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.

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

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?”

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.

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Good article. I think it shows how the Liberals live up to their name to a fault in how they eschew heavy-handedness, wisely letting all things, particularly the most incendiary issues, evolve naturally and play out over time. This is what has made them the "natural governing party" in this country, playing the long game like the GOP have done with the Supreme Court. And hated though he was and is, it was still Justin's father who succeeded in entrenching our exemplary Charter of Rights and FREEDOMS, which means we can still do an end run around conservatives on all that matters most, so they've played right into Liberal hands; their "boyish" enthusiasm will ultimately be for naught because they ALWAYS go too far. In Alberta right now, the poster boy for extremism and the suite of stupidity that conservatism has become, we've finally reached Quebec's position of suspended animation around separation from Canada, except that 1)the referendums have not gone their way anymore than they would if held in Alberta 2)they actually HAVE a bit of a valid case culturally, unlike Alberta.
Embarassingly, Alberta seems to be auditioning for the part of "Dumb, Dumber, and Dumbest" in the country.

Give Alberta enough rope ................

Absurdism is a thing with the far-right (which has occupied almost all of the corpus conservative). Far-right politicians test how warm the baby formula is with absurdity. That’s what Danielle Smith is doing. It’s a relative metric whereas, in the absolute, her proposal has always been preposterous. She will find—and probably expects—that the “fire in the boiler went before it came.” In the overweening calculus of runaway elaboration, bizarre rationalizations bundling fractaloid speculations, and puerile snickering we’ve come to expect of social-mediated conspiracy theorists, it’s a good enough recipe for demagogue gin that doesn’t quite kill voters, but merely blinds them—that is, for them’s dumb enough to drink it.

Smith has no way of winning, but shadowing her leadership rival and former WR leader Brian Jean’s “autonomy” slogan is an effective way, Team Texas North figures, to advance their long game. I’m not sure what that is, but it must be something like the Mormon “Deseret” or the “American Redoubt,” both just south of the border far-right UCP factions would like to erase. Oh, but also keep the cherrypicked basket of federal services they’d like to keep at the same time, the national bank, the military, the currency—little stuff like that. And it’s not like any of Alberta’s contiguous jurisdictions and, BTW, the ROC would have anything to say about it. No, no, no—just marvel at the incredible Danielle juggling alternative facts as she rides the unicycle of independence on the high-wire of fantasy: ‘Look, mother goose! No hands!!…Look, ma, no feet!…’

Would as Smith might, there is nothing Alberta can do to threaten the Canadian Constitution. The real “crisis,” if it could possibly build up that far, would be about ‘unconstitutionality’ within Alberta, and if I follow her logic right (crisscross tracks all over the place like a mad Bigfoot’s footprints), it’ll only be certain parts of Alberta jurisdiction that her Rapture Rangers deign worthy. She invites us to guess what federal laws her conspirators propose to not enforce, they of course doing the selection. If I may equate what their ilk has already chalked-up as targets for legitimatization, such federal laws might involve what many aspiring Lone Star bull-shooters envy of “stand-your-ground” in the USA, this supremacist court decision and mangled eisegesis of “Right to Bear Arms,” “Self-Defence” and one’s god-given a ability to see auras of another’s unexpressed intention. Naturally there’s Smith’s usual switch after she sets the bait of BC’s lax enforcement of federal pot laws and Quebec’s non-enforcement of federal abortion laws which, she reckons, forced the feds to buckle and rescind both prohibitions. Perhaps I’m being presumptive, but I don’t reckon the feds will buckle and repeal gun-related homicide laws if Alberta refuses to prosecute them—I mean, the pot and abortion laws were struck down because they were found unconstitutional, not alt-constitutional, not quasi-constitutional, not molly-by-golly-constitutional, but unconstitutional in a way that prohibition of homicide never will be.

The UCP is in big trouble: they might not win their first incumbency as a party and a government. Presumably party members know that polls have only improved slightly since Kenney’s ouster, and it’s still not enough to presume a win next spring ( or possibly earlier: the new leader will be elected on Oct 6). Thus the UCP membership must optimize its odds, the very first indication of then doing that being their unanimous acquiescence to the termination of provincial Covid mandates, to at least appear, if not actually be, united—at least during the leadership campaign, three months to go. Smith simply doesn’t have optimal numbers behind her, given the party is half ProgCon, the party she arguably destroyed by crossing the floor to it with half the Wildrose caucus and, of course the half of the other half hating her unforgivingly for betraying it. By my math, that’s a quarter of the members of a party, max, that knows Smith isn’t trusted by over half the electorate—let’s see now—carry the one—divide by—uh—okay: she will never win the leadership race because she can’t win the next general election.

Neo-right convulsions are almost as entertaining—well, okay: every bit as entertaining as Marvel Comix, but clap your hands in applause or chew your nails in worry, the commentary Smith’s electric cool-aide absurdity test inspires probably affects worthwhile lessons about constitutionality, federalism, and secession, as well as about villainous throes of toxic particularist partisanship. And while all that’s arcanely edifying, we might as well cut to the chase for all its mootness, in Smith’s case.

