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Alberta VS Ottawa? These are the approaches of four leading candidates

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No matter who wins the UCP Leadership race, you can count on a turbulent relationship with Ottawa.  Albertans have long had issues with how the Liberal government stifles the critical Oil and Gas industry.  Now Alberta’s farmers are finding out what that feels like, as the federal government is introducing measures to reduce the amount of nitrogen fertilizer they use.

To add to the level of animosity between the two governments, a growing number of Alberta UCP supporters are voicing dissatisfaction over Covid restrictions and mandates.  This group is active politically, and seems to be rallying behind frontrunner Daniel Smith and likeminded Todd Loewen.  The idea is to avoid future restrictions and mandates provincially, and stand up against any federal measures.

It’s no coincidence then, that the leading candidates in the UCP race all have strong platform initiatives to stand up to Ottawa.  Here’s what they look like, beginning with Danielle Smith’s “Alberta Sovereignty Act.

Danielle Smith – Alberta Sovereignty Act

It is clear that my proposed Alberta Sovereignty Act has thus far been the central issue of the UCP leadership campaign. Tens of thousands of Albertans have embraced the idea of actually standing up to Ottawa’s attacks against us, rather than usual ineffective letter writing campaigns and complaining.

It’s been both exciting and heartwarming to see hope restored to so many in our Province, and I want them to know how much their faith and confidence in this initiative strengthen my personal resolve to see it through.

Unsurprisingly, many in the media and establishment do not support the Alberta Sovereignty Act and have turned to the tried and tested methods of fearmongering and disinformation to discredit the idea. Unfortunately, some of my fellow UCP candidates may have fallen into their trap.

My hope in releasing this FAQ sheet on the Alberta Sovereignty Act, is that more Albertans and MLAs will take a thoughtful look at this policy, and join the growing majority of Albertans who want to see us stand up to Ottawa, restore our constitutional rights, and take control of our future in this manner.

I am sincerely looking forward to implementing this critically important piece of legislation together.

– Danielle Smith

What is the Alberta Sovereignty Act?

A proposed provincial law that would affirm the authority of the Provincial Legislature to refuse enforcement of any Federal law or policy that violates the jurisdictional rights of Alberta under Sections 92 – 95 of the Constitution or that breaches the Charter Rights of Albertans.

How will it be used?

When the Federal Government institutes a law or policy that appears to violate the constitution or Charter, the Government of Alberta may introduce a Special Motion for a free vote of all MLAs in the Legislature. The Special Motion would include the following:

1. Identification of the Federal law or policy that it deems to be in violation of the Constitution

2. An Outline of the specific harms that violation of the Constitution imposes on the citizens of Alberta

3. Description of the specific actions the Province will take to refuse the enforcement of that Federal law or policy in Alberta

4. A Declaration that by authority of the Alberta Sovereignty Act and notwithstanding the specific Federal law or policy in question, it shall not be enforced by the Provincial Government within Alberta in the manner outlined by the Special Motion

5. Imposition a specific time frame (no more than 24 months) by which the Special Motion will be reviewed in the Legislature

Will a Premier or Governing Party be able to refuse enforcement of any Federal Law or Policy they don’t like?

No, the Alberta Sovereignty Act may not be used unless specifically authorized by way of a free vote of all elected MLAs in the Alberta Legislature, as explained above.

What examples of Federal Laws will the Alberta Sovereignty Act be applied to?

Examples could include:

– Federal mandatory vaccination policies – Charter violation

– Use of Emergencies Act to jail & freeze accounts of peaceful protesters – Charter violation

– Bill C-69 ‘No New Pipelines’ Law – found unconstitutional by Alberta Court of Appeal

– Mandatory cuts to fertilizer use by Alberta Farmers – violation of s.95

– Mandatory emissions and production cuts to Alberta energy projects – violation of s.92A

– Federal gun grabs – violation of s.92(13)

Is the Alberta Sovereignty Act about Separation from Canada?

No, the entire objective of the Alberta Sovereignty Act is to assert Alberta’s Constitutional Rights within Canada to the furthest extent possible by effectively governing itself as a Nation within a Nation, just as Quebec has done for decades and as Saskatchewan is also now considering.

If anything, the restoration of provincial rights and autonomy of every province from the destructive overreach of Ottawa is likely the only viable way for Canada to survive and flourish into the future. Ottawa’s “divide, control and conquer’ policies have Canada on a path of division and disunity. Alberta can and must lead on this issue going forward.

Is the Alberta Sovereignty Act illegal or does it run contrary to the rule of law?

No, just the opposite.

Over the last several years the Federal Government has triggered a constitutional crisis through repeated lawless attacks on provincial constitutional rights and the Charter.

The Trudeau Government has effectively imposed economic sanctions against Alberta (and parts of Saskatchewan and BC) that have resulted in economic chaos.

Hundreds of billions in investment and tax revenues, and hundreds of thousands of jobs, have been lost to these sanctions as investors around the world find it too risky to do business in Alberta’s energy industry. In fact, no new major development of our world class oil sands has been commenced in almost 20 years as a result.

The idea expressed by some UCP leadership candidates that the Alberta Sovereignty Act would “cause chaos” in the markets is naive in the extreme. The “chaos” is already here and has been caused by both Ottawa’s unlawful policies and an utter lack of provincial leadership on effectively pushing back against those attacks.

The fact is the Alberta Sovereignty Act reimposes constitutional rule of law on a lawless Ottawa by reaffirming the critical import of respecting the powers and jurisdiction of the Provinces under the Canadian Constitution.

