Alberta’s sovereignty bill: Feds taking wait-and-see approach

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Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc says the federal government can’t say whether or at what point it may intervene to quash Alberta Premier Danielle Smith’s sovereignty act, but that it’s not the focus at the moment.


If adopted, the Sovereignty within a United Canada Act would give Smith’s cabinet the power to fight back against federal policies and laws it deems “unconstitutional or harmful to Albertans,” such as firearms regulation and natural resources development.


The bill faced harsh criticism this week from constitutional experts, Alberta opposition MLAs, and business groups. Smith has said she is open to amendments to the bill, and is planning some changes to be debated next week.


In an interview with CTV’s Question Period with Joyce Napier, airing Sunday, LeBlanc said the federal government is waiting to see what happens in the Alberta legislature instead of “wasting a great deal of time focused on this,” especially as it’s unclear how the bill may be amended before being adopted.


“We can look at legislation that’s before the legislature of Alberta, but it has not yet become law,” he said. “And there are a number of elements that are sort of vague and imprecise.”


LeBlanc also said it’s unclear how the Alberta government might use the legislation if and when it passes, and there are several layers of hypotheticals involved, including how the Act may be applied in practice down the line.


“Even once it’s adopted, it sort of sits on a shelf until a minister or the government decides to take a step under the legislation, and then there’s a further legislative process, so it’s far from clear how and where it would be triggered,” he said.


LeBlanc said the federal government is instead focusing on working with Alberta on other shared priorities, such as infrastructure projects, the fight against climate change, immigration and labour shortages, and housing issues.


“We’re not going to waste a lot of our time, or frankly, impede our ability to work with the Alberta government on these other priorities, by getting bogged down in a theoretical debate,” LeBlanc said.


There are however a few options for the federal government, should it choose to push back against the bill, including using disallowance — which would give the government the ability to invalidate it — but the power hasn’t been used in more than 70 years, and LeBlanc said that move is not currently being considered.


“No, we’re not looking at things like that now at all,” he said. “We’re interested in the debate in Alberta. That’s a very, very premature hypothetical situation.”


“We don’t think it’s important to run around and pull the fire alarm and waste a great deal of energy on what is properly a debate before the Alberta legislature,” LeBlanc added.


Smith, who first announced her plans to introduce the sovereignty act during her bid to become leader of the United Conservative Party, has been touting the legislation as a way to reset Alberta’s relationship with Ottawa.


“In particular, a long and painful history of mistreatment and constitutional overreach from Canada has for decades caused tremendous frustration for Albertans,” Smith told reporters this week. “In response, we’re finally telling the federal government: ‘no more’.”


Smith later told Mike Le Couteur on CTV’s Power Play that Alberta is “asserting its sovereign jurisdiction,” and sending the message that “Ottawa stays in its own lane.”


But LeBlanc said pushback from provinces is normal and hardly a new phenomenon.


“It’s always 13 against one,” he said. “So in the 13, you can always find one that for whatever political reasons in their own province or territory, decides that the government of Canada is responsible for a series of challenges in their province, some of it may be true, some of it may be exaggerated. It’s not new. The federation is strong.”


“This isn’t new, and it really doesn’t worry us,” he also said. “We’re focused on what we can do collaboratively, and will allow others to judge the Alberta government on its own legislative measures.”


With files from CTV’s Stephanie Ha

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