Edmonton

Alberta premier open to amendments on sovereignty act

Premier Danielle Smith and some of her ministers suggested on Thursday they are open to changes to the proposed sovereignty act. 

Legal experts alarmed at consolidation of power within cabinet proposed in the bill

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith looks on as Justice Minister Tyler Shandro explains her long-awaited sovereignty act, which greatly expands provincial powers to toughen its approach against Ottawa. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Premier Danielle Smith suggested on Thursday that the provincial government is open to changes to the proposed sovereignty act. 

Smith introduced Bill 1, the Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act, on Tuesday. 

Since then, legal experts, Opposition MLAs, and some business groups have raised concerns about how the bill grants sweeping unilateral powers to cabinet to change legislation. Smith and her ministers said that changes would be made only on the direction of the legislative assembly. 

On Thursday, a tiny crack appeared in the so far unyielding stance by the government. 

In question period, Smith challenged the Opposition NDP to be "constructive" and table amendments to the bill.

"If the honourable members would like to make a couple of amendments to approve the bill we are more than happy to work collaboratively with them," she said. 

Bill 1 lays out a process about how the province intends to defy federal laws, policies and programs MLAs decide are either unconstitutional or harmful to Alberta's interests. 

Although resolutions are debated and passed by the legislative assembly, the bill proposes giving cabinet the power to amend existing provincial laws behind closed doors. Currently, cabinet can only pass or alter regulations. 

Ministers claim they can only follow recommended actions in the resolution but the bill is silent on that issue. 

Clarifications needed?

Kaycee Madu, deputy premier, said on Twitter Thursday that changes to a statute always need to go to the assembly for debate.

"Nothing changed that process in Bill 1," the post said. 

"Bill 1 preserves the powers of the Legislative Assembly. We will consider [an] amendment to Bill 1 to clarify this to avoid confusion."

Although he was unaware of Madu's tweets, Justice Minister Tyler Shandro told reporters Thursday about the need to possibly make the same clarifications in Bill 1.

"How legislation might be amended after a resolution, I think that has to be more clear," Shandro said. "We're open to getting that feedback."

NDP Leader Rachel Notley wants Smith to revoke the act entirely.  She said the bill is scaring the business community, limits Albertans' ability to challenge decisions and infringes on the Treaty rights of Indigenous people. 

"We need to drive investment opportunities, not drive away investors." Notley told the legislature. "My message today to the government is to simply withdraw this mess of a bill." 

Smith said wording of the bill ensures that the rights of Indigenous people as outlined in section 35 of the Constitution Act 1982 are respected.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michelle Bellefontaine

Provincial affairs reporter

Michelle Bellefontaine covers the Alberta legislature for CBC News in Edmonton. She has also worked as a reporter in the Maritimes and in northern Canada.

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