Members of the United Conservative Party Caucus try to get control of the Smith Government’s legislative process – actual UCP MLAs may not appear exactly as illustrated (Photo: LionProtects.com).

Given everything that’s happened up to now, no one should be surprised by the United Conservative Party’s awkward flip-flop on Premier Danielle Smith’s rapidly deflating “Sovereignty Act.”

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

Think about it: Rank and file UCP MLAs, many of whom were not all that comfortable with the idea of being led by Ms. Smith in the first place, have rarely had such power.

The premier and her advisors have so disastrously fumbled introduction of the UCP’s legislative centrepiece, the so-called Sovereignty within a United Canada Act, that they’ve handed caucus members worried about what her program will do to their re-election chances a short-lived opportunity to do something about it. 

Since it must be obvious to many in the caucus that neither Ms. Smith nor the radical advisors who helped her win the party leadership vote give a fig whether most Calgary MLAs can get re-elected, of course they were going to use this unexpected leverage to try to get the premier under control and restore a little sanity to the government’s legislative program. 

Otherwise, they must surely understand, the chances of many of them remaining in power will soon be gone. It’s surely too late already for them to go into an election with any other leader. 

This would explain why it was the UCP Caucus that issued yesterday’s press release announcing amendments to the act would be put before the Legislature, and not the government, as would be the normal procedure. (So don’t go looking for the release on the government’s website. You’ll never find it there.) 

Chief Government Whip Brad Rutherford (Photo: Facebook/Brad Rutherford).

The release, which sounded as if it were written by a committee of legislators, began:

“This morning, Alberta’s United Conservative Caucus voted to propose amendments to Bill 1, the Sovereignty within a United Canada Act, to clarify that any changes to existing Alberta statutes that are outlined in a Resolution and introduced and passed by the Legislative Assembly under the Act, must also be introduced and passed separately through the regular Legislative Assembly process (first reading, second reading, committee of the whole, and third reading).”

The claim that this is a mere clarification, of course, is a fiction, albeit an understandable one. The meaning of the words of Bill 1, as presented to the Legislature, was quite plain. 

The release continued: “The proposed amendments would also clarify that the harms addressed by the Act are limited to federal initiatives that, in the opinion of the Legislative Assembly, are unconstitutional, affect or interfere with Alberta’s constitutional areas of provincial jurisdiction or interfere (sic) or violate the charter rights of Albertans.” 

This solves one serious problem with the act. It does not solve another: That any such attempt to usurp the courts, which in Canada’s system of democracy are responsible for determining the constitutionality of any legislation in the event of a jurisdictional dispute between levels of government, is sure to fail in the courts. 

So, as the amendments are described caucus press release, the act is still unlikely to make the cut. 

Former Alberta Premier Jason Kenney at the start of the Best Summer Ever ™ (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

The third paragraph went on: “‘These proposed amendments reflect feedback we’ve received from Albertans who want to see aspects of Bill 1 clarified to ensure it gets across the finish line,’ Chief Government Whip Brad Rutherford said.” (Translation: They held a gun to my head and yelled about the calls they were getting from CAPP and the Chamber!) “‘I’m pleased that the voices of our MLAs and Albertans are being heard and respected.’” 

Anything’s possible in a chaotic situation like this, but it seems unlikely any government whip, the party official tasked with ensuring caucus discipline in the Legislature, could be pleased with such an outcome, let alone having to put his name to it. 

Finally, the release concluded: “Rutherford expressed disappointment with the NDP’s decision to vote against Bill 1 before even seeing it last week, as well as the NDP’s failure to propose any amendments they feel would strengthen the bill during legislative debate” … yadda-yadda … Rachel Notley … yadda-yadda … Trudeau-Singh coalition … yadda-yadda … etc. 

This from the party that wore earplugs in the Legislature when the Opposition spoke and invented the Summer of Repeal, which, if memory serves, came two summers before The Best Summer Ever ™ – which arguably wounded former premier Jason Kenney seriously enough to make Ms. Smith’s already troubled premiership possible. 

So Mr. Rutherford may have been disappointed, but he certainly couldn’t have been surprised. 

The NDP argues that the entire act should be dropped, and promises it will be revoked if the Opposition party wins the next election. 

