By Dean Bennett in Edmonton
One of the front-runners to replace Jason Kenney as Alberta’s premier says if she wins, legislation would come this fall to ignore federal laws along with steps to create a provincial police force and tax-collection agency.
Danielle Smith said the legislature would need to pass an Alberta sovereignty act as soon as possible to allow Alberta to reject federal dictates on COVID-19, such as ordering vaccine shots for children or third doses for all.
She also said it’s imperative to get the ball rolling on an Alberta police force and a separate agency to collect taxes — necessary to give teeth to the sovereignty legislation — because they are multiyear initiatives.
“We want to have clear legislation so that (federal officials) understand that we’re just not going to pass policy that violates Albertans’ rights,” Smith said in an interview.
“That would be a mechanism so that they know we’re serious about enforcing our jurisdiction.”
The Alberta sovereignty act would grant the legislature discretion to refuse to enforce federal laws or court decisions it deems an intrusion on provincial rights or a threat to provincial interests.
Smith said with Alberta’s economy and population growing, it’s critical to act now to send a message to the federal government, and to her United Conservative Party membership, that the time for mere sabre rattling is over.
She said she is not being a trailblazer, but following in the footsteps of provinces such as Quebec and British Columbia, which have chosen to reject with impunity Ottawa’s dictates on policies from drug laws to pipelines.
She said the UCP has the mandate to implement such sweeping legislation immediately rather than run on it as a platform in the May 2023 election.
She pointed to a provincial referendum last fall in which almost 62 per cent said they wanted to see equalization removed from the Constitution.
She also highlighted a Fair Deal Panel that issued a report two years ago urging the province to pursue autonomy issues such as an Alberta pension plan and police force.
“There has been enough conversation around this that I have a pretty good gauge of where people are at,” Smith said. “It seems to me we do have a mandate to move.”
In Calgary, Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley said Smith has no mandate to pursue such “extreme policy positions.” She said the UCP should be focused on fixing problems for Albertans, such as health-care wait times and rising costs due to inflation, rather than “pretend fights with Ottawa.”
Three University of Calgary law professors have also rebutted Smith’s ideas.
They said not only would such a sovereignty law be “fundamentally unlawful,” it would take a wrecking ball to Canada’s constitutional order, the separation of powers and to the rule of law that underpins a healthy democracy and guards against “arbitrary state power.”
“The Alberta sovereignty act sets a dangerous course in that direction,” write Martin Olszynski, Jonnette Watson Hamilton, and Shaun Fluker in their analysis. Fluker is also running for the NDP in the 2023 election.
Olszynski said in an interview Thursday that while there are concerns and debate over how other provinces interpret or enforce federal laws, “it is unprecedented in modern Canadian history for a political movement to declare that they will ignore the courts.”
He added that politicians talking this way should not be tolerated.
“Once you give power to somebody who has explicitly and very deliberately told you that they are prepared to ignore the rule of law, then they are prepared to ignore it whenever they feel like it.”
The sovereignty act is the centrepiece policy proposal of the Free Alberta Strategy.
The strategy was introduced last September in a policy paper authored by former Wildrose party member Rob Anderson, University of Calgary political science professor Barry Cooper, and lawyer Derek From.
They argue that federal laws, policies, and overreach are mortally wounding Alberta’s development.
They urge a two-track strategy to assert greater autonomy for Alberta within Confederation while simultaneously laying the policy and administrative groundwork to transition Alberta to separation and sovereignty should negotiations fail.
Smith is one of eight candidates running in the contest to replace Kenney as party leader and premier.
She is a former leader of the Wildrose Party, which merged with Kenney’s Progressive Conservatives in 2017 to create the current UCP.
The winner will be named Oct. 6. Early polling suggests Smith is one of the favourites.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 23, 2022.
Premier Danielle Smith sent this letter to PM Justin Trudeau today
An alternative to Just Transition: Premier Smith
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith invites Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to work with her to develop “Sustainable Jobs” legislation as an alternative to the proposed “Just Transition” legislation.
