She’s baaaaaack. After leading the Wildrose Party to defeat in a 2012 Alberta election it should have won and betraying her own caucus by crossing the floor to the governing Progressive Conservatives in 2014, Danielle Smith is taking one last kick at the can with her bid to become leader of the United Conservative Party.
And if you thought her previous forays into Alberta politics ended in disaster, well, you haven’t seen anything yet.
In a recent video with Rebel Media — yes, that Rebel Media — Smith traded in the far right’s favourite conspiracy of the moment about Klaus Schwab, the executive chairman of the World Economic Forum. “We should take him deadly seriously,” she said. “What is he trying to do? He’s trying to bring in Chinese-style state capitalism.”
The sort of stakeholder capitalism the World Economic Forum tries to advance has very little to do with China, but neither facts nor reason appears to have a place in Smith’s brand of politics. Witness her proposed “Alberta Sovereignty Act,” an obviously unconstitutional piece of legislative nonsense that would allegedly allow Alberta to opt out of federal jurisdiction in areas where it felt it was being treated unfairly.
The provinces already have the Notwithstanding Clause, which allows them to temporarily suspend certain sections of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But Smith’s idea, if you can call it that, goes well beyond even that drastic step. Former Wildrose MLA (and “Free Alberta Strategy” co-author) Rob Anderson explained the idea to Postmedia, saying “it doesn’t matter what the Supreme Court or the federal government says about it, if it attacks Albertans, the interest of Albertans, and it attacks our jurisdictional rights, we simply won’t enforce it with any provincial agency.”
Barry Cooper, one of Anderson’s co-authors and a professor at the University of Calgary, put it even more bluntly. “The argument will be the laws of the land are illegitimate as they have been applied to this province.”
This is, of course, not how Confederation works. The Constitution isn’t a buffet that you can pick and choose from, and said picking and choosing certainly wouldn’t get Alberta any closer to building the new oil pipelines that people like Smith remain obsessed with.
Let’s imagine, just for the sake of argument, that Alberta really could opt out of federal legislation like C-69 or C-48, which conservatives like her (and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney) insist on calling the “No More Pipelines” laws. Wouldn’t British Columbia, which opposes new oil pipelines across its territory, also have the same rights? And if it did, wouldn’t it be able to pull up the Trans Mountain pipeline, root and stem, and return it back to the federal government?
You might think this proposed legislation would get laughed out of the room, both literally and metaphorically. Instead, Smith’s idea will take centre stage at a debate hosted this Thursday by Anderson. That this sort of childish nonsense is taken even semi-seriously in Alberta is an indictment of its conservatives and their politics. The presence of seven of the UCP leadership candidates at the Free Alberta Strategy debate, including relative moderates Leela Aheer, Rebecca Schulz and Rajan Sawhney, shows just how much currency it has among UCP supporters.
But while the UCP deserves most of the blame for this sorry state of affairs, it doesn’t get all of it. After all, one of the defences mounted in the name of this juvenile approach to politics is the finger-pointing that should be familiar to anyone with young children: they did it first. Thanks to the federal government’s light touch on cannabis enforcement in B.C. and language laws in Quebec, some Albertans now feel like they can opt out, too. “B.C. and Quebec has set the standard,” Smith said. “So, if other provinces are doing it, why shouldn’t we also assert the rights of our citizens?”
Opinion: Witness Danielle Smith's proposed “Alberta Sovereignty Act,” which would allegedly allow Alberta to opt out of federal jurisdiction in areas where it felt it was being treated unfairly, writes columnist @maxfawcett. #AbPoli #UCP
As constitutional scholar Emmet Macfarlane pointed out, refusing to enforce federal laws is very different from passing actual legislation saying you won’t do it. The threat of a constitutional crisis, one that Smith has made repeatedly, doesn’t carry much water for him. “The idea is frankly so absurd and untenable I’m not even sure it would create a crisis because it would be laughed out of court too quickly for a crisis to develop,” he told the National Post’s Tyler Dawson.
But there’s clearly already a full-blown crisis within the ranks of Alberta’s conservatives, given that they’re willing to entertain this fundamentally unserious idea and everything it entails. It’s not at all clear whether Smith can ride this sort of populist paranoia to the UCP leadership, or whether one of the candidates more grounded in reality will emerge victorious. Either way, this idea isn’t going to disappear — and it’s clear that Alberta’s conservatives are incapable of letting it go.
That’s why the federal government has to step in and put a stop to this silliness. By failing to fully enforce the laws of the land and allowing Quebec to repeatedly flout federal jurisdiction and constitutional norms, the Trudeau government has let this genie out of the bottle. It’s time to stuff it back in there, political consequences notwithstanding, before things really get out of hand. Yes, it might provoke a constitutional crisis with Alberta.
But that’s something its ruling conservatives seem increasingly determined to do anyways — especially if Smith somehow manages to become Alberta’s next premier.