself and not try intrude into areas where others, be they the Feds, not for profits or municipalities should run things.

  4. Hmm, so Danielle is busy with her appropriated new minister ,doing their best Bonnie &Clyde routine, and making enough noise, that JK “quietly ” resigns, and exit stage left….what ? no good bye, no cake, no ice sky palace party?
    and after all he did for Tyler, so sad…….another scene from “As Alberta Turns ” comes to an end as he was written out of the script……maybe? Tune in for the new spring season’s episodes…

  5. Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act is exactly the right name, Danielle Smith has pretty much declared herself as Sovereign.
    While I take great issue with this Act, I fear it is nothing more than political smoke designed to take away the focus on the real issues facing this province. Over the last 3 1/2 years the UCP has laid waste to the healthcare system and economy of Alberta. I, and many like me, no longer have a family doctor and our rural hospital is in serious peril. One has only to look at the underlying numbers in the fiscal update to see that once the price of bitumen falls (and it will), we are in a very bad financial place. The corporate tax reduction and short-lived oil price boom has resulted in zero jobs and the forecast recession will be devastating to this province.
    So there you have it. Give some Albertans 600 dollars for bread and provide them with a circus and maybe Queen Dani can maneuver through another election.

    1. Cornell Van Ryk: Danielle Smith’s hero is Ralph Klein, so put two and two together, and we see what the results are. It isn’t a surprise, and it isn’t good.

  6. Basically, Danielle Smith is behaving like a dictator, and it shows. She wants to make it so that nobody can question anything she does, while she is premier of Alberta. This is even why she wants a provincial police force for Alberta. It also explains the absence of any Legislative sittings for most of November. How she attained power, although not illegal, was with not much support, and a very low vote rate, for becoming the UCP leader, and getting elected in Brooks Medicine Hat. Clearly, like a cult leader, or a dictator, Danielle Smith wants a vice grip on power. We’ve seen plenty those types of figures and leaders, within the last 100 years. It could be very likely that we won’t see a provincial election in Alberta, in May of 2023. Albertans better brace themselves, because it will get really bad, as time goes on.

  7. Just in case David’s comments didn’t give you enough to worry about, here is a bit more.

    We need to remember that there are essentially two Danielle Smiths: the populist, whose anti-Covid radio audience will love the idea of Alberta declaring some form of sovereignty, and the pro-business lobbyist who writes essays on how to dismantle medicare and advocates to pay oil companies to clean up their messes that they are already obligated to do.

    Remember too, that Jason Kenney has surely convinced UCP caucus the value of distracting the electorate. Thus I am really concerned that while the the government frames this legislation as standing up to Ottawa, they will actually use it to implement some blatantly pro-business regulations, or remove existing legislation that business finds inconvenient, without having to deal with legislative scrutiny.

    I do wonder if the UCP is working on something in the backroom while we are all distracted by Bill 1.

  8. Dear Premier Smith: Here are some things I’d like banned or changed:

    – Elections (waste of time and paper)
    – Homework (ditto)
    – Seatbelts (Hello Darwin!)
    – Cows should be our official animal
    – Bilingual food labeling (If you don’t know what you’re eating…)
    – Airports (planes should land closer to my house)
    – The CBC, Alberta Views and that Clemenhagendaz fella
    – Pollsters and MRU pundits
    – Needles (ouch!)
    – Taxes on oil and gas (including olive and Olay)

    What’s on your list, Madam Premier?

  9. Why would anyone assume she feels the need for elections after this ? This is a naked attempt at grabbing dictatorial powers the far right has salivated over since the 80s. These people are scum.

  10. It seems to me that this is the approach to authoritarian rule that Donnie the Sociopath did and does below the 49th. Appeal to all at the lowest common denominator so that the votes keep coming from as many levels of society as possible. There are no consequences, it seems. Give a little money to seniors and families with kidlettes [screw the other 2,000,000 Albertans!], give the true followers their “sovereignty” [no matter what any majority might think], and continue on with much more decision-making granted to a very tiny minority within an 83 member ‘representative’ legislature [debate be damned].

