UCP MLAs divided, unsure of support for possible Alberta Sovereignty Act

·3 min read
Danielle Smith has said the proposed Alberta Sovereignty Act would be the first piece of legislation she would introduce as premier. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Danielle Smith has said the proposed Alberta Sovereignty Act would be the first piece of legislation she would introduce as premier. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press - image credit)

If elected leader of the United Conservative Party, Danielle Smith may have a challenge convincing all of her caucus to vote for her signature law.

A proposed Alberta Sovereignty Act has been the centrepiece of Smith's campaign to become party leader and the province's next premier. No draft of the legislation yet exists but an FAQ about it has been posted online.

The former leader of the Wildrose Opposition says the act would allow the Alberta legislature to decline to enforce any federal law or court decision it decides is counter to the province's interests.

But there's a growing number of cabinet ministers who say they can't vote for what she's proposing.

"As it's drafted right now, or as it's described, I couldn't support – but it's highly hypothetical whether it would ever be tabled," Energy Minister Sonya Savage said Thursday while heading into the legislature.

MLAs were back in Edmonton for a special one-day sitting to mark the passing of Queen Elizabeth II.

Savage said although she supports standing up to the federal government to defend Alberta's interests, she could not vote in favour of a potentially illegal bill.

Community and Social Services Minister Jason Luan said he couldn't, either, and says he has "grave concerns" about the proposal.

"It's created lots of uncertainty, particularly when the province is poised to have an economic boom," he said.

Both ministers support former finance minister Travis Toews' campaign for leader.

They join Premier Jason Kenney and Finance Minister Jason Nixon in recoiling at the proposed legislation.

Trevor Wilson/CBC
Trevor Wilson/CBC

Calgary-Falconridge MLA Devinder Toor and Service Alberta Minister Nate Glubish are among those who support the idea. Both have backed Smith's leadership campaign.

Glubish said a Smith-led government would have caucus to advise her on how an act could best work. He disagrees that such legislation would scare investors away from Alberta.

"I would look forward to having the opportunity to work with Danielle to ensure that it is a well-crafted piece of legislation," Glubish said Thursday. "There's a lot that has to happen before that."

More detail needed, say others

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange, Health Minister Jason Copping, Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides, Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver and Highwood MLA RJ Sigurdson are among representatives who said they would have to see the wording of a bill before deciding whether to back it.

Others say it may hinge on future legal advice.

"I think it's drawn out of frustrations that people have, but I don't know if we can do it," Vermilion-Lloydminster-Wainwright MLA Garth Rowswell said. "I don't disregard it out of hand, but I'd like to see what it's about."

Smith has said it is the first piece of legislation she would introduce as premier. She has rejected suggestions to wait until after a general election.

With one seat currently vacant in the legislature, any bill would need 43 out of 86 possible votes to succeed.

Currently in the house, there are 59 UCP MLAs plus Speaker Nathan Cooper, 23 NDP MLAs and three independents.

Smith and Toews are among seven people running to succeed Kenney as party leader; the others are MLAs Rebecca Schulz, Rajan Sawhney, Todd Loewen, Brian Jean and Leela Aheer.

Party members are currently voting by mail, with some in-person polling stations open for one morning next month.

The UCP will announce its new leader in Calgary on Oct. 6.