Perhaps whoever in the UCP Caucus demanded the amendments didn’t fully trust the Premier’s Office to take care of this delicate business once Ms. Smith had been pushed into agreeing to partly defang her legislation – not that the courts wouldn’t have gotten around to doing the same thing sooner or later anyway. 

The threat that backed the push, of course, must have been a message to the premier and her inner circle that if they didn’t do as instructed, enough MLAs would vote against the bill to defeat it. 

This wouldn’t necessarily have brought down the government at a highly inopportune moment, but it would have been a heavy and ill-timed blow nonetheless. 

I can’t recall a situation in Alberta or any other jurisdiction where a government’s signature piece of legislation was so sloppily written and unpopular that it had to be rewritten multiple times on the fly. 

One caveat: We haven’t seen the actual wording of the amendments yet, so everything may change again tomorrow!

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31 Comments

  1. Kenney might have had his best summer ever, which didn’t turn out as he hoped. Perhaps Smith will experience the winter of discontent which apparently now includes some caucus members as well as a lot of Albertans.

    She may have caucus on board for now, with her agreeing to their changes to her bill – less dictatorial, but still not so good. However, the fundamental problem remains. The current Alberta government should not be deciding whether what the Feds do is constitutional or vice versa. We already have a judicial system to do this.

    I do wonder whether the Smith skeptics in the UCP having one victory will lead them to reassert themselves more forcefully in the future. However, if Smith makes further mistakes like this, they may not be as kind as to try fix it for her again. Next time she might get a work plan for improvement. We know how that went for the last Premier who got this.

    Yes, an election is supposedly coming soon, however if the polls are not good it could be delayed, a new leader hastily found or perhaps both. Interestingly most of those who ran against her for leader are still around. So this assertion of authority by the caucus may be as much a warning to an underperforming leader as an attempted practical response to the current problem.

  2. For the UCP, it’s all about power and control, and they don’t care who their poorly conceived policies harm, in financial and human terms. Ego and emotions drive the UCP, and common sense is left behind. Bill 1 is still a total failure, and a complete piece of garbage, no matter how many times the UCP tries to rework it. It can’t succeed, and it will be struck down by greater powers than the UCP. Whenever the next provincial election in Alberta is, hopefully the electorate comes to their senses, and gets the UCP out of power. In relation to the power and control issue, that the UCP has a big hunger for, they don’t have to have the provincial election next May. Regardless, there still has to be a provincial election, at some point, and the UCP has to go.

  3. As the biblical proverb says. Pride goeth before the fall. Danielle Smith’s ego is so up in the clouds, and so overinflated, that her empire is going to come crashing down. When other politicans rightfully criticize Bill 1 as being flawed, and incapable of getting anywhere, it should send a message to Danielle Smith to rethink what she is doing. Thinking is quite hard for someone like that to do, because her mouth goes off before her brain does. Retracting comes after, but by then, it’s too late.

  4. It appears that, without fear of contradiction, that the UCP caucus’ unity is approaching the breaking point … again.

    Typically, Calgary UCP MLAs accept the leverage of the rural UCP MLAs, as there are substantial numbers of them. And it was Danielle Smith who declared she intends to represent rural interests over urban ones — that it why she sought election and won in a rural riding. Now, it appears that Calgary is threatening to take the rural MLAs out to the woodshed for being the boneheads they are. Does this mean that there will be a horn-honking protest on 17th Street, because Calgary is a threat to their FreeDUMBs?

    Watching Alberta’s dumpster fire is getting to be more impressive day by day.

    How many premiers in a decade has there been? Another one could be shown the door anytime now.

    1. Just Me: Ralph Klein kept on acting inappropriately, and his time as premier finally ended in 2005. Since that time in Alberta, no other premier managed to complete a full term, other than Rachel Notley. Danielle Smith won’t last. She lacks the ability to keep her mouth in control, and is upsetting people.

  5. “so everything may change again tomorrow”

    I believe the word we are all thinking is : capricious.