As we know, no province has ever seceded from the federation, although Quebec came close to acquiring a popular approval at two referenda and those exercises induced the federal parliament to set standards in legislation to make sure referendum voters understand exactly what they are voting for, rhetoric on both ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ sides being heavily biased, hyperbolic, and misleading: the result is the Clarity Act. However, this statute does not pretend to set out what would happen if a provincial electorate actually did approve of secession, so the question was referred to the high court whose non-binding opioid was that secession would also require something like a constitutional amendment —except maybe needing ratification of all ten provinces instead of only seven which together comprise a majority of Canadians. Very soothing, indeed, with enough prune juice.

But why secession? Why not some other arrangement?

The patriation of the Constitution, and the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords proved amply that Canada is a federation, not a confederacy: no province may have special favour. Quebec frothed, naturally, and refused to sign on—symbolically not dismissing the federal rule one iota while petulantly availing the constitutional “notwithstanding clause” with respect french language; it also fashioned a federal Quebec-only party which was once the loyal opposition (and was vitally instrumental in making the NDP the Opposition for a single term—the only time that’s happened). But recognition of Quebec’s “distinct society” (well, d’uh) seems to have soothed its fever to acquire what it always peddled as “independence” but was dumbed-down to “sovereignty association”—the arrangement it and every other province already has. So, until further notice, Alberta—or any other province (but not the federal Territories)—may enter into secession negotiations with the other provinces and federal government, the other ten sovereignties of Canada, if its a majority voters so approve of it on a referendum ballot that complies with the federal Clarity Act. It’s the nature of federations and Alberta, like it or not, in in it.

Simple, right? Well, let’s see…

Since the federal entity, Canada, cannot constitutionally negotiate a separate, different and unequal relationship with any one of its federates without implementing the same for all of them (then it wouldn’t be distinct, right?), then secession it can only be, not a separate association that’s different from the other federates. You’re either in or out. How an applicant could achieve this is only partly known, and in prerequisite only (the successful secession referendum): the negotiation part cannot possibly be forecast, but it’s safe bet that, given most provinces want to remain in the federation, the only option for aspiring independence is secession—in or out. Quebec has never proposed anything like “sovereignty association” since.

And, even then, the secession applicant might not meet the threshold, whatever it is—seven of ten with an majority, or unanimity of the remaining federates. In that case, I suppose—as Smith is hoping she can instil in her provincial comrades—Alberta could simply declare independence, in which case Canada wouldn’t necessarily invade to restore order: it could simply withdraw its assets (police, army, airforce, federal offices, equalization, health and unemployment insurance, consular protection for passport holders, &c) and let order develop as it might in the land of feral systems-gamers. I dunno—I lived in Alberta a few times (I love Alberta and Albertans) and, despite the recent Covid craziness and the plain mistake of electing the UCP government, I don’t think Albertans are that unthinking as to entertain such a thing as going it alone. I could be wrong but, speaking as a British Columbian, it seems unlikely we would ever be granted such a fortuitous wish. We (as in the pacific province of Canada) could block pipelines out of a foreign country, or charge a fee for—uh—anything that communicates across the new border, anything we want. We already love our Alberta expats, and we could sure use some a them nurses and doctors just about had it with Wildrose nonesense—and that’s without no sep’tism talk. Hell, they already comin’ here!

After careful consideration of this longstanding Albertan gripe, I conclude that there are about sixty-odd permutations of Alberta seceding from Canada, most requiring concurrent secession of jurisdictions between it and tidewater—like Saskatchewan and Manitoba on the way to Hudson Bay, for example. But BC? Just ask the feds what a hard bargain we West Coast brats exacted for such indulgence (yeah, that railway Albertans used to Crow about?—BC got that fer nuthin): we way worse now, don’t matter how much bitumen y’all got, y’all still cain’t afford us. Anyhow, with the most feasible scenario (the one I just poo-pooed) most unlikely, all the others weigh in lighter and lighter until, at about scenario three, they float clean off the planet. And, BTW, no: Alberta may not claim the Northwest Territories (to reach tidewater) since that jurisdiction has absolutely no mechanism for secession: it is not sovereign in and of itself.

I dunno: maybe the USA might confederate Alberta—but with the ROC being American’s largest trading partner, I don’t expect Uncle Sam would extend Alberta more-favourable terms. After studying the recent notion of Texas independence which refers to the White decision, post Civil War, no state has an existing mechanism to secede and the court’s reference, back then, said it could only happen with ratification of all states in the union. Thus, secession of any US state so’s to get Alberta—which, in some scenarios, would join the American secessionists— to tidewater (that includes by way of the Great Lakes) is simply not on.

Finally, Danielle Smith is like the party girl who’s shtick is dancing with a lampshade on her head: entertaining, but nobody really wants to hang out with her, let alone be seen driving her home in the morning.

We have a history in Alberta of insurrection against the federal government; and a culture so ignorant of federalism that it sets for itself unachievable goals. Full of sound and fury; signifying nothing.

It would be entertaining farce, if so many didn't fall for it as high epic.