Brian Jean, former Wildrose Party leader and candidate to lead the United Conservative Party, has a good question for Danielle Smith, former Wildrose Party leader and candidate to lead the United Conservative Party.
What does your Alberta Sovereignty Act actually say?
Since Ms. Smith’s so-called Sovereignty Act is the centrepiece of her campaign, Mr. Jean said in a fund-raising email to his supporters, “the members have a right to understand it, before voting begins.”
Of course, if voting UCP members get to read Ms. Smith’s proposed legislation, candidates like Mr. Jean might also have an opportunity to attack it in a way that doesn’t alienate the party’s separatist fringe that right now mostly supports the Smith campaign.
Making the text of the supposed legislation public would certainly answer the question of whether there even is a draft of the Sovereignty Act, or if it’s just another promise to be dealt with by Ms. Smith after she has won the leadership and figured out how much she can get away with without provoking a UCP Caucus rebellion.
“In my time as a lawyer,” Mr. Jean said in his email, clearly trying to curry a little favour with the loony right, “I have seen many cases of good intentions undermined by badly written laws. I would never tell a client to accept a written deal without knowing the actual written terms.”
Some of us might dispute the idea Ms. Smith is acting from good intentions, but there’s nothing wrong with Mr. Jean’s advice about not agreeing to a contract without reading it.
“I worry that the Sovereignty Act will be meaningless or unconstitutional,” he continued. (Well, it’ll certainly be unconstitutional if it reflects the purpose of the bill, as stated by Ms. Smith.) “But I am prepared to be wrong, if the actual Act shows otherwise.”
“I have not read the text of Danielle’s Sovereignty Act,” he concluded. “And neither have you. No one has. And that’s not right.”
Of course, these are all good tactical reasons for Ms. Smith not to release the draft of the proposed legislation, if in fact one exists.
She has no desire to spend the rest of the campaign to replace Premier Jason Kenney defending her campaign’s pièce de resistance line by line. Especially since, up to now, she has managed to set the agenda.
Neither would she want to tip off the majority of Albertans, to whom the idea of Parti Quebecois-style sovereignty-association would appear somewhere between absurd and abhorrent, about the details.
This assumes a draft exists. If it doesn’t, that fact might not be treated gently by the UCP’s republican base, which at least could be counted on to make their way grumpily back to the Wildrose Independence Party or whatever separatist splinter group was promising the most Q-adjacent program at the time.
Perhaps Rob Anderson, the former Wildrose MLA and chair of Ms. Smith’s campaign, University of Calgary political scientist Barry Cooper, and lawyer Derek From, the three brainiacs who cooked up the “Free Alberta Strategy,” have some notes scratched on an envelope they could share with us.
Their so-called strategy, complete with an unimpressive list of endorsements, includes a call for an Alberta Sovereignty Act to grant the Legislature “absolute discretion to refuse to enforce any piece of federal legislation or judicial decision that intrudes on Alberta’s provincial rights, or that unfairly attack the interests of Alberta’s People.” Needless to say, any such act would be blatantly unconstitutional.
But the idea has its roots in the sovereignist “Firewall Letter,” the 2001 manifesto signed by half a dozen opponents of the Chrétien Liberal government in Ottawa, including future prime minister Stephen Harper. They sent it off to premier Ralph Klein, who sensibly tossed it in the recycler.
Mr. Jean’s query for Ms. Smith is not the only worthwhile question about the Sovereignty Act that deserves a timely response.
Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt yesterday tweeted a good one for the frontrunner in the federal Conservative Party’s leadership race.
Said Dr. Bratt: “You know who hasn’t commented on Smith’s proposed Sovereignty Act? Pierre Poilievre.
“You would think that someone running to be Prime Minister would have a thought or two on a possible Premier promising to nullify federal legislation, regulatory decisions, and court rulings,” he added.
You would, wouldn’t you? I think for similar reasons we can expect Mr. Poilievre to keep his lips zipped on this question.
Now, about that provincial police force …
Meanwhile, other than some election-style promises that new teachers will be hired for the next school year, about all the UCP wants to talk about is its big idea to replace the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in rural Alberta with its own provincial police force.
This is a scheme almost everyone hates, including most of the governing party’s own supporters. More than 70 rural Alberta politicians have written the government opposing the idea, which is estimated to be vastly more expensive than the province’s current deal with the RCMP – well over $200 million a year in operating costs above the $500 million paid for RCMP services now, plus an estimated $366 million in start-up costs.
At a news conference on Tuesday, though, Justice Minister Tyler Shandro insisted the government has “a blueprint” for the scheme, which he promised would see more police officers in rural areas than are now stationed at rural RCMP detachments.
By the sound of the proposal, though, a lot of this would be accomplished by moving regional paper shufflers to rural offices where they would, presumably, still be principally occupied with shuffling police paper.
Since the RCMP now has trouble finding young police officers willing to work in rural areas, it’s hard to see how this would be any different for an Alberta provincial police force unless the UCP was willing to pay its officers considerably more.
Given the fact almost all rural municipalities – the farm team for Conservative provincial politicians – are opposed, the UCP government’s determination to stick with this unpopular plan seems almost bizarre.
However, along with a provincial pension plan, another bad idea championed by the UCP, it was first proposed in the Firewall manifesto and has now resurfaced in the Free Alberta Strategy.
So the need to keep fringe UCP supporters onside until after the leadership vote probably explains a lot.