Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith speaks at the United Conservative Party AGM in Edmonton on Oct. 22.AMBER BRACKEN/The Canadian Press

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith is directing her cabinet to take a hard line approach in negotiations with Ottawa and resist any agreement that attaches onerous strings to federal funding while warning that the province could abandon such deals.

The newly sworn-in Premier, whose successful campaign to lead the United Conservative Party was centred on disdain for the federal government, sent a memo to her leadership team on Thursday that urges ministers to stand their ground on federal policies and funding that “threaten Alberta’s interests.”

She said there may be cases where the province will opt out of certain federal programs, singling out plans for national dental coverage as an overreach by Ottawa. Ms. Smith also brought up long-standing frustrations with federal health transfers and said Alberta will not only push for increases but also demand that it be distributed on a per-capita basis with no conditions.

The Premier plans to introduce her sovereignty act, which has not been drafted, when the provincial legislature resumes at the end of November. Ms. Smith says the bill would give the province power to disregard federal laws and legal decisions and would be critical to pushing back against those types of policies.

Constitutional experts have questioned the validity of Ms. Smith’s plan and senior members of her cabinet questioned the legality and usefulness of the act during the leadership campaign. Some of those individuals are now under direction to toe the party line.

In the memo, Ms. Smith said members of the UCP government must present a united front in insisting that Alberta be treated as an equal order of government that has constitutionally-protected powers over certain functions, such as health care and development of resources.

Ministers are expected to provide regular updates to the Ministry of Intergovernmental Relations, of which Ms. Smith is the minister, on any consultations with the federal government, existing funding agreements and meetings. She said Alberta is seeking federal funding without conditions where possible.

“Alberta is consistently treated as a subordinate level of government, with unilateral federal decisions that land lock our resources, undermine our prosperity and make life less affordable for Albertans,” said Ms. Smith, who drew attention to the federal oil and gas emissions cap, fertilizer emissions target and firearms buyback program.

Kathleen Ganley, Opposition New Democratic energy critic, called the approach laid out in the memo “childish” as she quoted comments by Environment Minister Sonya Savage, who called the act a “potential tragedy” and “harmful to Alberta’s future,” while backing a different candidate for UCP leader.

“Multiple economists, constitutional experts and even UCP cabinet ministers have all said the so-called sovereignty act will create chaos while doing nothing to support families. Today’s letter is no different,” said Ms. Ganley in a statement.

Ms. Smith pointed to the national dental-care program, which was announced earlier this year by the Liberal government, as an example of where Alberta was not meaningfully engaged. She said in the memo that if Ottawa does not “honour co-operative federalism” through robust consultations on future programs, then Alberta “will simply not participate in their consultations.”

Last weekend, Ms. Smith told media that the $10-a-day child care program with Ottawa invaded Alberta’s jurisdiction by dictating how the service must be run and was unfair because Quebec was not subject to the same conditions. Quebec has had a subsidized-childcare program since the 1990s and plans to use the money to bolster its existing system.

Andrea Farmer, press secretary to Minister of Affordability and Utilities Matt Jones, said Alberta will not be opting out of the federal-childcare program, but that Mr. Jones will request funding with fewer conditions, similar to Quebec. “This recognizes Alberta’s jurisdiction over child care and will expedite the expansion of needed child care spaces,” she said in a statement.

Ms. Smith did not respond to requests for comment.

Jean-Sébastien Comeau, spokesperson for Liberal Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc, said, in response to the memo, the minister looks forward to working with Ms. Smith and her cabinet and will continue to work collaboratively with all provinces and territories.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declined to comment, referring to Mr. LeBlanc’s response.

In Saskatchewan, the push against Ottawa is also growing with Premier Scott Moe expected to introduce the Saskatchewan-first act in coming days. Its intent will be to define that “Saskatchewan alone” has exclusive jurisdiction over its natural resources and economic future, while respecting Canada’s Constitution.

With a report from The Canadian Press

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe