Alberta passes Bill 1 as fears of secession loom in Ottawa
The majority conservative province of Alberta passes the Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act as critics deem it unconstitutional and fears of secession increase.
In Western Canada's prairie province of Alberta, Bill 1, Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act, received Royal Assent and came into force on December 15, 2022. According to the province, the Act "defends Alberta’s interests" and gives the province "a legal framework to push back on federal laws or policies that negatively impact" it.
Additionally, "the act will be used to address federal legislation and policies that are unconstitutional, violate Albertans’ charter rights or that affect or interfere with our provincial constitutional rights." However, the province clarifies that the act offers Alberta "a democratic legislative framework for defending the federal-provincial division of powers while respecting Canada's Constitution and the courts."
Live at 11 - Watch Minister of Justice @shandro explain how government is working to defend Albertans' interests, concerns and priorities on firearms: https://t.co/Xno6IERMZN— Alberta Government (@YourAlberta) December 15, 2022
The conservative-led province outlines on its official website that the Act will not allow the province to "defy Canada’s Constitution," nor will it allow the province to "separate from Canada."
Additionally, it will not allow the cabinet to "issue unconstitutional orders-in-council" or "give instructions to private individuals or corporations that aren’t provincial entities, to violate federal law."
A Canadian constitutional dispute boils
The leader of Alberta’s provincial government, Danielle Smith, according to The New York Times, has justified her support for the bill by saying, “It’s not like Ottawa is a national government.” This conclusion, Smith argued is largely disputed by constitutional experts across the country. Also Albertan premier, Smith noted that "the way our country works is that we are a federation of sovereign, independent jurisdictions.”
“We have seen the federal government go even further than we ever imagined… There’s a need for us to take over this jurisdiction.”— Danielle Smith (@ABDanielleSmith) December 16, 2022
- @shandro | Minister of Justice#cdnpoli #abpoli #ableg pic.twitter.com/Vp2m3AdWCx
The recent passage of the new law highlighted how challenging it is for Ottawa to govern a nation that is divided along regional lines.
Smith, as reported by the NYT, has long supported the Wexit movement's central thesis—that the federal government is exploiting Alberta—even though she is not a part of any group actively supporting it. Wexit portrays an unofficial conservative trend in the Western Canadian provinces that sought to separate from the rest of Canada.
In the past, the report noted, Smith has resisted every pandemic measure, including vaccinations and masks. Her government has made the argument that Alberta's law may be used to "reject federal authority and regulations in a number of areas, including public health, the environment, and firearms."
However, detractors claim that the Act itself is a constitutional overreach by the province and is not likely to hold up in court. However, one thing remained clear, according to the critics, and it's that the act reflected long-standing grudges against the federal government not only by Smith but by the representatives of the province.
It is worth noting that according to the NYT report, the law is popular among residents of Alberta, but more so in the suburbs than in the cities of Edmonton and Calgary. In Alberta, 51% of the province's residents are accounted to the cities while 49% are in the suburbs.
“Ottawa, I think, unfortunately, treats First Nations with disrespect and they also treat provinces with disrespect,” Smith said once the legislature passed. Later she maintained that the act would indeed withstand court challenges.
It is nothing new, as reported by NYT, that many Albertans have long maintained that Ottawa has taken advantage of the wealth produced by the profitable petroleum sector in the province while ignoring urgent needs in Alberta, such as more money for healthcare.
The province of Alberta is the greatest source of oil imported by the United States, and the vast bulk of its energy is exported, thus making oil the greatest business of the province. On the other hand, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's ambitious plan to abandon fossil fuels to address climate change has been out of touch with Albertans on a number of topics.
Smith, the Alberta premier, the report read, further equated the Alberta Sovereignty Act with legislation and efforts made by First Nations to regain sovereignty for their territories.
For his part, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau didn't appear eager to reject the legislation or appeal it to Canada's Supreme despite having the federal authority to do so.
According to the NYT report, Trudeau told reporters that he was "not interested in fighting with the Alberta government."
While traditionally Canada's provinces have had a little latitude in how they implement and uphold the federal law, Alberta professor of constitutional law, Eric Adam, at the University of Alberta in Edmonton says the Act “now takes two large steps forward to say that the existence of flexible federalism is a grounds for the province to refuse, in a direct and frontal way, the applications of federal laws."
Aboriginal rights and Bill 1
Furthermore, critics noted, as reported by NYT, the law would increase uncertainty, which may scare away investors, and endanger the rights of First Nations in the province, as they fear it could violate treaty responsibilities.
A statement by Grand Chief Arthur Noskey of the Treaty 8 First Nations stated that the Act "is just another unlawful attempt to continue the province’s deliberate abuse and exploitation of our peoples, lands, territories, and resources.”
In a similar move, it was highlighted that the Onion Lake Cree Nation, prairie aboriginals that straddle the Alberta-Saskatchewan border, sought Alberta's high court to get rid of the law since it risks violating and/or endangers several treaty rights.
In an end-of-year interview with CBC, Smith said that she "regret that my relationship with the chiefs has started off on a bad foot and I know it can be repaired."
She further stated that the statements made by First Nation chiefs were a result of miscommunication on her part, and that "the entire purpose of the act was to make sure that it really was just about resetting our relationship with Ottawa, and has absolutely nothing to do with changing our relationship with First Nations."
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