Michael Taube: What Danielle Smith’s Support of the Alberta Sovereignty Act Really Entails

Michael Taube: What Danielle Smith’s Support of the Alberta Sovereignty Act Really Entails
Danielle Smith, centre, makes a comment as Todd Loewen, left, and Rajan Sawhney listen during the United Conservative Party of Alberta leadership candidate's debate in Medicine Hat, Alta., on July 27, 2022. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)
Michael Taube

The United Conservative Party of Alberta is holding a leadership race to replace outgoing Premier Jason Kenney. Two former Wildrose Party leaders, Brian Jean and Danielle Smith, are neck-and-neck in opinion polls. While the GOTV (get out the vote) strategy of both candidates will obviously determine who wins on Oct. 6, other intangibles such as policy ideas will help move the political needle in one direction or the other.

Smith, who I’ve known for years and recently endorsed in my Troy Media syndicated column, is well ahead of Jean when it comes to matters of public policy. Her work experience with the Fraser Institute and Canadian Federation of Independent Business helped enhance her support for private enterprise, trade liberalization, and the free market economy. She’s an intelligent, thought-provoking candidate who has always been fascinated with the crafting of ideas, from properly utilizing Alberta’s oil industry to helping end Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s federal carbon tax.

The issue that’s received the most attention has been her support for an Alberta sovereignty act.

In fairness, Smith didn’t come up with the policy. It was originally conceived by the Free Alberta Strategy, a joint initiative between the Alberta Institute and former MLA Rob Anderson. Town halls, political, and community meetings were held to formulate ideas for the Alberta government to consider and implement. The policy proposal was jointly written by Anderson, University of Calgary Professor Barry Cooper, and lawyer Derek From on Sept. 28, 2021.

With respect to the Alberta sovereignty act, which was described as a “cornerstone,” it would “provide Alberta’s Legislature with the authority to refuse enforcement of any specific Act of Parliament or federal court ruling that Alberta’s elected body deemed to be a federal intrusion into an area of provincial jurisdiction, or unfairly prejudicial to the interests of Albertans.”

The Alberta legislature would be afforded the ability to vote to “override a federal attempt to regulate or decline a new energy project” in the province. With respect to federal laws about “possession of firearms, carbon taxes or restrictions over health care delivery, the Alberta government would have the unilateral authority to refuse enforcement.”

Smith’s interpretation is somewhat different from Free Alberta’s. On July 20, she said the act would be used to “empower the Alberta Legislature to refuse enforcement of any specific Federal Government law or policy that violates Alberta’s provincial rights under s.92 of the Constitution or the Charter of Rights and Freedoms of Albertans.” However, it would only be invoked after a “free vote” of all Alberta MLAs was held.

Some political commentators have expressed hesitation about the act. Howard Anglin wrote in The Hub on July 13 that it’s a “scam” and “unworkable.” The former deputy chief of staff to then-Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper depicted it as the “political equivalent of a sideshow tent painted with lurid images of wonders never before beheld by human eyes.” His frustration seems to be more related to Free Alberta, since he noted the act “comes straight out of the camp of the cranks and kooks.” While Anglin “likes” Smith and described her as “smart, curious, and refreshingly open-minded about politics and policy,” he’s also frustrated that her support of the act means “we have to take this deeply unserious idea seriously.”

Has the criticism of this policy proposal been warranted? I don’t believe so.

The political pendulum has swung between federal and provincial power many times in our history. It’s been more in the latter camp in recent years, meaning provincial rights and autonomy are on the table for regular discussion.

Smith’s interpretation of the act is both sensible and realistic. Enhancing provincial rights to counter the policies of an ineffective and incompetent federal government has real merit. Promoting a stronger, freer Alberta that’s more in control of its political destiny has populist and mainstream appeal. Holding free votes in the Alberta legislature is an important tool of democratic reform in modern-day politics, and doesn’t mean every piece of federal legislation will be challenged and defeated.

I don’t disagree with Anglin and others that the act goes against our current constitutional framework. Nevertheless, there are ways it could become a more tangible proposal, particularly if other Canadian premiers, both right-leaning and left-leaning, ultimately agree with Smith’s basic concept about the importance of increased provincial rights and propose sovereignty-like acts of their own. This wouldn’t prevent Ottawa from making policies and passing legislation, but it means they would have to be mindful to work hand-in-hand with provincial governments rather than proposing bills arbitrarily and making policies arrogantly.

When you put it altogether, Smith’s support of the Alberta sovereignty act could be beneficial not only for her province, but the entire country. Time will tell.

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.