Premier Danielle Smith intends to deploy Alberta’s sovereignty legislation within the coming months in an effort to shield the province from federal policies her government considers unconstitutional, a plan that will almost certainly trigger another jurisdictional court battle.
The Alberta government, in its Throne Speech delivered by Lieutenant-Governor Salma Lakhani on Monday, outlined its top priorities for the first legislative session since the province’s May election. The to-do list pledged “several motions” under the Alberta Sovereignty within a United Canada Act, unless Ottawa backs off its plans to cap greenhouse gas emissions from the oil and gas sector and restrict emissions from power generation.
“There are powerful forces in our country, including in the federal government, that believe our province must fundamentally alter our provincial economy and way of life, and that we must do so without delay or concern of cost,” the text of the Throne Speech said.
The sovereignty act, which was the first bill Ms. Smith introduced after winning the United Conservative Party leadership contest and becoming premier a year ago, is untested and legal experts widely consider it constitutionally vulnerable. It is designed to empower the Alberta legislature to declare a federal law, policy or proposal unconstitutional; the provincial cabinet can then order provincial agencies, municipalities and other organizations under its authority to refuse to enforce the federal laws.
Ms. Smith revived her political career by aggressively fighting back against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and the Throne Speech’s provincial priorities are shaped by the Premier’s view of the federal government. While Ms. Smith’s rhetoric of pushing back against Ottawa is popular among her base of conservative supporters, she has yet to unveil concrete details regarding execution. Ms. Smith, when pressed by reporters on what action Alberta might take under the sovereignty act, said the province will first have to see whether it is necessary.
“It depends how far the federal government goes in trying to force these regulations on us,” she told reporters.
The Throne Speech omitted any mention of the contentious fight between Alberta and Ottawa over the future of the Canada Pension Plan. Ms. Smith in September released a commissioned report calculating that Alberta was entitled to $334-billion, or more than half of CPP’s assets, should it split from the national safety net and form its own plan. She did not campaign on the proposal but since September has advocated for the idea.
Alberta launched a $9.3-million advertising and consultation blitz backing the creation of a provincial pension plan. Ms. Smith argues the CPP is another example of how the rest of Canada has taken advantage of Alberta’s prosperity and that provincial residents would be better off financially if Alberta created its own plan. Ms. Smith last week acknowledged Albertans are questioning the province’s financial assumptions.
New Democratic Party Leader Rachel Notley highlighted the UCP’s exclusion of the proposed Alberta Pension Plan in the Throne Speech.
“Perhaps Danielle Smith’s omission of her signature economic policy [is] because this entire scheme is based on numbers that the Premier herself admitted” Albertans find questionable, Ms. Notley said in a statement.
The UCP did not campaign on plans to trigger the sovereignty act, although the bill was Ms. Smith’s signature promise during the party’s leadership contest last year.
If Ottawa continues to pursue proposals the UCP believes exceed the federal government’s jurisdiction and will cost Alberta billions of dollars, Ms. Smith’s team will introduce motions under the sovereignty act “detailing provincial initiatives and legislation necessary to protect Albertans from these unconstitutional and harmful policies,” the text of the Throne Speech said.
Ms. Smith has argued the province’s right to develop its natural resources trumps the federal government’s desire to cap emissions from the energy industry, a policy the UCP equates to a production cap. The UCP also rejects Ottawa’s Clean Electricity Regulations, which demand a net-zero electricity grid by 2035. Alberta asserts provinces have exclusive jurisdiction over their respective electricity grids and because its electricity is mostly generated from natural gas, calculate that Mr. Trudeau’s goal would cost the province billions and put its power supply at risk.
Ms. Smith, speaking to reporters, said an aggressive emissions cap on methane or fertilizer would also prompt the province to take action against the federal government.
Alberta’s confidence in its legal position, Ms. Smith said, increased after the Supreme Court of Canada earlier this month advised that the federal government’s law allowing it to review energy, mining and industrial projects to protect Indigenous peoples and the environment treads on provincial jurisdiction. The federal government said it will revise the Impact Assessment Act, previously known as Bill C-69, to comply with the court’s opinion.
Ms. Smith on Monday said Alberta got a “boost” from the Supreme Court when it comes to the province’s desire to keep Ottawa’s regulatory ambitions in check.
“We have received a really strong endorsement from the Supreme Court that the Constitution matters,” Ms. Smith said.