Dear Prime Minister:
I am writing to once again raise Alberta’s serious concerns with the proposed federal ‘Just Transition’ legislation. The world needs more Canadian energy, not less. It would be premature and ill-advised to signal the end of a vibrant, thriving industry that has the ability to reduce Canada’s and the world’s emissions through technological innovation and increased exports of LNG and other clean burning fuels the world so desperately needs. It is also critical to the security of our nation and allies to lessen dependence on fuel sources from unstable, undemocratic and dangerous countries with atrocious environmental records.
Simply put, the world needs more Canadian energy and technology, not less, and as the owner of the world’s third largest oil and gas reserves and the most advanced environmental technology on the planet – we need to signal our intention to provide substantially more of both.
According to your government’s own predictions, the federal Just Transition initiative alone will risk a full 25 percent of Alberta’s economy and 187,000 jobs in Alberta, while also causing major disruptions and displacement to 13.5 percent of Canada’s workforce. At a time when Canadians are struggling to afford basic services and goods, Canada’s oil and gas sector offers some of the highest wages in Canada, which translates to strong business and community support across the country. Signalling a move away from these types of high paying jobs, threatens the national economy, and the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of workers across the country at a time when good jobs are needed the most. It also creates a chilling effect on investors considering large scale investments in the Alberta and Canadian energy sector.
Prime Minister, we are at a crossroads in Alberta’s relationship with the Federal Government. We can continue with the endless court challenges, legislation to protect jurisdictional rights and inflammatory media coverage over our disagreements, or, as is my strong preference, Alberta and Ottawa can work in partnership on a plan that will signal to all Canadians and investors from around the world that our governments have cooperatively designed a series of incentives and initiatives intended to achieve the following objectives:
- Substantially decreasing Canada’s and Alberta’s net emissions;
- Accelerating private and public investment in projects and infrastructure that utilize and develop Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage (CCUS), Bitumen Beyond Combustion, Geothermal technology, petrochemicals, hydrogen, lithium, helium, zero-emissions vehicles and nuclear technologies;
- Attracting and growing a larger skilled workforce to fill positions in both the conventional energy sector as well as emerging industries using the technologies cited above; and
- Significantly, and through the lens of global emissions reduction, increasing the export of LNG and other responsibly developed conventional oil and natural gas resources to Europe, Asia and the United States.
Prime Minister, all of the above objectives need to be clearly articulated and integrated into any Federal legislation or policies your government seeks to implement in the coming months, or that legislation will face irrepressible opposition from Alberta. I genuinely do not want to see that happen.
Further, this proposed legislation must be developed through cooperative discussions with affected provinces – namely Alberta. I would therefore invite you to meet with me in February on this matter, after which I would propose we have our appropriate ministers and officials meet repeatedly in the coming months with the goal of coming to a joint agreement on the key items to be included in your contemplated legislation so that it can be introduced and passed by the end of Spring.
Further, I request that you take to heart, and acknowledge publicly, the following items, in an extension of good faith to Albertans:
- Immediately drop the verbiage of “Just Transition”. Accordingly, rename the “Just Transition Act” to the “Sustainable Jobs Act”;
- Vow that all provisions of any forthcoming legislation will be designed to incentivize investment and job growth in both the conventional energy sector as well as in emerging industries utilizing Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage (CCUS), Bitumen Beyond Combustion, petrochemicals, hydrogen, lithium, helium, geothermal, zero-emissions vehicle and nuclear technologies;
- Demonstrate that no provision of the Act will be designed to phase out or reduce Alberta’s conventional oil and natural gas sector and workforce (as we are already experiencing a workforce shortage in this sector);
- Commit your Government to actively partnering with Alberta to expand LNG exports to Asia and Europe as part of our nation’s overall emissions reduction strategy; and
- Promise that you and your Government will work with Alberta in partnership to set reasonable and meaningful emissions reductions targets and will not unilaterally impose such targets on Alberta’s energy, agriculture and other industrial sectors on a go forward basis.
Investments by Alberta’s oil and natural gas industry are driving the creation of the very clean technologies needed to bring emissions down both in Canada and around the world. Oil and natural gas companies representing the majority of production in Canada are investing $24 billion on projects to help reduce annual GHG emissions from operations by 22 million tonnes by 2030, and have committed to emission neutrality by 2050. Putting an end to or hampering this important work, and continued tepid support for increased LNG export, is the best way for your government to fail in its goal of reducing our nation’s and the world’s emissions. It would be the ultimate example of scoring on our own net.
