Alberta premier says changes coming to sovereignty bill
The Alberta government is crafting changes to be debated next week to reverse the section of a bill that gives cabinet unfettered power to rewrite laws behind closed doors without legislature approval, the province's premier said Saturday.
Danielle Smith told her Corus radio talk show that her sovereignty bill was never supposed to give cabinet such sweeping authority, adding her government wants to make it clear in law that this is not the case.
“You never get things 100 per cent right all the time,” Smith told her radio listeners.
“I think there’s some confusion on that, so we’re working on some amendments to make it clear.”
The bill, introduced Tuesday by Smith as the signature legislation of her new administration, has faced widespread condemnation for granting her and her cabinet sweeping authority to redress any federal policy, law or program it deems harmful to Alberta.
Critics say such power exercised in secret without legislature oversight is a threat to the checks and balances that underpin a healthy democracy.
For days after Smith introduced the bill, she and her cabinet members rejected accusations, including from legal and constitutional scholars, that the bill granted unchecked power.
On Thursday afternoon in the legislature, Smith accused the Opposition NDP of fearmongering “that somehow this act gives power to cabinet to unilaterally alter legislation behind closed doors despite the fact that it does not.”
But Smith was admitting to problems by Friday afternoon, telling CBC News Network amendments may be needed. By Saturday morning, she acknowledged changes were on the way.
“There is some concern right now that (the bill) is written in a way that suggests that we (cabinet) would be able to unilaterally change statutes -- and we’re not able to do that,” she told her radio show.
"If there are any changes to statutes (under the bill), it does have to come back to the legislature, so we’re working on making sure that that gets clarified."
Smith said those matters would be debated and addressed next week, adding that she's taking what she described as a "fair-minded" approach.
“If we caused some confusion by some awkward wording, then let’s clean it up and then be able to talk about the bigger issues,” she said.
Political scientist Duane Bratt said it’s a positive step for the bill to be amended to remove the sweeping powers to cabinet.
But Bratt said the change is not a tweak, the bill has become a confusing mess, Smith did not seem to understand the legislation she was introducing, and the entire affair raises larger questions about Smith’s competence in the top job.
“How did this get in the bill in the first place?” said Bratt, who teaches at Calgary's Mount Royal University.
“Wouldn’t they have read it? Wouldn’t they have noticed this? This is damaging to have to backtrack. These are major reversals on her signature piece of legislation. (No matter) whoever wrote it, at the end of the day her name is attached to it. She’s the one who introduced the bill. She has to wear this.”
The bill, now in second reading, has also triggered concerns over the provision that grants cabinet the power to order provincially legislated or funded entities to reject federal laws if cabinet deems Ottawa is causing harm.
Those entities include municipalities, police forces, health regions, post-secondary institutions and school boards.
During a Friday interview on CBC News Network, Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said the provision directing municipalities to rebuff federal laws is “a dangerous scenario” for municipalities that rely on both federal and provincial funding.
“If they direct us in a manner — let’s use an example — that says you can’t accept any federal funding directly, what does that do to our affordable housing strategy?” said Gondek.
“No matter how you slice this, it’s going to be really tough for municipalities to actually govern and serve their people.”
Gondek criticized Smith’s United Conservative Party caucus for not challenging the bill, particularly the four cabinet ministers who raised the alarm on Smith’s sovereignty bill in the leadership race that put Smith in the premier’s chair only to now support it.
“The weakness being demonstrated by MLAs right now who know this act is not good is going to cost us dearly if they don’t say, ‘We have to stop this,’” said Gondek.
Indigenous leaders have criticized the bill as heavy-handed trampling on treaty rights.
Business groups, including the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, warn the legal uncertainty surrounding the bill is not good for investment.
“While we’re trying to strengthen our economy, this provincial government has made us look incredibly incompetent," she said. “I would say to any investors that are out there and anyone that’s listening out east, this provincial government is not reflective of who we are as municipalities.”
The idea for the sovereignty bill was first pitched by Smith in June.
She characterized it as a deliberately confrontational tool to reset the relationship with a federal government she accuses of interfering in constitutionally protected areas of provincial responsibility from energy development to health care.
Under the bill, cabinet would decide when Ottawa is interfering in Alberta's jurisdiction through a law, policy or program or through a looming federal initiative it believes may cause harm.
Cabinet would send a resolution to the legislative assembly spelling out the nature of the harm and the remedies to fix it.
If the legislature gives its approval by majority vote, that is where its involvement ends and cabinet takes over. Cabinet could use the bill's extraordinary powers to rewrite legislation and direct provincial entities to ignore federal laws based on what cabinet deems "necessary or advisable."
The bill gives cabinet wide latitude on how to interpret the resolution it receives from the assembly. It says cabinet "should" follow the direction of the house but doesn't mandate it.
Smith has been unclear on how she will use the bill, toggling in recent days between saying it is a last resort and saying she hopes to begin using it in the spring.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 3, 2022.
CTVNews.ca Top Stories
EXCLUSIVE | Gay man taking Canadian government to court, says sperm donation restrictions make him feel like a 'second-class citizen'
A gay man is taking the federal government to court, challenging the constitutionality of a policy restricting gay and bisexual men from donating to sperm banks in Canada, CTV News has learned.
Dominic Barton, the former global managing director of McKinsey & Company, says he had no involvement in federal contracts awarded to the firm in recent years.