  11. The earth shuddered in response, somewhere near Peace River. It was announced the same day that 2000 species are at risk of extinction in the wild in Canada. None seems more at risk than the species commonly known as the “Albertan”. Respiratory infections continue to sicken the young, the old and everyone in between. A distraction of epic proportions is foisted upon us. This is not just any distraction, mind you. Whoever isn’t physically sick is sickened by the thought of this terminal disease infecting democracy. What’s the old saying about tyrants and totalitarians wanting to keep people sick, stupid and hungry? We need to cut out this illness at the Legislature before it becomes a mass extinction event. Vote like your life depends on it, because it does.

  12. The Premier has embarrassed herself, her Government, and all Albertans.

    She appears bent on building on the reputation that Alberta has as the land of hillbillies.

    It disproves the saying that Alberta is open for business.

    Anything to keep the support and the votes by the ‘crazies’ in the UCP as Kenney correctly referred to them.

  13. “Political scientist Terry Lynn Karl introduced the idea of a petro-state in her 1997 book, The Paradox of Plenty: Oil Booms and Petro-States. Karl’s main insight was that a nation’s reliance on oil exports leads to economic and political problems such as weak economic growth in manufacturing sectors, vulnerability to price shocks, widespread social inequality, authoritarianism, corruption and so on.”

    That analysis seems all too familiar, as both past and current political developments in this Province continue to be fraught with those same political and economic problems. The authoritarian nature of the current Premier/corporate lobbyist/compliant stooge should not be surprising as the basic agenda has been telegraphed for some time now, for anyone that has been paying attention, that is.

    The academic strategist(s) have been quite blunt regarding both the direction and the final outcome of their ‘ivory tower’ policy directives:

    “In what is perhaps the most radical chapter of Moment of Truth, “Challenges for Western Independence,” Cooper calls for Albertans to ask if their concerns can be remedied while remaining in Confederation. For Cooper, that serious action might just be secession. And for Cooper, such a movement for secession must be one that can defend itself. “It is evident that the great weakness of the West is its lack of an army” and “if westerners are serious about independence, we must have American assistance for the same reason that the Thirteen Colonies required the assistance of the French.”

    “U of C’s role in the development of the premier’s Sovereignty Act”

    https://thegauntlet.ca/2022/11/14/u-of-cs-role-in-the-development-of-the-premiers-sovereignty-act/

    Both the dominance of American influences in this Province and the desire for some sort of greater union with the United States should also be unsurprising when presented with the historical antecedents. For example,

    “The American Imprint on Alberta Politics”

    https://www.cpsa-acsp.ca/papers-2010/Wiseman.pdf

    More generally, it is interesting to note that, the overall strategic interests of the United States are served best when there are active policies that “encourages the division of existing nation-states [balkanization] by the succession and emergence of microstates, based on all cultural, ethnic and religious peculiarities.” according to Zbigniew Brzezinski.

    Finally, if you do not yet know exactly who you are dealing with, the following historical example should offer up some clues for the wise,

    “The invitation came from E. Burke Inlow, another American, and the first head of U of C’s political-science department. An expert on Iran and the Far East who died last year, Inlow himself had been recruited directly from an assignment with the Pentagon. There, according to his son, Brand, a Calgary lawyer, he was engaged in “cultural work—providing intelligence to people we (the U.S. government) were sending to the Middle East.”

    “The Man behind Stephen Harper”

    https://thewalrus.ca/the-man-behind-stephen-harper/

    And where, “Strauss argued that a ruling elite often had to resort to deception—a noble lie—to protect citizens from themselves. To that end, he recommended harnessing the simplistic platitudes of populism to galvanize mass support for measures that would in fact restrict rights.”

    That ‘game’ is definitely ‘afoot’ and is still being played out. It is a deadly serious ‘game’ for all of the players involved in it.

  14. 328,723 Alberta voting gunowners now have a reason to vote. Add the returned clownvoy insurrectionists, the anti-vaxers , the always vote blue-ers, the equalization fanatics and the Q-anon Queen might get to strangle everything you ever loved about Canada.

  15. Meanwhile, Jason Kenney strolls off whistling, with his pockets stuffed full of money that used to belong to Albertans.

