When it comes to Alberta politics, always bet on chaos. That’s been the lesson of the last decade, and it’s clearly going to be the overriding theme of Danielle Smith’s tenure as premier. After winning the leadership of the United Conservative Party on the back of a promise to assert Alberta’s “sovereignty” more aggressively, many people (myself included) expected Smith to add water to her wine to win over more moderate urban voters. Instead, with the Orwellian-sounding “Alberta Sovereignty within a United Canada Act” she tabled yesterday as her government's Bill 1, she opted for some arsenic. The question now is which will die first: her government or the rule of law in Alberta.

“We need the power to reset the relationship with Ottawa,” Smith said during the press conference explaining the proposed legislation. “That’s what this is all about. We’ve tried different things in the past, and it hasn’t worked. So we’ve got to try something new.” That “something new” is actually something quite old: a so-called “Henry VIII clause” that allows cabinet to amend existing legislation without the consent or approval of the legislature. As constitutional scholar Eric Adams wrote, “the cabinet may bypass the legislative process entirely to temporarily amend — for years at a time it would seem — any other provincial law, presumably to further provide measures to resist the application of federal law.”

These sorts of powers are generally reserved for times of genuine crisis, whether that’s war with another country or a public health emergency like the one we recently faced. Indeed, back in April 2020, the Kenney government gave itself a similar set of powers in its Bill 10, the Public Health Emergency Powers Amendment Act. That provoked an almost immediate constitutional challenge from the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, a group that consistently stood against mandatory public health measures during the pandemic and which was well-represented at the recent Public Order Emergency Commission hearings.

So what’s the current crisis that apparently calls for their return? The federal government’s determination to do something about climate change and gun crime, of course. Smith suggested the Trudeau government was “actively attempting to landlock” Alberta’s resources, a statement that’s hard to square with its $21.4-billion commitment to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and its generous support for LNG Canada. Meanwhile, the much-repeated bogus claim that Ottawa is forcing farmers to cut their fertilizer use by 30 per cent is actually a proposed federal target for a 30 per cent reduction in fertilizer emissions by 2030 — one that will be supported by hundreds of millions of dollars in federal largesse.

When oil and gas royalties and revenues are at record highs, companies are awash in profits and Ottawa is funnelling billions of dollars in new subsidies their way, it’s going to be tough to sell anyone on the idea that this constitutes a “crisis” for Alberta, much less one that demands extraordinary new powers. But Smith seems determined to test just how far she can push the meaning of that word. As Globe and Mail columnist Andrew Coyne tweeted, “WELCOME TO THE PERMANENT EMERGENCY, ALBERTANS!”

For those who have been loudly protesting the federal government’s usage of the Emergencies Act earlier this year (like, say, the JCCF), this is a deeply awkward moment. Their ongoing attempts to depict Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as a “dictator” have fallen flat, in large part because it’s impossible to actually be a dictator in a minority Parliament. Smith’s bill, on the other hand, is more clearly dictator-adjacent — and if Trudeau was the one trying to implement it, you’d be able to hear the howls of outrage from right-wing politicians and pundits from outer space.

But this implicit bet on the hypocrisy of their own supporters is one that conservative politicians have been making, and collecting on, for a while now. They understand that the people who complain most loudly about freedom, democracy and the rule of the law can also be the ones most willing to look past the threats to them when they come from their own side of the partisan fence. During his first term in office, Doug Ford invoked the notwithstanding clause, unilaterally slashed the size of city council in Toronto and restricted the political speech of his opponents — and won an even bigger majority in last June’s election. The CAQ’s François Legault deployed similarly heavy-handed tactics in Quebec and was rewarded in kind with his own expanded majority.

It’s not just conservative voters who show this sort of situational commitment to freedom and democracy. Back in September, four of the leading UCP leadership candidates held a rare joint press conference in order to denounce Smith’s signature idea. Rajan Sawhney, one of those candidates, said: “We have a moral imperative to tell the truth about the potential of this very destructive piece of legislation.” That moral imperative has apparently disappeared, given Sawhney, Travis Toews, Rebecca Schulz and Brian Jean all now sit at Smith’s cabinet table — and all will benefit from the enormous new powers Bill 1 confers on them.

There’s been talk the federal government could use its power of disallowance to override Bill 1, or that the lieutenant-governor could refuse to give it royal assent. In reality, neither is likely and both would be catastrophic — the political and constitutional equivalent of dumping jet fuel on a dumpster fire. Instead, it’s up to Albertans to show they care more about their own democratic rights and freedoms than fighting an imaginary enemy in Ottawa by voting in next May’s election. If they don’t, they’ll only have themselves to blame for what follows.

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Is it that easy to become a dictatorship in Canada? Bypassing the duly elected legislature? My goodness! Saskatchewan is next. And here we thought the USA Republicans were trying to create an autocracy! Hopefully voters in Alberta will respond in the spring.

if this law was being considered in Québec, the Feds would send in the army!

I don't think they would If they didn't do that with the convoy occupation of Ottawa, parked right outside their offices with big, blaring trucks festooned with signs saying F* Trudeau.
Alberta has always slagged Quebec with their claims of "sovereignty" and special status within Canada, but are now imitating them MINUS the actual cultural validation Quebec actually HAS as our other founding nation with our other official language.

