Did anyone catch Danielle Smith’s victory speech? In it she did three things:
- She started to back away from her key campaign promise, the Sovereignty Act
- She characterized the UCP as the party that is both fiscally responsible and compassionate (entrepreneurs with a heart and a soul)
- She repositioned herself as a staunch supporter of Confederation
Judging by the applause, the audience fell for it hook, line, and sinker.
Alberta will take its rightful place
Smith started with the usual pitch. It’s time for Alberta to take its place as a “senior partner” in building a strong and unified Canada.
Then she launched into an attack on those who would impose vaccine mandates, silence our voices, land lock our resources or phase out our energy. (Damn that “virtue signalling prime minister.”)
What was missing from this “stand up for Alberta” diatribe was an explanation of how her pledge to enact the Sovereignty Act would free Albertans from federal interference by allowing her government to ignore any federal laws or court decisions it didn’t like.
Perhaps this was because a couple of days later Rob Anderson (who co-wrote the Free Alberta Strategy which outlined the Sovereignty Act and who is now a key aide in the premier’s office) said the Act would not allow her government to ignore Supreme Court rulings.
This is important.
When a province doesn’t like a federal law, it can ask the Supreme Court to decide whether the law is valid. If the Supreme Court decides the law is valid and if Smith is not going to ignore the Supreme Court’s ruling, then she is not planning on ignoring any federal laws the Supreme Court decides are valid.
In other words, Smith is backtracking.
That pfft you just heard was the sound of the air being let out of Danielle Smith’s key campaign promise.
Why did Smith do a U turn?
Was she convinced by the legion of legal academics that the Act was unconstitutional and violated the separation of powers, the constitutional division of powers and the rule of law which dates back to the Magna Carta?
Was she concerned that passing the Act would trigger a constitutional crisis?
Was she worried that she had no mandate to proceed?*
Or was it something more basic, like the possibility that she’d lose the election in May 2023?
Backtracking and rewriting history
Smith’s ascension to the UCP leadership did not mirror Kenney’s decisive victory. He won on the first ballot with 61% of the vote. It took Smith six rounds to win with 54%, a mere 3 points more than the 51% that led to Kenney’s resignation.
Her caucus is full of MLAs who are uncomfortable with her and with her Act. She needs to convince them that they will not be violating their duty to uphold the law if they support the Act, failing which they’ll vote against it (how embarrassing!) and may refuse to run in 2023.
And here’s the kicker.
In May 2023, Smith must convince 2.7 million eligible voters (the bulk of whom see themselves as Canadians first and Albertans second) that the Sovereignty Act was not a stunt to curry favour with the extreme right, but rather a legitimate solution to a real problem.
In anticipation of this conundrum Smith started to rewrite history in her victory speech.
She said Ottawa and the “establishment even in here Alberta” don’t want the UCP to stay united. They’ll “drag up old statements, past mistakes, use cancel culture, fear mongering” to divide the UCP.
Many “in the Notley/Singh/Trudeau alliance will claim [the] Sovereignty Act…is meant to move Alberta to leaving our beloved Canada [and] that is a lie.”
Oh please. That is not a lie. That is exactly what her Act did. She said it would allow Alberta to walk away from federal jurisdiction. This would trigger a constitutional crisis. The only way to move farther away from Confederation is to declare you’re leaving.
No, no, Smith protested. “Albertans love Canada.” It is “our country, our home.” In case we missed Smith’s love for a unified Canada, she closed her speech with a line from Oh Canada, (May God keep our land glorious and free).
Smith will water-down the Sovereignty Act to make it acceptable to her caucus.
The final version will likely state that Alberta may do everything in its power including bringing a reference to the Supreme Court of Canada and let the court decide whether a federal law or court decision applies to Alberta. Alberta already has this power so this will be a colossal waste of time but it’s the only way Smith can save face.
She’ll use the “more compassionate UCP” mantra to buy votes by throwing money at everyone the UCP trampled in their first three years in office.
And she’ll rewrite history. saying she had no intention of passing the legislation that would have allowed Alberta to turn its back on confederation and anyone suggests such a thing is lying.
The only people she won’t hoodwink are the sovereigntists who voted for her because they believed she’d force Ottawa to cave to their demands.
And that’s where the trouble lies.
Welcome to Danielle Smith’s UCP. A more polarized version of the Kenney’s UCP.
*NOTE: Smith maintained her mandate flowed from Jason Kenney’s Equalization Referendum and the Fair Deal panel‘s recommendations. This is not true because neither of those policies said the government could refuse to follow federal laws.