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Alberta Premier Danielle Smith watches Minister of Justice and Solicitor General of Alberta Tyler Shandro speak at a news conference after the throne speech in Edmonton on Nov. 29.JASON FRANSON/The Canadian Press

Alberta’s United Conservative Party plans to overhaul Premier Danielle Smith’s signature legislation, a so-called sovereignty act designed to push back against overreach from Ottawa, so that the bill would be harder to invoke and would no longer give cabinet unchecked power to rewrite provincial laws.

The UCP, in a statement Monday afternoon, said its caucus had voted to amend the proposed Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act, which Ms. Smith introduced Nov. 29. The Premier and her lieutenants spent last week accusing the bill’s critics, who argue the legislation is undemocratic and unconstitutional, of fear-mongering.

By Dec. 2, Ms. Smith had conceded that her first version of the bill, the idea of which was a cornerstone of her UCP leadership campaign, may need amendments to provide clarity.

In comments to the legislature on Monday, Ms. Smith portrayed the proposed amendments as evidence the government is listening to critics, but the quick reversal suggests caucus members may not have understood the sweeping ramifications of the eight-page bill, or are not prepared to support their leader in the face of widespread opposition. The proposed changes may ease concerns about some parts of the act, but the amendments are unlikely to end debate over its constitutionality or allay concerns that the law is being rushed.

“I want to make sure that we get this bill right and I’m grateful that my caucus is going to propose amendments to do that,” Ms. Smith told the legislature.

During the UCP leadership race earlier this year, Ms. Smith pledged her first bill upon becoming premier would be a sovereignty act that would empower Alberta to ignore federal policies MLAs believe infringe on provincial jurisdiction. She introduced the bill immediately following her government’s Throne Speech. The draft legislation went further than advertised, with language that would give the provincial cabinet power to rewrite laws through orders in council, bypassing the legislative process.

A copy of the draft amendments, obtained by The Globe and Mail, includes language that would give Alberta’s cabinet the ability to suspend or modify regulations, but not rewrite entire provincial acts. Cabinet already has the power to change regulations.

In its statement, the UCP said the party’s caucus supported amending the bill to “clarify that any changes to existing Alberta statutes” must be “introduced and passed separately through the regular legislative assembly process.”

The bill’s original text said it could be used when the federal government introduced or considered policies the province believes are unconstitutional or could harm Albertans, but did not define “harm.” The draft amendments limit “harm” to meaning federal policies or proposals that affect or interfere with provincial jurisdiction under the Constitution, or that interfere with or violate the Charter rights of Albertans.

A provision that would allow cabinet to direct government entities like police, universities, and municipalities to ignore federal policies remains intact in the draft amendments.

Eric Adams, a law professor at the University of Alberta who specializes in the Constitution, said rolling back the act’s expansion of cabinet powers would address some of the legislation’s “serious democratic deficits,” and would be a positive development.

He added that a shift this significant, less than a week after the bill’s introduction, may leave Albertans feeling less than confident that the legislation was the product of extensive thought or planning.

”When the province is embarking on a reset with something as serious as the basic operations of federalism, I think the public expects and demands that the initiative be the product of careful scrutiny and deep understanding by the caucus,” Mr. Adams said. “That appears not to have been the case.”

He said he would be surprised if more substantive amendments follow, because at some point further changes would strip the act of its intent. More clarity is needed, he added, particularly on how provincial entities would be affected if the act came into use.

Even if the amendments pass, he said, the bill would remain “constitutionally vulnerable” to challenge in the courts.

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