    From Merriam-Webster:

    ‘adjective, and its close relation, the noun caprice (a synonym of whim), both derive via French from the Italian capriccio, which originally referred not to a sudden desire but to a sudden shudder of fear. Capriccio, in turn, likely derives from the Italian capo, meaning “head,” and riccio, the word for “hedgehog.” The implication was that someone who shuddered in fear was said to have a “hedgehog head,”

    Next press conference, tell me, does the UCP suffer from capricious hedge hog head?

  6. This caucus has now had a little taste of power, and I’m betting they are liking it, but are also mightily afraid. This assemblage of sycophants, buffoons, incompetents, and spectacularly average nobodies, unfit to run a convenience store, never mind a multi billion dollar province, are suddenly tasked with something as big as literally saving democracy, as well as their party and their jobs. They know the eyes of the world are now on them and this province, as commentators, pundits, analysts, other politicians, and people who actually care about real freedom (unlike the convoy clowns) watch these lightweights considering how to solve a complex issue. The kid who can hardly skate has been put on the first line, and expectations are high.

    There is a certain comfort in anonymity, and a massive amount of anxiety about being exposed as a shallow know-nothing/do-nothing. Most of these MLA’s have been passed over at least a couple of times for cabinet positions by two Premiers who are going to go down in history as failures – what does that say about their competence and abilities? It is always sad when someone realizes they don’t have the intellectual firepower to deal with complexity.

    This province has a long history of conservative small timers (and to be fair, the NDP caucus had a similar bench depth problem while in gov’t) being overwhelmed by forces much larger and smarter than them – we have given our resources away to the the corporate sharks for decades in exchange for a fraction of what other similar jurisdictions receive (hello Alaska, Texas, Norway). But it now comes down to this critical moment in time, when the correct decisions must be made. For those of us who love democracy, it seems so easy and obvious. For the weak and the scared, going against the herd and being forced to make difficult choices, will test their mettle, and I’m very uneasy. We are all relying on insubstantial people.

  7. There’s a curious omission in this part of the caucus release: “…any changes to existing Alberta statutes that are outlined in a Resolution and introduced and passed by the Legislative Assembly under the Act, must also be introduced and passed separately through the regular Legislative Assembly process (first reading, second reading, committee of the whole, and third reading).”…

    The “regular process” also includes Royal Assent after third reading. That would mean the Lieutenant-Governor would also have to sign off–something that Ms. Smith would undoubtedly like to avoid seeking.
    Bob

    1. @Robert, indeed Royal Assent is something that Premier Smith appears to have shaky understanding of, which is perplexing considering what Lt. Governor Lakhani had to say earlier this year when this misbegotten aberration of law was first raised by Smith.

      While vice-regal approval is almost pro forma in Canadian politics, royal assent is not a given when the flaws in a bill rise to certain level. Even with Smith’s proposed amendments, this act is still arguably unconstitutional.

      I will not be surprised if the bill is refused assent, either by the Lt.Governor or the Governor General. The bill could also be referred to & killed by the Supreme Court.

      As the Lt. Governor noted, there is very good Albertan precedent for all 3 actions.

    2. Bob, a competent governing party (i.e., one which is smart enough to listen to lawyers) would avoid writing legislation that breaks Canadian laws. Royal assent would then be a formality.

      That Smith and her separatist-wannabe handlers don’t even understand that they have to obey the laws too, is a quick indication of how well they would do at running the provincial government.

      1. In their zeal and ideology the Premier and her staff fail to understand the checks and balances in our democratic system. It is clear that public service expertise was not taken into.account in drafting this signature bill. Even if one agreed with the notion of Alberta standing up to Ottawa, this incompetent effort demonstrates the UCP is not fit for purpose.

  8. The part about ‘coercing’ provincial groups to ignore federal laws seems to still be part of this little bit of dani-foolery. And along with Duane Bratt, I also asked, just who put this drivel into writing in the first place? How could this garbage pass any sort of smell test with even a moderately competent lawyer in the employ of the government [or, as is more likely, never allowing such scrutiny in the first place]?

  9. Just how many times will Danielle Smith and the UCP attempt to put lipstick on this pig.

    The longer this goes on the worse it will get for her and her Government.

    The Premier would do well to consider that voters in May will not be the same 54 percent of UCP members who voted her Leader.

    She would do well to cut her losses, withdraw the bill. Then blame it all on Tyler Shandro, fire him, and hope the public forget the entire disaster by May.

