By Stephanie Taylor and Mia Rabson in Ottawa
Nothing is off the table when it comes to responding to newly proposed legislation that would give Alberta Premier Danielle Smith’s government “exceptional powers,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday.
Trudeau stopped briefly on his way into a Liberal caucus meeting to address the long-awaited legislation Smith’s government introduced Tuesday in the provincial legislature.
The bill, called the Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act, proposes to give Smith’s cabinet the power to rewrite provincial laws without legislative debate.
Trudeau said his government will be watching closely what happens next.
“I’m not going to take anything off the table,” he said.
“I’m also not looking for a fight,” he added. “We want to continue to be there to deliver for Albertans.”
Smith promised the legislation when she was a candidate in the United Conservative Party leadership race to replace former premier Jason Kenney. She characterized the bill as a way to push back against Ottawa and made it a major focus of her campaign.
Frustration with the federal government over equalization payments and resource development has been a long-standing issue in Alberta. That anger is part of what Smith is hoping to tap into with the new bill.
But critics say what it really proposes is to consolidate power around Smith’s cabinet.
Kenney, who waded into the leadership race for his replacement to call the sovereignty proposal “catastrophically stupid,” resigned after she tabled her plan Tuesday.
“We know that the exceptional powers that the premier is choosing to give the Alberta government in bypassing the Alberta legislature is causing a lot of eyebrows to raise in Alberta,” Trudeau said Wednesday. “We’re going to see how this plays out.”
Under Smith’s bill, her cabinet would have the power to direct “provincial entities,” from municipalities to regional health authorities, to defy federal rules it deems would hurt Alberta’s interests.
Liberal MP Anthony Housefather, who represents a Montreal riding, says Smith’s sovereignty proposal goes too far.
“I don’t think that this is appropriate for a province to determine whether or not a federal law exceeds its constitutionality. That is for a court,” he told reporters.
“If Alberta eventually adopts this bill, we’ll have to see how they use it,” he said.
Smith’s vision for Alberta has drawn comparisons to Quebec, which administers its own provincial pension plan and immigration programs and — in many Albertans’ minds, at least — appears to garner more jurisdictional respect from Ottawa when it wants to go its own way.
Housefather said people should be “wary” to use that analogy.
He pointed out that many head offices and residents left Montreal for Toronto when true Quebec sovereignty, meaning the province’s formal separation from Canada, was on the table.
“Businesses want stability, I think people want stability, and I don’t think the sovereignty act, even if it’s called ‘the sovereignty act in a united Canada,’ offers stability.”
Smith has said her proposal is not about separating from Canada. However, on Wednesday, she released a video on Twitter that described her plans not to enforce so-called Liberal laws that “attack” the province’s economy and individuals’ rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Housefather says the bigger question Smith’s bill raises is about “how Canadians see their country.” Do they see a role for a federal government beyond their province or territory?
“I feel very strongly that as a Canadian, everybody should play in their lane, and playing in their lane means that legislatures don’t determine whether something is constitutional from a different level of government,” he said.
While Smith has said she hopes the bill does not need to be used, briefing materials provided to reporters show her government is prepared to do so as early as next spring to deal with issues ranging from health care to property rights.
Conservatives in Ottawa were largely silent on the matter Wednesday, with two Alberta MPs saying they still needed to read the bill.
Garnett Genuis, another MP from the province, said the best way to allay Albertans’ frustrations with Ottawa is to replace Trudeau.
Genuis had more to say about the proposal during the provincial leadership race, when he backed Travis Toews, who is now a member of Smith’s cabinet.
In an opinion piece published in August, he called the prospective sovereignty act a “cheap trick” that violates the constitution and the rule of law.
“If asserting provincial authority were as easy as passing such a law, it would have been done already,” Genuis wrote.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 30, 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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