Don Martin: Danielle Smith's antics suggest she could soon claim the title of Alberta's briefest premier
Eight years ago, Danielle Smith ended her first political fling by jumping into a dumpster fire. Having botched a merger attempt between two Alberta conservative parties, she was blocked as unworthy of re-election by her new political masters.
Just three years ago, Jason Kenney capped a stellar career as a senior federal cabinet minister to launch the United Conservative Party and start what looked to be a long run as premier of Alberta.
On the very same day this week, specifically Tuesday, the story of Jason and Danielle took unimaginably divergent twists as Kenney quit being an MLA in the party he had created while successor Smith posted an Alberta declaration of independence as the new premier’s first item of legislative business.
You really can’t make this stuff up and my lingering Alberta DNA from two decades living there is severely baffled by the goings-on. Polls suggest more than half of Albertans feel the same way.
Smith has gone straight from the political altar to a divorce from common sense – and her out-of-the-gate antics suggest she could soon claim the title of Alberta’s briefest premier.
Not only is this fledgling premier throwing vote-buying cheques out the door for every Albertan regardless of financial need, she is phoning businesses and agencies with vaccine mandates in place to request they be dropped if they want to remain in her good books.
And now comes the kicker – a sovereignty act that will empower the government to amend laws by simple cabinet decree, compel cities, police and other agencies to ignore offensive federal laws and to nullify federal actions allegedly hurting Alberta’s best interests.
To compound the confusion, Smith insists her government may never unleash its new powers on one hand while ordering her ministers to seek and find ways to deploy it on the other.
But, but, but, her defenders will argue, the overarching section 2 of the bill specifically prohibits the Alberta government from acting against the Constitution or directing anyone to break a federal law or Indigenous treaty right.
That might be comforting except the Act gives her government the power to decide what is unconstitutional or an invasion of Alberta’s jurisdiction before acting against it.
‘JUDGE, JURY AND ENFORCEMENT COP’
In other words, an Alberta cabinet minister would become judge, jury and enforcement cop in deciding what laws to ignore if, in their view, it’s “harmful” to Alberta, whatever that means.
And by building in protection against legal review, the government is signalling it knows the Act wouldn’t survive a constitutional court challenge, which means it should quickly be denied royal assent from the province’s lieutenant governor.
The only consolation is how this tougher-than-expected bill will barely pass Smith’s majority-controlled legislature before the UCP will likely lose the May election and NDP Leader Rachel Notley landfills the Act.
Look, I get Alberta’s angst, particularly as oil is the engine powering the Canadian economy and filling federal coffers with windfall dollars for squandering on pet causes in other provinces.
Albertans want powers of their own after seeing Quebec act in unCanadian ways by essentially declaring their province unilingually French in a bilingual country, banning religious attire in public sector jobs and guarding its borders against unacceptable mostly-refugee immigration.
But to suggest Alberta should simply opt out of curbing carbon emissions, a ban on certain types of semi-automatic guns or protecting the environment just because some minister feels it’s unAlbertan is not political power equivalency. Actions that impact the entire country deserve national imposition.
Now, anyone living through the early 1980s’ National Energy Program (count me among them) had ample reason to loath federal intrusions into Alberta’s energy sector.
That move by Prime Minister Trudeau The First sledgehammered the runaway economy into see-through office buildings and a devastating home foreclosure epidemic.
But today’s perceived grievances are more irritants than impediments to Alberta’s prosperity.
While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau may believe Alberta's oil patch is on the countdown clock to oblivion in this century, which might be correct economically if not politically, anger over pipeline capacity constrictions are not his fault.
Keystone was killed by the U.S. president, pipeline capacity to Atlantic tidewater is blocked at Quebec, Line 5 is at risk from Michigan’s governor and when the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion was in jeopardy, Trudeau bought it and is building it.
On allegedly “harmful” health issues, Albertans have never faced a federal mask requirement or vaccine mandate unless they wanted to leave the country or travel by air.
And to unleash plans to replace the Canada Pension Plan and RCMP just because they bear Ottawa’s watermark is more about cosmetic tinkering than constitutional muscle-flexing.
Smith’s sovereignty act does not reflect growing hardcore separatist sentiment in Alberta. The vast majority of Albertans merely consider Ottawa to be a left-leaning alien planet best viewed from a considerable distance.
Smith is misreading the Alberta room - and probably a big chunk of her caucus and cabinet - with her excessive and arguably undemocratic jurisdictional protectionism.
In the story of Jason and Danielle, Kenney’s challenging pandemic reign will appear competent by contrast while Smith’s brief stint as premier will enter the history books as mostly cockamamie.
That’s the bottom line.
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