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Canada: Colby Cosh: Danielle Smith's unnecessary political power grab

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Alberta Premier Danielle Smith’s very weird, headline-grabbing Bill 1, now officially before the Alberta legislature, has me reflecting on recent Canadian history — trying to take it all in with one very big swallow. How is the not-that-far future, say the year 2122, going to make sense of this? Someone in China smooches a croupy bat, and within a few months nobody can visit their grandparents or get married or go to church or have funerals, and so there’s a completely foreseeable uprising of hinterland folk, inevitably led by its least employable elements and its dodgiest self-appointed prophets. An unpopular Canadian Liberal government overreacts by nine billion per cent, and decides it needs to invoke war-measures legislation, which doesn’t exactly have the effect of making anybody less paranoid.

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Premier Danielle Smith and Justice Minister Tyler Shandro share details on legislation intended to defend Alberta’s interests on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022 at the Alberta Legislature in Edmonton. Greg Southam/Postmedia © Provided by National Post Premier Danielle Smith and Justice Minister Tyler Shandro share details on legislation intended to defend Alberta’s interests on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022 at the Alberta Legislature in Edmonton. Greg Southam/Postmedia

If I’m right about the broad strokes here, we are now at the point in this Heinlein Crazy Years tale wherein the province of Alberta passes its own slightly loopy emergency legislation as a countermeasure against the dangerously authoritarian feds. Bill 1 gives the Alberta legislature power to pass an emergency resolution in the event that the federal government does something that “intrudes into an area of provincial legislative jurisdiction”, “violates the rights and freedoms of one or more Albertans under the (Charter of Rights),” or simply “causes… harm to Albertans.”

Rex Murphy: When Trudeau, Singh and the Toronto media are all against Danielle Smith, you know she must be doing something right

  Rex Murphy: When Trudeau, Singh and the Toronto media are all against Danielle Smith, you know she must be doing something right I have some very good news for you, Danielle Smith: over here in Toronto, the centre of the universe, your recent legislation — the Alberta sovereignty within a united Canada act — is being rebuked, dismissed and ridiculed. In the Toronto Star — that fountain of sensitivity and social justice — Toronto-based columnist Andrew Phillips suggested that you look like you’re “flailing around like a bad drunk in a bar,” and that your bill “isn’t a serious law.” This is the language of raw insult, normally reserved for the darker sewers of anonymous Twitter postings.

In the event that the Alberta assembly passes one of these defensive resolutions, cabinet receives the unilateral delegated power to amend Alberta statutes, rewrite regulations, and issue orders as necessary, on the fly, to deal with the situation. Such resolutions expire automatically after two years but can be extended to four. The right to judicial review of decisions made under Bill 1 has a 30-day limit, and the law’s text specifies, rather cheekily, that “the standard of review to be applied by the court is that of patent unreasonableness”.

What does all this mean in English? The Alberta legislature is exercising its undoubted sovereign power to let the executive run wild, with advance procedural permission, if it wants; that’s democracy for you, appearing on stage in its traditional garb of parliamentary supremacy. But why should any of this be necessary when the legislature could simply, you know, legislate to meet any instance of federal overreach as and when it appears?

FIRST READING: The shockingly toothless Alberta Sovereignty Act

  FIRST READING: The shockingly toothless Alberta Sovereignty Act First Reading is a daily newsletter keeping you posted on the travails of Canadian politicos, all curated by the National Post’s own Tristin Hopper. To get an early version sent directly to your inbox every Monday to Thursday at 6:30 p.m. ET (and 9 a.m. on Saturdays), sign up here. TOP STORY The Alberta Sovereignty Act finally arrived this week. The signature legislative promise of Alberta Premier Danielle Smith, it’s a bill designed to let Albertans thumb their nose at any federal decree they deem to be “harmful” to their interests.

This seems like a pure political power grab by Alberta’s new premier. With delegated powers like these, powers that are essentially in her pocket ready to use on short notice, she could act to stop firearms seizures or counteract new fertilizer rules or… well, take your pick from among unthinkable hypotheticals that are now actually quite a lot more thinkable after the fever-dream experience of government during COVID-19.

I don’t quite take Danielle Smith at her word when she says she hopes never to have to use these “Alberta Sovereignty Act” powers; I think she will be quite alert, quite alert indeed, to opportunities for confrontation with Ottawa. With that said, Bill 1 is going to pass, even though that Alberta United Conservative caucus is full of MLAs who will be privately embarrassed about it, given their own prior rhetoric against emergency legislation and extra-parliamentary rule by fiat. Jason Markusoff made this point pretty sharply yesterday in analyzing Bill 1 for the CBC — but Markusoff’s framing of Bill 1 as a “War Against Ottawa Measures Act” also shows how the legislation will be sold to Danielle Smith’s conservative base.

Whatever Smith really thinks, I for one do hope her Sovereignty Act is never invoked. More to the point, I hope politicians at the provincial and federal levels realize that what is needed is a cooling-off of the political temperature rather than ceaseless opportunistic dumbass escalation. The harder politicians work to assert the good intentions behind cruel enactments and panicky overreactions, the higher the temperature rises: see how the constitution itself begins to soften and bubble!

National Post

Alberta NDP says premier's rejection of federal authority lays separation groundwork .
EDMONTON — Alberta’s NDP Opposition leader says Premier Danielle Smith's comments rejecting the legitimacy of the federal government betray her unspoken plan to lay the groundwork for eventual separation. Rachel Notley cited Smith’s comments to the house just before members passed her sovereignty bill earlier Thursday, in which Smith rejected the federal government’s overarching authority. “It's not like Ottawa is a national government,'' SmithRachel Notley cited Smith’s comments to the house just before members passed her sovereignty bill earlier Thursday, in which Smith rejected the federal government’s overarching authority.

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