    Him and all the other arsonists who deliberately poured poison into the ears of right wing voters about how climate change is a scam and Ottawa is the big bad boogeyman always out to steal hard working Albertans’ Lucky Charms made it possible for Alberta’s very own Sarah Palin to get in office. None of them will face any consequences because their voters are too mediocre and ignorant to know fact from fantasy.

    Golden ages end. We are watching ours end in real time.

  16. Now that Shandro, who the other day declared that the new Sovereignty Act will grant ministers enormous and unprecedented powers to make or unmake laws at will, he and Smith are walking back that nugget of crazy. It seems the concern over that little thing called overreach has got some people up in arms.

    Of course, what these geniuses are forgetting is that if you want a lie to be the truth, you have to keep telling that same lie over and over again. Going back and calling out your own lie is not only weird, it’s downright defeats the whole purpose of being a tyrant.

    Smith wants to make her podcast world everyone’s reality, but she keeps changes the rules that govern her own reality. What good is making up your own reality if you can’t decide what’s going to be real?

  17. Remarkable is the dearth of detailed analysis of this so-called sovereignty act. I know, I know: it’s only just been tabled, it has yet to be parsed, line by line. But the gist for it has been known for a number of months by now. And that’s just what Smith provided at her glib presser: gist for the mull, and that’s all.

    What a disappointment! The whole charade deprived oxygen from what should have been remarkable: that the King’s governor recited words that either appeared incongruous with normal concepts of federated sovereignty, in the mildest takeaway, or encouraging sedition at the severest; and the remarkably quiet resignation of the former premier and creator of the UCP, not to mention the vacation of yet another seat in the assembly. And alls we got was a bunch a bull-hooey. Ngh! (Although I thought I could detect a bit of disappointment in Smith’s demeanour —perhaps that the SA hasn’t caught fire like she thought it should?)

    One position on the SA is to wait until it is manifest in some way, some specific federal law which the cabinet unconstitutionally judges “unconstitutional.” The conclusion seems already arrived—that is, that the SA is, in a word, preposterous. That of course should include the corollary that while the Smith government is fussing and fighting about a moot act, Albertans’ concern about access to safe, reliable, and professional public healthcare actually crosses party lines. It’s a difference of priorities.

    Smith is naturally preaching to the choir, the rhetorical support I’ve seen so far being about as chauvinistic as it can get and, otherwise, devoid of reason or meaning. This is exactly what Smith wants: smooth sailing. The question she should ask is whether that choir is sufficiently numerous to bail her out of the losing position the party is in right now. So far, no hint she’s worried about any of that.

    Yet smooth sailing cannot reasonably be forecast for this lot. It reminds me of the intelligence of wild hickory nuts. Slagging the feds has been done before, the last I recall was here in BC when NDP Premier Glen Clark went cruisin’ for a bruisin’ by picking extrajurisdictional fights with Ottawa (if I recall correctly, one of them was the alleged docking of US nuclear subs at DND’s Nanoose base—which is entirely in federal jurisdiction). He ended his caretaker premiership by leading the party into a general election which it won with less of the popular vote than his rival, BC Liberal-usurper Gordo Campbell got; then he pursued an ideologically doctrinaire agenda by awarding unionized BC shipyards construction contracts to build the infamous FastCat ferries. Generally, Clark was getting above his raising until his cavalier governing style got him into scandal territory and he stepped aside to allow an inquiry. Not only did the NDP lose the following election, but it was nearly wiped out, retaining only two seats in the assembly, his successor, premier Dosanjh, losing his own seat in the electoral massacre. (Glen Clark was subsequently exonerated of any wrongdoing). Clark’s NDP predecessor, former-Premier Mike Harcourt, wrote in his autobiography that Clark was the author of his own troubles—which was to say that he shouldn’t have pursued controversial initiatives by rote formula (fed-bashing) and without strong voter-approval which he plainly didn’t have. Clark effectively bit off more than he could chew but acted like he hadn’t. The NDP won about 24% of the popular vote in that astounding electoral rout.