Australia is removing the monarchy from its bank notes. The nation's new $5 bill will feature an Indigenous design rather than an image of King Charles III. But the king is still expected to appear on coins that currently bear the image of the late Queen Elizabeth II.
Nova Scotia's Shubenacadie Sam has seen her shadow, predicting six more weeks of winter.
A long-time CBC radio producer who was the victim of a random assault in Toronto last week has died, the public broadcaster confirms.
When the opera 'La Flambeau' premieres next week in Montreal, Black performers will be front and centre in an artistic medium where they have historically been under-represented.
A suicide bomber who killed 101 people at a mosque in northwest Pakistan this week had disguised himself in a police uniform and did not raise suspicion among guards, the provincial police chief said on Thursday.
Top European Union officials arrived in Kyiv on Thursday for talks with Ukrainian officials as rescue crews dug through the rubble of an apartment building in eastern Ukraine struck by a Russian missile, killing at least three people and wounding about 20 others.
Calgary police are looking for suspects involved in an altercation that lasted for approximately an hour, spanned several communities and ended with a gun being fired.
Tsuut'ina Nation Police Service officials are encouraging any local victims to come forward following the arrest of actor Nathan Lee Chasing Horse in Las Vegas on sex assault charges.
Calgary police are seeking public assistance to identify a suspect in a sexual assault that took place Wednesday.
A man accused of killing his girlfriend is sending harassing social media messages to her family over social media — even though he's in jail.
Gallagher family awaits ‘a very long, drawn-out process’ ahead, as another accused pleads not guilty
Another person accused in the Megan Gallagher case has pleaded not guilty.
Saskatchewan won't be following British Columbia's lead when it comes to decriminalizing drug possession.
The annual spectacle of Groundhog Day is here. However, in Saskatchewan, the prophesying event is without its central figure, an official groundhog.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) has given Saskatchewan a “B” grade on its 13th annual red tape report card.
Nearly 130,000 Helly Hansen sweaters and hoodies have been recalled in Canada due to flammability concerns.
Nova Scotia's Shubenacadie Sam has seen her shadow, predicting six more weeks of winter.
A new 911 dispatch system in New Brunswick means that now fire departments aren’t getting dispatched to all medical calls leaving residents waiting and first responders in the dark.
Atlantic Lottery says someone in Cape Breton has a record-breaking, multimillion-dollar winning lottery ticket.
A state funeral will be held for Hazel McCallion on what would have been her 102nd birthday.
Two people were taken to a trauma centre with serious injuries after a minivan struck a pole and a tree in North York overnight.
The marmot who predicted whether spring would arrive early, Fred la Marmotte, has died the day before Groundhog Day.
After an extremely mild month of January, the province is bracing for a blast of arctic air that will move in tonight and last until Saturday. Environment and Climate Change Canada has issued extreme cold warnings that covers most of the province with wind chills expected to be between -38 and -42 across the South and -50 across Northern Quebec.
Longueuil police (SPAL) arrested Gilles Croteau, 57, in the Saint-Hubert borough on Jan. 24 after an investigation that led to 31 arrests across Quebec for various sex offences, including child pornography possession and production.
Ottawa could see its coldest temperatures in years as the polar vortex strengthens over the region for the next couple of days.
NEW THIS MORNING
NEW THIS MORNING | Activity in downtown Ottawa at 51 per cent of pre-pandemic levels in the fall, study finds
Ottawa ranks 45th out of 62 cities across Canada and the United States in a study on downtown recovery, with activity levels at 51 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.
While crews have resumed operations in an attempt to open the Rideau Canal Skateway for its 53rd season, an NCC spokesperson says the canal will not open in time for the first weekend of Winterlude on Friday.
Wiarton Willie made his prediction his spring prediction Thursday morning at 8:07 a.m. The groundhog did not see his shadow, meaning we could get an early spring.
The Emergency Department at Chesley hospital will be closed Thursday, reopening Friday Feb. 3 at 7 a.m.
A hearing is underway to determine if Udo Haan is not criminally responsible for the death of his wife Edra Haan, who was found in the aftermath of the 2018 house explosion in Kitchener, Ont.
Wiarton Willie has predicted an early spring! The groundhog in South Bruce Peninsula didn't see his shadow at 8:07 a.m. on Thursday morning, meaning sprin gis on the way.
Organization regulating medical care in Manitoba apologizes for Indigenous-specific racism in health care
The organization regulating medical care and services in Manitoba is apologizing for racism directed towards Indigenous people when accessing health care in the province.
A city councillor wants snow plows to do a better job of clearing Winnipeg's sidewalks next winter.
B.C.'s Ministry of Health is continuing its multi-year trend of paying millions more dollars each year to private surgical centres for the delivery of public health care, CTV News has learned.
Volunteers have been scrambling to clean up toxic materials left behind at a homeless camp along a sensitive fish-bearing stream outside Chilliwack.
Changes to the amount of time the public gets to voice their opinion during Surrey City Council meetings has caused controversy among former councillors.
A homicide investigation is underway on Quadra Island, B.C., after a 39-year old woman was found dead in what investigators believe was a targeted killing.
One person is in hospital with serious, but non-life-threatening injuries after an assault with a weapon in downtown Victoria Wednesday afternoon.
Alberta's former chief medical officer of health has landed a new role in British Columbia. Dr. Deena Hinshaw was named a deputy provincial health officer for B.C. on Wednesday.