    Or…perhaps she could focus on some real issues in Alberta. Health care, hospital and emergency service capacity, education…..even inflation.

    Time to stop working her radio and UCP crazies audience and time to get down to some real work and some real problem solving.

  10. “The NDP argues that the entire act should be dropped, and promises it will be revoked if the Opposition party wins the next election.”

    That’s the important thing. If we want to get rid of this unwanted legislation for good, we simply need to show up at the polls in the next election and vote Danielle Smith and her posse of unconstitutional MLAs out of office. Goodbye, good riddance and don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

  11. Yes, our Dear Blogger is a humorous lad!
    Things have become so wacky with the UCP so-called leadership, I wonder how many MLAs wished Alberta had a device like the 25th Amendment that our American friends have in their Constitution: That is, the ability to remove a leader when they are deemed “unfit to serve.” Danny Smith seems well past that point.

    1. Andy: Arguably we do. Implementation of the 25th Amendment requires a majority vote of both Houses of Congress. A vote of non-confidence only requires a vote of the Alberta Legislature, there being no upper house here anyway. However, I suppose any Conservatives who would like to quietly skid Ms. Smith would nevertheless prefer not to have to proceed directly to an election. DJC

  12. Smith’s bill is a result of her “Hold on thar, Baba Looey! I’ll do the thin’in’ around here”
    mentality. She has had this attitude her whole career from school board member to radio mouthpiece and unfortunately leader of the Ucpee!

  13. This Confederacy of Dunces known as the UCP Caucus are about to have their fifteen minutes of fame and glory. Golly gumdrops, what could possibly go wrong? These clowns couldn’t organize a two car parade.

  14. The appropriate adjective to describe this Premier and the government of the day is feckless. My OED defines the word as meaning ineffective. It fits. If this were the captain of a ship, mutiny would surely be considered. But there is no sailor of the party competent to pilot, or lead the mutiny.

  15. Dimitri Soudas, former communications director for the Harper Conservatives may have said it best today on CBC’s Power & Politics re: Smith’s disastrous sovereignty act: “You can’t polish a turd.” Other commentary also wondered, because Smith is making so many missteps, whether she will even last as UCP leader before the provincial election in May, and, how long it will take before members of her caucus fall out of line.

  16. DJC, burst out laughing at the pic, then again at the disclaimer, extra points towards the journalist awards, ….for what its worth, you have my vote…

  17. So which movie are we into now, as Dave stated ” our winter of discontent ” … leading up to xmas , we’ve been watching her home by herself. But this was preceded by the lunatic asylum, then JK’S, release the crackers,
    (which is still questionable as to whether it was on purpose) and now a form of quest for power.
    If Jk was expecting something different to happen,( imho) I think his quiet resignation, has some interesting pandora features .
    JK gave Danielle a lump of coal for Xmas, a big one, a $42 million (?) one, plus what ever was invested in the bitcoin mining companies that came to Alberta because the “rules ” were lax here compared to Que or Ont.., plus AIMCO, plus AHS ( my sincere heartfelt sympathies)..this is all on her watch now. Is she going to start blaming everything on JK now, instead of JT…
    and another irony…JT &JS the “horrible ” coalition, then the UCP sniveling because the NDP won’t cooperate with them,…that one ilicited a severe eyeroll and a what the…….
    If anyone was looking for a miracle on Jasper Avenue, I fear it’s going to be a blue xmas.

    please forgive the corny movie references, I realized yesterday, that I felt like I’d gone to one of those dusk to dawn drive in with my sister, she had the car, and she would be asleep by the end of the 1st good one, and kept waking up and not wanting to leave, she wanted her money’s worth.
    Is it dawn yet….and while you were sleeping ( sorry) Scott Moe is talking about introducing their own revenue agency…..hmm, and T’p is talking about ending the constitution, except the 5th,
    It is a REALLY crazy world we are living in…..

  18. The UCP complaint that the ‘NDP voted against the bill without even reading it’ . Well, if true, that isn’t great, but is it true, really?
    The funny part of that UCP complaint is that it implies that 55 UCP (all attending?) members voted FOR it on first reading in the house, presumably AFTER reading it.
    Which means they thought it was perfect as it was at first reading.

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