The stock in trade of these far-right cons has been what Bill Maher rightly called a "slow-moving coup," referring to the manifestation of deliberate, ongoing obstructionism and intransigence of the Republicans at the highest levels, something started by Newt Gingrich, tired of losing the popular vote. Now they've upped the ante with the insurrection on Jan. 6th using outright chaos in a bid to directly challenge established democratic governance as in Naomi Klein's "Shock Doctrine." Faced with the disruptive phenomenon of the "unprecedented," people freeze and/or panic, are overwhelmed and/or confused, and really don't know what to do. We all witnessed that in real time on our screens.
The convoy was a smaller scale replica of that, as was shown in the recent hearings. Besides the overt challenge of three separate jurisdictions having to somehow even collaborate at all, let alone quickly, there was very much that chaos factor with the convoy being entirely unprecedented. Classic divide and conquer.
The media REALLY should be providing the damning context of conservatives lamely following the disastrous Republican playbook, especially in Alberta when the former agriculture minister was photographed at a Trump rally wearing a MAGA hat. All wannabe proud boy, oath-keepers, insurgents, anarchists and libertarians, agents of chaos, should and could now be outed. After all, the oath-keeper leader of the insurrection Jan. 6th was just found guilty of seditious conspiracy.
So Danielle Smith has just introduced the most recent version of "the unprecedented" with Bill 1. It can be seen as a last-ditch attempt that gambles on rallying the algorithm-stoked "base" one last time.
It's the United Chaos Party going for broke. Literally.

I’ll bet Preston Manning peed himself a little bit with excitement.

For sure, this IS all his fault after all, him and his slow-talking, faux-meek Christian manner that hides a burning ambition to stop modernity in its tracks. Oddly and coincidentally, for some reason both him and another young, home-schooled, super-religious conservative MP from Ontario I think both talk like the American actor Jimmy Stewart?!
When I think of Manning's early days before he had a sort of "makeover," got contact lenses and had his hair fixed. I recall a cartoon in the Calgary Herald where he's standing next to a sign at a crossroads and the caption says, "we've come to a dork in the road."

There are three kinds of music in Alberta: Country, Western and Loony Tunes.

I left long ago and have never regretted the decision, though I do miss the landscape. My thoughts on pieces like this one is, Danielle who? She will not escape the scrutiny of the moderate majority in a general election and will be a comic footnote in a few years.

The teacups are cracked, and the party is winding down, at least in the USA's Qanon Homeland the UCP grassroots admire so much. The top dog Oathkeeper is about to get 20 years. Stolen election crybabies are now a constant source of ridicule by luminous late night TV hosts, like Colbert and Kimmel because the red wave fizzled. And the class action suit against hundreds of Ottawa convoy alumni is nearing the activation point.

The craziness may not be over, but the writing is on the wall. That's the dampening effect of reason and moderation that society prefers.

I really enjoy hearing from one that has lived in the middle of this to understand that not all are in favor of Ms. Smiths Bill#1 . Canada seams to carry a scar on different parts of the country at different times. Quebec and the sovereignty vote, The East Coast Fisheries fight, Reconciliation, and now the first move by UPC to show their wares. We must let the people of Alberta decide where this bill stands.
I enjoyed your comment Alex.

Could someone please explain just *how* the Danielle Smiths of Alberta think their province is so hard done by at the hands of "Canada"?

I'm old enough to remember the oil crisis of the 70s when (some) Albertans displayed the bumpersticker Let the Eastern Bastards Freeze in the Dark. (I must admit, that um, interesting notion of unity as a nation has coloured my attitude towards Alberta ever since.) I remember they used to have a HUGE nest egg that belonged to all Albertans. It wasn't Ottawa that spent it. So what, exactly, has Ottawa actually done to Alberta that peeves Smith so greatly?

It's a good question Julie. I'd say it started with the geographical reality that more people live in "central" Canada because that's where European settlement arrived first via the St. Lawrence River. Not exactly anyone's fault, nor is the fact that during elections the result was decided before we in the west were done counting. Then add in Quebec agitating against the very notion of Canada threatening to separate while still receiving equalization payments, and often deservedly, winning special favour simply because it IS our other founding nation that speaks our other "official language," reflective of a truly unique culture as well. This is coincidentally what the UCP declares right off the bat in Bill 1, that "whereas Alberta has a unique culture...." which arguably ALL provinces do but not like Quebec. And of course Pierre Trudeau was a somewhat arrogant (but brilliant) Quebec intellectual who fully galvanized the rural/urban split still very much with us, stoking the seminal prairie hinterland hatred. Then add in the discovery of oil that created unusual wealth AND a whack of male entitlement because young guys could leave high school and still make a lot of money in the oil patch, and throw in the context of being the "bible belt" from way back (Mormons moved up here to farm, joining the other religious cults of Hutterian brethren, Dutch Reformed and Mennonites) which automatically speaks to entitlement and special status, which led to "Bible Bill" Aberhart, another radio host and preacher who was premier during the difficult Depression. Again coincidentally, he also overstepped the constitution with a bill preventing the newspapers freedom to criticize government. He was followed by Ernest Manning, Preston's father, also super religious. Then when Preston arrived (also super religious) with the Reform Party, on the heels of the more erudite Progressive Conservatives, he took them over, restoring what we now call "social conservatism" and introducing us all to "bozo eruptions," still a feature, embarrassingly.
But religion is fine, nothing to worry about, right? That's not a salient factor, even though the UCP could be called the United Christian Party and the reason Danielle Smith was slapped down as leader of the Wild Rose Party, WITH the party when one of their religious candidates, another "pastor," brought up the "lake of fire" in the bible which refers to homosexuals burning in said lake of fire....and Kenney's government didn't cut funding for post-secondary "institutions" that were religion-based, but has gutted the rest.... So that's where we are in what is now often derisively called Oilberta and/or Alberduh.
But the NDP has somehow been able to survive in the uniquely toxic wings of our provincial legislature (ahh, THERE'S our unique "culture," note the root word) thank goodness, and is waiting until spring to represent all of us weary "moderates."