 

Brian Jean – Autonomy For Albertans Act

I started with policies designed to change how Alberta reacts to the federal government and Canada. I want us to stop being defensive and go on the offensive. We have to stop covering up and we have to take the fight to Canada. 

The five sets of actions that will protect and enhance Alberta’s Autonomy Within Canada are:

  1. Serve legal notice invoking section 46 of the Constitution and force Trudeau and the Premiers into negotiations.
  2. Stipulate that Alberta government-funded groups will not be able to participate in the WEF.
  3. Use the courts to challenge the tanker ban, the proposed oil production caps, and the fertilizer caps.
  4. Demand the Quebec government stop taking the assets of Alberta energy companies in Quebec and get their attention by acting against SNC Lavalin.
  5. Demand that Alberta be given Canada’s seat on important international energy institutions, just like Quebec gets Canada’s seat at UN cultural institutions.
These actions and this approach is very different than how Alberta has traditionally acted. This is very different from what the other leadership candidates are proposing. First this is about acting, about doing something. The “Alberta Sovereignty Act” proposal is purely defensive and reactive. Instead of saying to Canada “we won’t enforce your rules if you come after us,” I am saying that we need to take the initiative.
The Constitution has not been opened in 30 years.
My proposals are about taking ACTION and going on the offense. Danielle Smith proposes a purely defensive strategy that surrenders on past fights. Travis Toews has no strategy at all in this area — he wants to continue Jason Kenney’s practice of writing stern and meaningless letters whenever we get stepped on.
When we open the Constitution, we can deal with the issues of: pipelines and right-of-ways, access to tidewater, stopping provinces and the federal government from landlocking provinces, and democratic under-representation. Taking the fight to the rest of Canada is the way to actually get results and reverse the damage.
Passing an unconstitutional “Sovereignty Act” that only kicks in the next time we are punched doesn’t change anything. It will likely encourage Trudeau to hit Alberta harder.
Fighting the efforts of the World Economic Forum to change our society is something Alberta should have been doing all along.
No $$ to WEF
As is using the courts intelligently including as a way to get expert testimony into the record in important legal debates. 
Fight the tanker ban, the production caps, and the fertilizer caps
Fighting back against the insults of Quebec and the federal government should have always been our policy. Instead under Jason Kenney we too often gave away things hoping that other provinces would return the favour. They did not.
We play tit for tat with Quebec.
Finally, we should learn from Quebec and have our position in the world recognized by Canada. Alberta is an energy superpower and it should own Canada’s seat at the global table whenever energy issues are discussed. 
We get the Energy seat.

Travis Toews – Toews’ Strategy to Strengthen Alberta

I’m running to ensure our children and grandchildren have the same kind of opportunities and freedoms that Kim and I have been blessed with.

We must strengthen Alberta’s place in Canada and win meaningful reforms. Threats and sternly worded letters aren’t enough, and radical actions that create chaos will only set us back.

I have a real plan that uses our economic and fiscal strength to our advantage. A plan that is strategic. A plan that will get us results.

Here’s my plan to strengthen Alberta:

1. REFORM EQUALIZATION AND FISCAL STABILIZATION.

  • The Fiscal Stabilization program supports provinces experiencing a sudden drop in revenue. These stabilization payments are capped at a low level. As Finance Minister, I led negotiations to raise the cap by $500 million for Albertans. I will continue working to increase this cap.
  • The equalization formula expires in 2024 and I’ll fight to ensure it is renegotiated for fairness, rather than simply being renewed like it was in 2014 and 2019.

2. LAY THE GROUNDWORK AND BUILD SUPPORT AMONG ALBERTANS TO OPT-IN TO AN ALBERTA PENSION PLAN.

  • I’ve always believed that an Alberta Pension Plan holds great promise for Albertans. As Finance Minister, this file was on my desk and I’m convinced an Alberta Pension Plan is an incredible opportunity for the province. If we’re going to win on this critical opportunity, it must be handled strategically in methodology, approach, and timing. We can’t afford to lose, and if this is not done right, we could lose this transformative opportunity for future generations.
  • I will make the case with Albertans for a provincial pension plan. I’m confident we will see this is a transformative opportunity for us to gain autonomy, lower premiums, increase pension benefits, boost our financial sector, and have a more reliable pension long-term.

3. SHIFT TAX POWER FROM THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT TO PROVINCIAL GOVERNMENTS. 

  • I’ll work with other Premiers to shift the tax power from the federal government to provincial governments. This allows provinces to have the tax capacity to deliver services like childcare, pharma care, and dental care. It would provide Albertans with more autonomy, and make it easier for us to deliver high quality services to all Albertans while balancing the budget.

4. DEFEND AND ADVANCE ALBERTA’S KEY ECONOMIC SECTORS LIKE ENERGY AND AGRICULTURE.

  • Energy and agriculture are the lifeblood of many Alberta communities. My wife Kim and I know this well from our ranching operation and oilfield service company.
  • To back Alberta’s energy and agricultural sectors against Ottawa’s targeted attacks, as Premier I would:
    • Pass enabling legislation so that when Ottawa attacks Alberta’s economy we have a potential suite of targeted levies on goods and contracts we can begin to apply and escalate as needed.
    • Use my experience as an international trade negotiator to lead on the energy file by engaging American and foreign leaders directly.
    • Continue supporting the ongoing legal challenge against C-69 the “No more pipelines act”.
    • Work with Saskatchewan and Manitoba to expand the Port of Churchill to get our energy and agriculture products to world markets.
    • Ensure Ottawa’s climate policies treat all heavy emitters equally instead of targeting Albertans. We can be environmental leaders without impoverishing our future.
    • Enhance the Alberta Indigenous Opportunities Corporation so that more Indigenous communities can be full partners in responsible prosperity.

5. EXPLORE AN ALBERTA PROVINCIAL POLICE SERVICE WITH RURAL ALBERTANS AND MUNICIPAL LEADERS.

  • Kim and I have experienced multiple thefts in our businesses over the years. I know rural crime is a large problem. I am committed to increasing safety for all Albertans by improving policing services.
  • I have deep respect for the RCMP and the work they do to provide safety to Albertans. I also believe there is merit in exploring a provincial police service. This could reduce bureaucracy and lead to an improved culture in the policing service.
  • This is not a policy I would implement on day one. Before moving forward, I would ensure rural Albertans and municipal leaders ultimately support the decision.

 

Rebecca Schulz – 100 DAY PROVINCIAL RIGHTS STRATEGY

A Schulz government would immediately start the 100 Day Provincial Rights Action Plan, with clear steps – and a timeline – to fight, negotiate, partner, and strengthen Alberta’s position with Confederation.

No more letters, no more panels, and no more empty threats – Albertans want action and results when it comes to defending our rights in confederation and seeing our province reach its full potential.” – Rebecca Schulz 

Within the first 10 days, a Schulz government will appoint a Deputy Premier and team with the primary focus to act as Alberta’s lead negotiators in strengthening Alberta’s position in Canada.

This will include:

  1. Presenting the federation with a package of common sense reforms on equalization, fiscal stabilization, and greater provincial control over programs through tax points
  2. Presenting the federation with a list of federal, provincial overlap in regulations/policy and begin negotiations on disentanglement
  3. Pursuing an Alberta Pension Plan, Alberta Employment Insurance and an Alberta Revenue Agency

Within the first 50 days, Schulz and the Deputy Premier would present a Provincial Rights

Framework, to identify every legal and constitutional measure possible to stand up against Ottawa’s continued attacks on provincial jurisdiction.

This will include:

  1. Calling for a Protecting Provincial Rights Summit to bring provinces to the table and identify every measure to stand up for jurisdictional rights against federal interference
  2. Continuing the fight against the Tanker Ban (C-48) and Trudeau’s No-More Pipelines legislation (C-69), alongside all 10 provinces
  3. Taking every proactive legal measure possible against Trudeau’s federal emissions and fertilizer caps.

Within the first 100 days, Schulz and the Deputy Premier would present a new Market Access Plan to create political and economic incentives for federal and provincial governments to negotiate with Alberta in good faith for improved trade and market access.

This will include:

  1. Identifying strategic actions to deter other provinces or levels of government from limiting Alberta’s market access and trade
  2. Developing criteria for when Alberta will Turn off the Taps through the Preserving Canada’s Economic Prosperity Act.

“You don’t need to spend weeks on the campaign trail to understand how frustrated Albertans are of being pushed around. The emissions and fertilizer caps are just two of the most recent examples of governments interfering with our provincial trade and prosperity. It’s about time Albertans were presented with a real plan to take action.” – Rebecca Schulz

 

After 15 years as a TV reporter with Global and CBC and as news director of RDTV in Red Deer, Duane set out on his own 2008 as a visual storyteller. During this period, he became fascinated with a burgeoning online world and how it could better serve local communities. This fascination led to Todayville, launched in 2016.

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Alberta

Fortis et Liber: Alberta’s Future in the Canadian Federation

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From the C2C Journal

By Barry Cooper, professor of political science, University of Calgary

Canada’s western lands, wrote one prominent academic, became provinces “in the Roman sense” – acquired possessions that, once vanquished, were there to be exploited. Laurentian Canada regarded the hinterlands as existing primarily to serve the interests of the heartland. And the current holders of office in Ottawa often behave as if the Constitution’s federal-provincial distribution of powers is at best advisory, if it needs to be acknowledged at all. Reviewing this history, Barry Cooper places Alberta’s widely criticized Sovereignty Act in the context of the Prairie provinces’ long struggle for due constitutional recognition and the political equality of their citizens. Canada is a federation, notes Cooper. Provinces do have rights. Constitutions do mean something. And when they are no longer working, they can be changed.

Mahatma Ghandhi was once allegedly asked what he thought of Western civilization. “I think it would be a good idea,” he is said to have replied. One could answer the same about Canadian federalism: it would be a good idea.

Not too long ago I was interviewed by a CBC journalist from Toronto regarding the Alberta Sovereignty within a United Canada Act, which upon its introduction by Premier Danielle Smith’s UCP government in November 2022 was attacked as needlessly provocative, deeply unconstitutional, legally unsustainable and shamelessly populist. “What is your vision of Canada?” the CBC reporter wanted to know. I told her the following: that Canada might be a federation. The implication was obvious: Canada is not a federation at present and, arguably, never has been. Many Canadians would find such a remark not arguable but outrageous. So here is my argument. My focus is on the Prairie West, not Laurentian Canada, the Maritimes, Newfoundland or B.C., each of which retains the story of its connection to Canada.

For 200 years Rupert’s Land (its flag shown on top left) along with the Northwest and Northeast Territories were the exclusive commercial domain of the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC), granted by the British Crown; Great Britian officially transferred these vast lands to the Crown in Right of Canada in 1870. (Source of map: Golbez, licensed under CC BY 2.5)

Before Canada became a country in 1867, the vast tracts administered by the Hudson’s Bay Company – Rupert’s Land and the Northwest and Northeast Territories, including what became Labrador – were governed from London under Imperial orders and statutes. In law, Rupert’s Land was a plantation – a cold-weather plantation, to be sure, but a plantation nevertheless. The transfer of Company lands from the Imperial Crown to the Crown in Right of Canada took place by means of an Imperial Order-in-Council (passed under appropriate statutory authority) on July 15, 1870.

This all-but-forgotten history is important for understanding our present discontents. Not only was Rupert’s Land a territory politically distinct from the colony of Canada, but the manner of its acquisition by Canada underlined its distinctiveness. In 1868, a year after Confederation, the British Parliament passed the Rupert’s Land Act, specifying that the Hudson’s Bay Company would surrender its “lands, rights, privileges, liberties, franchises, powers and authorities” under certain terms and conditions to be negotiated by the Company, the Colonial Office and the Canadian government.

The negotiations were protracted and the specification of the terms and conditions took years of haggling among all the parties, some of which erupted into lawsuits. In the background there remained the unacknowledged claims of the inhabitants of the Red River Settlement (in what later became the Province of Manitoba), who were decidedly cool about the prospect of being incorporated into Canada. Neither they – whether of British, French, Métis, “country-born” or Indian stock – nor the other natives of Rupert’s Land were consulted about their new status.

Obscure but legally important: Canada is often said to have “purchased” Rupert’s Land from the Hudson’s Bay Company, but Canada did not actually pay for the land, only for the company’s capital improvements such as Lower Fort Garry in the Rural Municipality of St. Andrews (aka the Stone Fort, top), Fort Edmonton (middle), depicted here after construction of Alberta’s Legislative Assembly building, and the Hudson’s Bay Brigade Trail (bottom). (Sources of images: (top) Gordon Goldsborough, 2014-0038; (middle) Peel’s Prairie Provinces)

Rupert’s Land was not, therefore, on the market the way Alaska had been in the 1860s, when it was purchased from Czarist Russia by the United States for US$7.2 million (or 2 cents per acre), a transaction that took place in March 1867 through a signed treaty. True, many Hudson’s Bay Company stockholders similarly wished to sell Rupert’s Land to the highest bidder and hoped to begin the auction with an offer from China. Russia and the United States were also expected to join the bidding, along with Canada.

Some Canadian politicians spoke of the subsequent Canadian “purchase” of Rupert’s Land; some Canadian historians still do. But the transfer of Company lands to Canada was not a real estate deal. The Imperial Crown simply transferred its authority to the Crown in Right of Canada. Canada “indemnified” – i.e., bought off – the Hudson’s Bay Company not for the territory of Rupert’s Land but for the several capital improvements made during the previous 230 years. These included such structures as the Stone Fort at Red River and the timber fort at Edmonton, but also far-flung portage trails and the like.

Looked at from the perspective of Laurentian Canadian history, Rupert’s Land was a gift to the new Confederation from the Imperial Crown, the missing link between Canada and the colony of British Columbia that inspired the empire-builders of the Macdonald-Cartier coalition to extend the new eastern political entity to the Pacific Ocean, to build the Canadian Pacific Railway and to incorporate the province of B.C. within Canada. As for the Company lands to the east of Hudson Bay, very little commercial viability was expected. This was fur territory peopled by Indigenous trappers and barbaric traders as it had been for centuries. Canada later gave Ontario and Quebec additional territory carved from those former Company lands.

Canada expanded in a mode quite different from the United States. Unlike the generally well-planned and logical formation of new states from territories – a process meant to reflect an area’s maturation from thinly populated, intermittently governed and often lawless frontier to incipient civilization – there was nothing in Canada akin to the American Northwest Ordinance or to its successor laws. A key difference was that a newly formed U.S. state gained the same rights and privileges as other states, an important element of real federalism.

Here one should note that there are two elements essential to any federation. The first is a constitutionally defined division of responsibility between the central government and the constituent sub-national jurisdictions – provinces in Canada, states in the U.S. In a well-run federation each order of government stays in its constitutionally defined lane. The second element is that representation in the federal government combines numerical equality or “representation by population” with equal constitutional standing and privileges for all component jurisdictions.

“Enter the Union on an equal basis with existing states”: In contrast to Canada, the U.S. Northwest Ordinance of 1787 provided a formal and transparent mechanism by which newly settled territories could graduate to statehood if they met certain conditions – gaining the same rights and privileges as the original 13 states.

This second element is why the Americans combined in Congress a House of Representatives based on the principle of one person, one vote, with a Senate where each state – whatever its population – would send two senators to Washington, D.C. Because Canada does not provide equal provincial representation in the Canadian Senate (and for a few additional reasons) it has been called by political scientists a “quasi-federal state”. This particular anomaly (or defect) lay behind the attempt starting in the 1970s to establish a Senate that would have an equal number of Senators from each province, who would be elected and whose resulting legitimacy would allow the Senate to become effective in defending the rights of the provinces – the “Triple-E” Senate.

The second policy area where Canada’s expansion westward differed profoundly from America’s was the absence of consultation with the inhabitants of the newly acquired Canadian territories. In the U.S. this always entailed serious two-way discussions; ambitious pioneers would sometimes move out to a territory with the intention of taking part in its development and participating in its graduation to statehood.

In Canada, it was precisely the neglect and lack of communication that eventually led future rebel leader Louis Riel and his compatriot John Bruce to argue that the Western inhabitants of the Hudson’s Bay Company lands had been “abandoned” by the Imperial Crown. The Red River Settlement existed after the 1870 transfer, as they described it, in something akin to a Hobbesian state of nature. Consequently, they declared, the inhabitants of all the former western Company lands “refuse to recognise the authority of Canada,” which was seeking to coerce these subjects of the British Empire by imposing “a despotic form of government” on them.

“Our lives our fortunes and our sacred honour”: Métis leaders Louis Riel (top left) and John Bruce (top right) saw the 1870 transfer of Rubert’s Land to Canada as an act of “abandonment” by the British Crown; to protect the interests of the Red River Settlement (bottom), they “refus[ed] to recognise the authority of Canada.” (Sources: (top left photo) Library and Archives Canada, C-018082; (top right photo) Manitoba Historical Society Archives; (bottom map) Manitoba’s Red River Settlement, by Douglas Sprague and Ronald Frye)

Much like the British subjects a century earlier who became signatories of the then-colonial Declaration of Independence in 1776, the Red River authors declared “to the world” and to Canada in particular that they had established a Provisional Government and, closely following the final paragraph of U.S. Founding Father and future President Thomas Jefferson’s text, “mutually pledge ourselves on oath our lives our fortunes and our sacred honour to each other.” (Original non-punctuation)

Although this statement might sound hopelessly grandiloquent to modern-day ears, their claims were not without a political basis. As my friend and U of C colleague Tom Flanagan pointed out in his 1978 essay “Political Theory of the Red River Resistance: The Declaration of December 8, 1869”, the Declaration of the People of Rupert’s Land and the North West certainly rested on highly questionable legal grounds. To begin with, as noted, the land transfer was an intra-Imperial action. It was not the act of a sovereign power called the Hudson’s Bay Company abandoning the inhabitants of “its” territory and turning them over to another and alien sovereign power, Canada. The Company was not at all sovereign, and Canada was not fully sovereign.

The legal issue was of secondary importance, however, to the political significance of the Red River inhabitants’ response to the actions of Canada, starting with the Declaration and including not one but two open rebellions, the second of which was a serious armed conflict in which Canada’s control hung in the balance. In that second one, in 1885, Laurentian Canada mobilized and commanded Imperial military assets to impose its law on the rebellious Northwest. To the inhabitants, these actions, even if by then they themselves opposed Riel, looked like a continuation of the style of rule from London they had previously endured by way of the Company. That is, rule of the Northwest by “imperial” Canada was of a piece with British Imperial rule prior to 1870.

This was why James Mallory, a distinguished 20th century McGill University political scientist, in his 1954 book Social Credit and the Federal Power in Canada referred to the Prairie provinces as “provinces in the Roman sense”. Whatever did he mean? A Roman provincia was distinguished by two major attributes. First it was a locale where imperium, administrative rule, was exercised by Rome or an agent of Rome. Second, unlike the inhabitants of Italy, “provinces” paid tribute to the capital. Moreover, the etymology pro-vincere (Latin for something that was defeated or vanquished) suggests the provinciae were conquered territories. Aside from their military and geopolitical significance, Roman provinces were there to be taxed and to enrich their Roman rulers.

The analogies to 19th and 20th century Canada are clear. Ottawa – as pitiful a town as it was – acted as a new Rome on the Rideau. The territories (and soon-to-be second-class provinces) were acquired additions; they existed to strengthen and benefit Laurentian Canada by analogy with Roman Italy, and to enrich its leading citizens. And the provincials were expected to behave themselves. To this day, the embarrassment of 1885 has not been forgotten by Laurentian administrators. Of course, the Canadian punishment for rebellion was not Roman in its ferocity, although the result for Riel was equally final.

“Provinces in the Roman sense”: According to political scientist James Mallory, Canada’s Prairie provinces were akin to “provinciae” in ancient Rome – conquered lands whose inhabitants were not citizens and who existed to serve the interests of the Imperial Capital and the Italian heartland. Shown, the fall of Macedonia in 168 BC depicted in The Triumph of Aemilius Paulus by Carle Vernet, 1789. (Source of painting: The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Northrop Frye once remarked that if history is a narrative of what happened, myth tells the story of what happens all the time. In that sense, myth is a major constituent of what we now call political culture. The Red River resistance, however comic and ineffectual it appeared to later Laurentian historians, became part of a Western myth, the most recent manifestation of which was the Freedom Convoy of 2022. And, incidentally, Laurentian historians were a self-described “school” centred at the University of Toronto. The most famous of them was the first modern biographer of Sir John A. Macdonald, Donald Creighton. His thesis, The Commercial Empire of the St. Lawrence, published by Yale University Press in 1937, effectively founded the Laurentian school. The second edition, published by the U of T Press, bore a franker title: The Empire of the St. Lawrence. That is the origin of the term “Laurentian Canada”.

Between the Red River resistance and the truckers’ convoy, over 150 years apart, came Prime Minister Macdonald’s grossly misnamed “National Policy”, which subordinated the economic vitality of Prairie agriculture to Laurentian industrial commerce. (To oversimplify somewhat, high import tariffs protected eastern industries while making imported goods critical to the Prairies’ economic development needlessly expensive, in turn making export-dependent Prairie farmers less economically competitive; the National Policy amounted to simple exploitation of the West.) When Alberta and Saskatchewan became Roman-style provinces in 1905, the Dominion Lands Policy saw to it that the major source of revenue from land sales and fees remained reserved “for the purposes of the Dominion”, not them.

The Western political response continued to reverberate for more than a century. Several political parties and social movements formed in opposition to Laurentian policies: the Progressives, Social Credit, the Social Gospel, the CCF, and later the Reform Party and the Canadian Alliance. The fact is, Westerners have typically wanted to make Canada work as a genuine federation. They were neither revolutionaries nor separatists. Like their cousins in the American West, they sought equal rights as citizens and equal representation for Western, especially Prairie, provinces.

In 1905 the Dominion of Canada carved the new provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan out of portions of the Northwest Territories; the newcomers were treated as distinctly second-class in comparison to the original provinces, among other things only gaining full control over their lands and natural resources in 1930. (Sources of photos (clockwise, starting top-left): Calgary Herald Archives; Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan R-A4110-2; Glenbow Archives, na-1496-2; Western Development Museum)

And while all of these movements mounted often-spirited resistance to Laurentian political and economic controls, they also seemed to accept the political institutions of imperial Canada. Remember the slogan of the Reform Party in 1987? “The West wants in.” Why? To increase the likelihood of self-government, the very desire for which was dismissed by Laurentians as unintelligible: were these pesky Westerners not already citizens of an already self-governing country? They must be alienated, poor things, and in need of the ministrations of an alienist.

David A. Smith, another distinguished political scientist, who taught for many years at the University of Saskatchewan, provided a less condescending answer than the conventional dismissal by Laurentians in his 1969 essay “A Comparison of Prairie Political Movements in Saskatchewan and Alberta”. Westerners, Smith wrote, had tried working within the dominant political parties, then through so-called “third parties” that attempted to persuade the dominant parties, then through balance-of-power strategies. “No other area of the country,” Smith said, “has experimented with so many partisan alternatives and had so little apparent satisfaction from the results.”

A third distinguished political scientist, Alan Cairns, once asked: why were the Social Credit and the NDP called “third parties?” In B.C where Cairns taught, these parties were the government, the major players in a vibrant two-party system. The “third parties” were the Liberals and Conservatives. One might say the same thing about Social Credit and the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (the future NDP) on the Prairies. That is, the political articulation of the Western provinces is distinct from that of Laurentian Canada.

The Prairie provinces continued to be subjected to destructive Laurentian policies throughout the 20th century, such as prolongation of the Canadian Wheat Board, official bilingualism and the National Energy Program, implemented by Pierre Trudeau in 1981 (shown on bottom left, to the right of Alberta premier Peter Lougheed in the centre). Depicted on bottom right, oil sands facility at Mildred Lake. (Sources of photos: (top left) Canadian Government Motion Picture Bureau/Library and Archives Canada/C-064834; (bottom left) The Canadian Press/Dave Buston; (bottom right) The Canadian Press)

After Canada’s first half-century or so, after the Prairie provinces finally in 1930 gained control over their natural resources (as Canada’s “founding” provinces had had from the start), there followed in the post-Second World War era further nonsensical Laurentian policies: the needless prolongation of the Canadian Wheat Board (whose command-and-control methods evoked the late Roman Emperor Diocletian’s ludicrous economic decrees), the definition of Canada as a bilingual country (the major consequence of which was to ensure that most Westerners did not find a professional career in Ottawa attractive), and of course the unforgettable National Energy Program, seen by many Albertans as the 20th century successor to the National Policy.

Then, the 1982 Constitution Act gave the Supreme Court of Canada effective control of legal aspects of the Constitution. And, like the first Supreme Court of Canada, it has acted largely as a centralizing creature of Laurentian Canada. One must be remarkably naïve not to think that Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau had something like this in mind when he began campaigning to “patriate” the Constitution nearly two generations ago. In any event, a major consequence of the 1982 Act was to undermine the institutions of federalism, particularly provincial responsibility for natural resources and the environment, which had been sustained by the jurisprudence of Britain’s Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in earlier times and largely respected after 1949 when judicial appeals to the Law Lords were abolished.

Today almost all the malign aspects of Canada’s Constitution are encapsulated in the federal equalization program. As Rob Anderson, Derek From and I point out in the Free Alberta Strategy (there’s also good material in this C2C essay), the Government of Canada has for decades expropriated vast amounts of fungible wealth from the taxpayers of the Prairie West and especially from Albertans – amounting to literally hundreds of billions of dollars. Moreover, the latest assault by the Justin Trudeau government has combined this traditional wealth removal with a novel attack on the source of provincial prosperity, the oil and natural gas industry in general and the oil sands in particular. For many Albertans, Ottawa has definitively breached the principles of the federal Constitution.

Now what?

First, recall the historical importance of federalism. In those remote days prior to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the focus of Canadian constitutional politics was on the balances struck over the years between responsibilities under s. 92 of what was then known as the British North America (BNA) Act that belonged chiefly to the provinces – such as transportation, regulation of businesses and professions, creation and oversight of municipalities, education, courts of law, health care and natural resources – and those given to the Dominion government under s. 91 – such as national defence, foreign relations, the criminal law, relations with Indians and international trade.

Of all the theorists of federalism to whom I was introduced as an undergraduate, William S. Livingston has remained my favourite. His Federalism and Constitutional Change was published by Oxford in 1956. It was preceded by an article, “A Note on the Nature of Federalism”, that established his main arguments. In my opinion they have not been superseded though they may have been forgotten.

“It’s not like Ottawa is a national government”: The Alberta Sovereignty within a United Canada Act, passed in late 2022 by the UCP government of Premier Danielle Smith, pictured, aims to strengthen the province’s ability to limit unconstitutional intrusions of federal policy and law into areas of provincial jurisdiction, thereby reaffirming that Canada is a federal state. (Source of photo: The Canadian Press/Jason Franson)

This is the context within which Premier Smith’s remark is to be understood when she said on third reading of Bill 1, later the Sovereignty Act, “It’s not like Ottawa is a national government.” (Emphasis added)

Social and political realities change: formerly poor jurisdictions such as Alberta grow wealthy; formerly rich jurisdictions such as the Maritimes grow poor. Political institutions eventually display the characteristic of serving purposes for which they were not initially designed. Just as federal societies change, federal institutions are required to change as well in response to new realities. If federal institutions are incapable of responding to changes in federal societies, the result is political dissolution, which is to say, independence of a former constituent jurisdiction. That was the prospect posed by Quebec in the 1970s after its “Quiet Revolution”. Quebec separatism spooked Canada sufficiently to change the effective federal Constitution to reflect the new configuration of the federal society.

This is not to say that legal federalism, which defines the primary areas of jurisdiction of Ottawa and the provinces, is unimportant. Sections 91 and 92 of the BNA Act are still in force and effect. Moreover, reasserting and defending the constitutional validity of the division of powers is the primary purpose behind Alberta’s Sovereignty Act.

Although attacked by critics, Alberta’s Sovereignty Act has received strong popular support for challenging the Justin Trudeau government’s constant intrusions into areas of provincial constitutional jurisdiction; the author points out that the Constitution does not require provinces to enforce federal laws, and that the Supreme Court of Canada has confirmed this. Shown, supporters of the Sovereignty Act outside the Alberta legislature, December 2022. (Source of photo: CityNews/Laura Krause)

Its central provision regarding federalism enables the provincial government to refuse to enforce federal laws. The decision not to do so would be based on the judgment of the legislature that the federal law in question was illegal, unconstitutional, harmful to Albertans or contrary to Alberta’s interests, based primarily on the text of ss. 91 and 92 and how those provisions were put into practice over Canada’s first century – but which recent federal governments have successively and, in the Justin Trudeau government’s case, systematically undermined or overridden as if they weren’t even there.

What is novel about this provision is that it would require Canada to take Alberta to court and there to prove its case, not the other way around as is the current practice. Nowadays when Ottawa first intrudes upon or overrides provincial jurisdiction and puts its unconstitutional policy or law into practice, it forces one or more provinces to try to stop it – even as the damage is already being done and the new policy threatens to become institutionalized through force of habit.

Equally important, there is no provision in the Constitution requiring any province to administer or enforce federal law. (Please see also this article and this article for supporting evidence of that contention.) The reason is obvious: Canada remains in law and reality a federation, not a unitary regime where provinces are simply agents of Ottawa the way Alberta municipalities are creatures of the provincial government. One reason for the political support that the Sovereignty Act has received are the objections to the arrogant default assumption of the Trudeau government that it is (except for Quebec) a “national government” – precisely what Danielle Smith denied. That is why it was originally and for a long time thereafter referred to as the Dominion government and today is called the federal government, which implies a government with limited and clearly enumerated constitutional scope and powers.

Another way of indicating the issue of connecting the reality of a federal society to a federal constitution is found in a remark of the late U.S. conservative journalist Andrew Breitbart, who famously observed that “politics is downstream from culture.” This is a snappy version of Frye’s remark regarding myth or what Livingston meant by the primacy of society. But what is downstream from politics? The answer is simple: the law of the Constitution.

Ask yourself: where did the BNA Act come from back in 1867? Or the 1982 Constitution Act? They came from political negotiations and political deal-making in response to political ideas and demands generated by the changing realities of a federal Canadian society. In that context, the 1982 Constitution Act looks like a legal response to the social changes of the “Quiet Revolution”. That is also where Alberta’s Sovereignty Act came from. Indeed, it can be seen as the current expression of a not-so-quiet Alberta revolution initiated by Ralph Klein, premier of Alberta from 1992 to 2006.

Those who say the Constitution is set in stone and can never be re-opened are legal fundamentalists and they are wrong. All constitutional documents, so revered by lawyers, especially the ermine-clad lawyers on the bench of the Supreme Court of Canada, were all downstream from political deals that reflected changing social, economic, cultural, etc. realities. Of course the Constitution can be re-opened! That is one of the long-range purposes of the Sovereignty Act.

“Clear majority on a clear question”: Two years after the 1998 Quebec Secession Reference case before the Supreme Court of Canada, the Liberal government of Jean Chrétien (on bottom, leaning forward) introduced the Clarity Act, establishing the conditions under which Canadian provinces may be allowed to begin the process of secession. The author considers this another act violating the concept of federalism, with Ottawa unilaterally calling the shots and placing provinces in a subordinate position. (Sources of photos: (top) @Law Scribes/X; (bottom) CP Photo/Fred Chartrand)

If Laurentian Canadians and lawyers nearly everywhere say that the Sovereignty Act is unconstitutional, I agree but with the following qualification: legal unconstitutionality is simply another way of saying it’s time to change the law of the Constitution. That is what Bruce and Riel had in mind so many years ago. The law of the Constitution may work well even today for Laurentians and for Ottawa bureaucrats, but they have become what English historian and philosopher Arnold Toynbee called a “dominant” rather than a “creative” minority. More to the point, if the law of the Constitution does not work for Albertans and for others in the Prairie West, why should it be respected? All the strategies listed by David Smith have not made a dent in the adamantine attitudes of Laurentian Canada. In their collective imperial mind, in their political culture, the Prairie West remains a colony. The Sovereignty Act aims to bring an end to a very unpleasant history.

And then there is the Clarity Act to consider. In the 1998 Quebec Secession Reference case brought by the Government of Canada, the Supreme Court of Canada required that any provincial referendum on secession receive a clear majority on a clear question in order to be valid and so to trigger mandatory negotiations. The Court did not define what either a clear majority or a clear question might be.

Two years later the Jean Chrétien government (under great pressure from the Reform Party) introduced what became the Clarity Act, according to which the Parliament of Canada would determine before any provincial referendum on potential secession whether the question was clear enough and, after the vote, whether the degree of support was sufficient to require negotiation on the terms of secession. If a referendum met those two criteria (according to Parliament), then a constitutional amendment requiring the consent of Parliament and the provinces would also have to be passed.

A few years later, former Parti Quebecois leader and Premier Jacques Parizeau told CTV News that the Clarity Act “meant nothing.” One reason for his remark was not just that Parliament had stacked the deck but that Quebec had passed its own law, one which emphasized the right of Quebec citizens to self-determination. Now, if push came to shove, one might expect Alberta to do the same.

The political distance dividing Alberta’s Sovereignty Act from Ottawa’s Clarity Act is huge. The one contemplates a restoration of federalism, the other an end to it. If Alberta is to remain strong and free, fortis et liber, as indicated on its coat of arms, Laurentians will have to change their attitude and their political culture. That is the challenge of political federalism today. Acknowledging that reality is the condition for making Canada a genuine federation in law. If not, it will take the more desperate remedy outlined in the Clarity Act to induce some sobriety into Laurentian consciousness.

Barry Cooper is a professor of political science at the University of Calgary. His latest books are Paleolithic Politics (2020) and, with Marco Navarro-Génie, COVID-19: The Story of a Pandemic Moral Panic (2020).

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Alberta

30 million contraband cigarettes valued at $25 million dollars seized in Alberta

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New release from Alberta Gaming Liquor and Cannabis (AGLC)

Record setting contraband tobacco seizures result from AGLC investigations

Alberta Gaming Liquor and Cannabis (AGLC) recently concluded several investigations which netted two of the largest contraband tobacco seizures in Alberta history.  The combined total of the contraband tobacco seized was 154,800 cartons of contraband cigarettes (30.7 million individual cigarettes).  These seizures are a result of the work conducted by AGLC’s Tobacco Enforcement Unit with the assistance of provincial law enforcement agencies.

  • In a January 2024 investigation, approximately 43,500 cartons (8.7 million individual cigarettes) were seized.  This equates to $7 million in retail value with a provincial tax avoidance of $2.4 million.  This included the seizure of 15,000 grams of contraband shisha.
  • In April of 2024, 60 wrapped pallets were seized from a warehouse setting netting a total of 111,300 cartons of contraband cigarettes (22 million individual cigarettes) which equates to over $18 million in retail value with a provincial tax avoidance of $6.6 million.
  • Criminal Charges are pending in both cases.

“These are significant contraband tobacco investigations involving individuals that are part of organized networks whose proceeds defraud Albertans millions of dollars in tax revenue. AGLC will continue to work with our partners to investigate and disrupt the individuals and organizations involved in these illegal activities as part our commitment to a strong contraband tobacco enforcement program in Alberta.”

  • Gary Peck, Vice President, Regulatory Services, AGLC

“Contraband tobacco hurts law abiding businesses that follow the rules, and it costs Albertans millions each year from lost tax revenue. Our government is committed to keeping illegal tobacco off the streets and ensuring that the sale of tobacco products comply with the law.”

  • Dale Nally, Minister of Service Alberta and Red Tape Reduction

Over the last nine months, AGLC’s Tobacco Enforcement unit has seized an estimated 35 million contraband cigarettes and 115,000 grams of contraband shisha from across the province. The total potential lost tax revenue is estimated to be more than $10.1 million.

Contraband tobacco:

  • is any tobacco product that does not comply with federal and provincial laws related to importation, marking, manufacturing, stamping and payment of duties and taxes;
  • comes from four main sources: illegal manufacturers, counterfeits, tax-exempt diversions and resale of stolen legal tobacco; and
  • can be recognized by the absence of a red (Alberta) or peach/light tan (Canada) stamp bearing the “DUTY PAID CANADA DROIT ACQUITTÉ” on packages of cigarettes and cigars or pouches of tobacco.

In addition to lost revenues that may otherwise benefit Albertans, illegally manufactured products also pose public health and safety risks as they lack regulatory controls and inspections oversight.

Albertans who suspect illegal tobacco production, packaging and/or trafficking are encouraged to contact AGLC’s Tobacco Enforcement Unit at 1-800-577-2522 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).

Under a Memorandum of Understanding with Alberta Treasury Board and Finance, AGLC enforces the Tobacco Tax Act and conducts criminal  investigations  related to the possession, distribution and trafficking of contraband tobacco products. In 2022-23, provincial revenue from tobacco taxes was approximately $522 million.

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