    Smith, in comparison, has an even more controversial agenda with even less political licence. Like Clark (not to be confused with BC Liberal Christy Clark who was also a caretaker premier for two years, but without a seat until, after losing a by-election in Gordon Campbell’s old riding, she won a safe seat which was vacated for her to parachute into), Smith became a caretaker premier after the party elected her leader, and so she shall remain until she endures or survives a general election (it’s hard to believe that the next one will be only the UCP’s first incumbency—excepting the founding premier, of course). Glen Clark was one of Harcourt’s cabinet ministers until the party made him Premier and his subsequent general election win and political licence thereafter was very thin. But it surely wasn’t as thin as Smith’s is right now.

    I’m waiting to see any kind of change of opinion about the SA, any movement from the very hardened, opposed positions. What kind of provocation does Smith have planned that could possibly move opinions from the ‘preposterous’ camp? What amount of chaos would disaffect any of Smith’s base? The tricky part is that we know about half the UCP caucus —the half on the opposite side of an unconcealeable umbilical scar that stretches athwart this troubled party—disapproves of its new leader’s policies but is unlikely to blow its silent cover until the date of the next election is at least nailed down. Less tricky is the prognosis that the UCP will be defeated whenever the next election is held.

    Meanwhile, we await a polling survey on Albertans’ general opinion of the SA. I bet if asked what it means, a great number of would respond that they don’t know, and a lesser number would answer: “Freedom!” Until then, we remain hooked on question marks.

    And of course, we await the only poll that counts.

  18. If this were not serious, it would be laughable. But it is serious. This amazes me utterly, as what lawyer would draft such a bill, in full knowledge of the implications. A court challenge will surely declare it Ultra Vires. Or Ottawa will disallow it. In any case the Utterly Crazy Party is indeed led by a crazy person. I’m also thinking for once Jason might have decided his creation had become a little too rotten, and it was time to leave, before the stench stuck to him. And with it would go all those cushy private board appointments. Yep, Alberta politics in the Socred days were so boring, now Ernest Manning wouldn’t believe it.

  19. This premier is extremely scary, her blathering before will lead us all down the wrong road. Does anyone trust her? Not here. Let’s look at her blathering and where this legislation will fill her Christmas wish list. Pensions, we don’t like the federal one so we need our own. Police, we don’t like the RCMP so we can have our own. Health care, we don’t want to be tied to accountability so we need to privatize the works.

  20. One of the best takes on this that I read was in the [Toronto] Star, by Graham Thomson: he said, “Observers had long suspected Alberta’s Sovereignty Act, once unveiled, would look like a dog’s breakfast. … What we didn’t realize was that it would look like a dog’s breakfast after it had been through the dog.”

    https://www.thestar.com/politics/political-opinion/2022/11/30/danielle-smiths-sovereignty-act-is-a-glaring-and-scary-example-of-provincial-government-overreach.html

  21. This legislation is apparently getting some changes so we’ll see what that produces. I’ve only read the act in its original form and I’m frankly late in commenting – I wonder if anyone but me will read this comment. Thought I’d put forward a less “sky is falling” comment than other posters.

    The reason for my more indifferent response is because it appears that the Legislative Assembly itself does have to vote to dispense with further readings prior to it being used, as well as the fact that it is only usable in response to a federal action. This hardly turns Danielle Smith into a monarch – she still needs the support of caucus to start the process and it can’t even be used if the feds don’t do something first.

    What it does eliminate is the ability for the legislature to do its real work – that of debating the merits of a bill with the hope of making it better. I’m generally not supportive of bypassing debate, even when the outcome is likely to remain unchanged. Just because the NDP frequently fails to extract meaningful improvements shouldn’t mean they shouldn’t get the opportunity to try.

    This situation reminds me a bit of the arguments for and against the filibuster in the United States. I wonder if, similar to that issue, we’ll eventually see a change if and when the “right” folks come to power. I have vague recollections of the Democrats arguing in the filibuster’s favor during the Bush/Cheney era only now to realize that it is in fact a racist institution. Go figure.

    Perhaps Ms. Notley will make a glorious return to the Premier’s seat only to have a future Pollievre government ban carbon taxes? Maybe then the option to bypass a few hours of deafening boos to get a bill passed more expediently will be seen as a positive.

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