The Alberta energy sector has grown and thrived through innovation, providing good paying jobs for thousands and contributing billions of dollars in tax revenue for all levels of government. They will continue to evolve and adapt to new technologies in search of new low to zero-emitting fuel sources like hydrogen and provide new, high-paying skilled jobs for decades to come. It is essential that the federal government stands shoulder to shoulder with Alberta to reduce emissions and continue to develop our oil and natural gas and future energy sources responsibly, while also positioning Canada as the optimal solution to global energy needs and security.
Prime Minister, we can and must work together. Operating in political silos, as adversaries on this issue, is getting us nowhere, and I believe all Canadians are tired of seeing it. Canada should be the world’s greatest energy superpower. It can be, if we come together collaboratively in pursuit of that objective. There is no limit to our nation’s potential.
Let’s turn the page starting with a meeting between us next month followed by a dedicated effort to craft “Sustainable Jobs” legislation that a vast majority of Albertans and Canadians will welcome and support. The consequences of missing this opportunity will be dire for the Canadian and Alberta economies, workforce and environment.
I look forward to your prompt reply.
‘Not true’: Justice minister denies crying or yelling during doctor confrontation
By Bill Graveland in Calgary
Alberta’s justice minister said he felt sad and disappointed when he discovered someone he considered to be a friend was behind a social media post targeting him and his wife.
The Law Society of Alberta is in the final day of a hearing into allegations Tyler Shandro violated the profession’s code of conduct. The three complaints date back to his time as the provincial health minister early in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Mukarram Zaidi, who had posted a photo on social media of Shandro with a caption related to privatizing health care, told the hearing the minister and his wife visited his home in March 2020. He said it occurred during fractious negotiations between the government and the Alberta Medical Association over fees.
The photo of Shandro, with a thought bubble caption, said: “So every Albertan that I can kick off health care is another client we can sign up for Vital Partners. We’re going to be RICH.” Shandro’s wife, Andrea, is the co-founder of Vital Partners, a health insurance agency.
Shandro said Thursday his spouse alerted him to the post earlier in the day, when there had been up to a thousand threats made against the couple.
“I recognized the account being someone I considered a friend and who lived around the corner,” Shandro said under questioning by his lawyer.
“The irony is that this is a fellow who had often engaged with me to discuss the importance of being careful with words, with online posts and what that could result in.”
The doctor testified earlier this week that he went outside of his home to meet Shandro and described the minister as being highly upset as he demanded the doctor remove the post immediately because his family was being subjected to death threats.
“I see Shandro and his wife standing at the sidewalk. He was crying, he was emotionally charged. His wife was holding him,” Zaidi said.
“He said: ‘You can’t do this to us. We’re getting death threats.’ I think I asked him: ‘What do you want me to do?’ And he said: ‘Delete your post.”’
Shandro said he walked over to Zaidi’s home by himself and asked the doctors’ children to send out their father. He said the conversation was over in a matter of minutes.
“I said: ‘Mukarram, why wouldn’t you have just asked me if you had questions? We know each other. You know me. You know Andrea. You know this isn’t true.’ And then I asked him: ‘Do you know this conspiracy theory is resulting in Andrea getting death threats?'” Shandro said.
“He said softly: ‘What do I do? Do I delete the post?’ I specifically did not take him up on that offer. I said: ‘Look, you have to decide that for yourself.'”
Shandro’s lawyer, Grant Stapon, asked his client what he had to say to Zaidi’s description of him crying and yelling while being held by his wife during the discussion.
“It’s not true. It isn’t true at all. Andrea was not there and if she really was there, it doesn’t benefit me to say she wasn’t there. If anything, it would be helpful to have her be there to corroborate,” Shandro replied.
“I definitely did not yell at him.”
Shandro said his wife did show up at the end of the conversation.
“She was emotional. She did have red eyes. She was crying earlier. She said: ‘Don’t talk to him. He’s not interested in us. He’s only interested in money.'”
Shandro said at that point they returned home.
Andrea Shandro is expected to testify later Thursday afternoon.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2023.
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