Monday, January 30, 2023

Questions remain over intent of UCP sovereignty bill

The United Conservative Party’s first tabled bill under Premier Danielle Smith is coming under fire.

Director of the Prentice Institute for Global Population and Economy and professor of political science at the University of Lethbridge, Lars Hallstrom, says while it’s not entirely unanticipated, he concerns over how it’s framed, how it’s positioned, and what the intent of the bill is long term.

“As it reads, the bill essentially tries to put the determination of constitutionality within a legislature, which is not how we work, it’s what the courts are for,” he says. “It seeks to situate the capacity of the executive to make amendments to provincial law, in this context, without going through legislative debate. It has implications how the province actually responds and is positioning itself to the broader context of Canadian constitutional federalism,” he adds.

Tabled on the first day of the fall legislature sitting Tuesday, the bill will, among other things, potentially give the provincial government additional powers, including the ability to change and amend legislation through council, and not through legislative debate. The bill also lays out how the province could bypass enforcing federal legislation, if it is deemed to be against the best interest of Alberta specifically if it’s believed to infringe on the separation of power between the federal and provincial government.

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Hallstrom says while the bill didn’t pass first reading unanimously, with the entirety of the opposition, and handful of UCP MLAs not voting, or voting against it, it wasn’t surprising to see it get to a second reading. He adds it’s an example of a style of politics that has been evident across the province throughout our history.

“The presentation of this, even though there was a little bit of pushback on it, is because if you’re a UCP MLA, you’re just behind it, you’re behind Premier Smith, you’re behind what’s happening here. Your role is not actually to debate, your role is not actually to be a functioning member of the democratic legislature, your role is to be a cheerleader, and be out there promoting the action of your leader. So, there is a consistency here in broader political patterns in the province.”

“The idea of centralizing, to a degree, authority, or bypassing legislative debate is not actually that surprising in the Albertan context of populism. We often engage in a form of plebiscitary democracy, we kind of leave the leaders alone, and they really don’t rely on MLAs to drive the party, the MLAs are there as cheerleaders.”

Since the tabling of the bill Tuesday, the province has released a statement clarifying some of the questions raised about the alleged lack of legislative oversight, suggesting that cabinet is only authorized to amend existing legislation as specifically outlined in a resolution brought under the act. The resolution, including any amendments to legislation, must first be introduced, debated, voted on and passed by the legislative assembly.

“In no way does the Alberta Sovereignty within a United Canada Act permit cabinet to unilaterally amend legislation without those amendments being first authorized by the legislative assembly. If there is any dispute as to whether or not cabinet amended legislation outside of the specific recommendations contained in the resolution, including any amendments by the legislative assembly to the resolution, such actions would still be subject to both judicial review as well as review by the legislative assembly itself,” the statement reads.

You can read the entirety of the bill on the Government of Alberta website.

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