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'It's a mess': Alberta NDP demands Smith drop sovereignty act as former UCP critics fall in line

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After skewering Danielle Smith's sovereignty act idea during the UCP leadership race, several of Alberta's cabinet ministers now say they'll happily vote for it.

The show of unity and support came as legal experts and the Opposition NDP warned of "unilateral powers" that exist in the legislation.

Brian Jean was one of four MLAs who held a press conference in September to jointly call the proposal "unconstitutional" and a "fairy tale."

On Wednesday he called the legislation a "great act" that he now supports.

"I sure do. First of all, it's constitutional. The premier consulted with caucus, consulted with cabinet, continues to consult with Albertans to get it right and we're going to get it right," Jean told reporters in the legislature.

After being sworn in as an MLA earlier in the day, Smith rose in the legislature Tuesday to introduce the retitled Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act.

Rajan Sawhney was one of the MLAs that stood next to Jean just weeks ago to warn Albertans about Smith's initial proposal.

"It's absolutely true, I was very critical of the sovereignty act, but to the premier's credit she incorporated some of the feedback that I had for her," Sawhney told reporters.

"I was very concerned about the separatism aspect, but that has been addressed in the title of the act itself."

Finance Minister Travis Toews was also one of the critics that day. On Wednesday, he said he no longer has concerns about constitutionality, respecting the rule of law and how the act will affect businesses and jobs.

"It needed to be implemented in a way that continued to support the certainty and predictability of our economic environment. I can say that I'm supporting this bill because those issues have been addressed," Toews said.

Co-Deputy Premier Nathan Neudorf also supports the act, although he admitted he hadn't read it all. He said Smith's office didn't tell him how to vote on it.

"No, we weren't (told). We went through a lot of discussion as caucus and as cabinet and we've come to a place where the majority, if not all of our caucus, is in agreement," Neudorf told CTV News Edmonton.

'NOT WHAT HAS BEEN DEPICTED'

The Opposition NDP is calling on Smith and her government to drop the bill, at least until after a general election in the spring.

Leader Rachel Notely said the act is an "attack" on Alberta democracy because it gives cabinet ministers the power to unilaterally amend laws, once an initial resolution is approved by majority vote in the legislature.

"There is basically nothing in the bill that would limit the government's ability to act once a resolution is passed…It gives unprecedented ability to a brand new premier to overwhelm and sidestep the legislative assembly of this province," Notley told reporters.

After a series of questions from reporters Tuesday, Justice Minister Tyler Shandro confirmed that ministers would have those powers under the act as it's written.

The government issued a clarification Wednesday morning stating that a minister's actions "would still be subject to both judicial review as well as review by the legislative assembly itself."

Sawhney acknowledged the government still has work to do in explaining the act to the public.

"I think it's very important that all Albertans actually read the bill…We need to do some more communications around this, because it is not what has been depicted," Sawhney said.

Jean also disputed a reporter's question after he stated that the act "essentially gives cabinet power to unilaterally change laws."

"Then you don't know how government works if you believe that. You have to work within the parameters that you set out in the motion. That's it. That's the law!" Jean said while walking away.

'THERE ARE UNILATERAL POWERS'

But an associate professor at the University of Calgary's faculty of law sees the bill differently than Jean.

"There are unilateral powers to follow, or not follow, not just federal laws but also provincial laws. So the scope and extent of the power is perhaps the most surprising inclusion in the bill," David Wright told CTV News Edmonton.

"This bill certainly has woven into it the DNA of an emergencies statute. So we see the types of provisions and measures that are typically reserved, and only justified upon, the basis of an emergency. So it's quite surprising to see that kind of architecture in the act."

Notley worries that the bill, and the debate over what it actually means, will chase away economic investment from Alberta.

"It's a mess because they don't know what they're doing," she told reporters of Smith's inner-circle.

"There is a profound level of incompetence and/or dishonesty being perpetrated by the premier's office and the people around her…They are jeopardizing our economic recovery."

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Joe Scarpelli and Kyra Markov

 

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