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Sawhney: Smith, if elected, must seek approval of Sovereignty Act in a general election

Rajan Sawhney

August 30, 2022

Sawhney: Smith, if elected, must seek approval of Sovereignty Act in a general election

UCP leadership contender Danielle Smith says that if selected premier she will pass an act giving Alberta the supremacy to disregard any federal law or policy we don’t like. She calls it “sovereignty.” It is a gentle word for separation.  

This proposal, despite its tantalizing political appeal to some, is an unconstitutional distraction, guaranteed to enrich a lot of lawyers. It provides no value to Albertans, beyond thumping our chests and pretending we’re doing something to show those dastardly feds.  

She claims it isn’t unconstitutional. At least, that’s what she’s saying now. One co-author says it is unconstitutional on purpose. Barry Cooper says that’s the whole point. He calls the act “the last stop before independence.” Another co-author of the act is Smith’s campaign co-chair, Rob Anderson.

The point is to stir up a hornet’s nest. The point is to get everybody talking about constitutional clauses and jurisdictional disputes instead of solving the tough issues most Albertans care about.

Is it unconstitutional? No one knows for sure because she won’t show us the drafted act. Is it even written? If so, why is it secret?

It doesn’t matter. Constitutional or unconstitutional, this act will turn our province upside down.

Not sure about that? Ask Quebec. When Quebec started talking about sovereignty, corporate head offices fled. People fled. Turmoil ensued.

The same would happen in Alberta, maybe worse because we rely so heavily on foreign investors. I worked for two decades in Alberta’s energy industry. When you are investing in billion-dollar projects, you need political certainty. You want laws that won’t change part-way through your multi-year build or multi-decade business. You want to know whose laws will apply. You want to know skilled workers will still live here, the tax regime will be stable, and sub-contractors won’t be closing their doors.

Smith thinks this uncertainty would all be worthwhile because we’d be in charge of the chaos.  

I don’t agree.

This Sovereignty Act could change everything.  

When investments and jobs vanish, so do the revenues they generate. Those are revenues we intend to use to upgrade our health-care system, ensure our education system is the best in the world, support the most vulnerable, and invest in the new knowledge industries and workers of the future.

That could all be gone. Voters should be demanding a say.

That is why in this week’s debate I demanded that if Smith becomes premier, she must hold off on passing the Sovereignty Act until she gets a mandate from the people of Alberta in a general election.

If elected, Smith must introduce her act to our legislature so that we can see the exact wording and analyze its impact. The legislature, however, should not pass it until all Alberta voters weigh in.

I am demanding she commits to doing that.

I am also asking my fellow leadership contenders — and all MLAs — to commit that they won’t vote on the act until their constituents have voted.

Now — here’s the risk in doing that.

I don’t think Albertans want to separate.

I also don’t think Albertans want to spend the next few years wrangling with Ottawa over the wording of Canada’s Constitution — complete with endless losing Supreme Court appeals — as the “last stop before independence.”

Instead, Albertans want their government to focus on our quality of life: improve the services we need to upgrade, modernize and improve. These include health, education, affordability, support for the vulnerable, investment in modern technologies and industries and environmental responsibility. Albertans want their government to ensure our foundational industries of energy, agriculture and forestry will continue to thrive while meeting modern expectations.  

Should we stand up for Alberta and defend our rights as already written in the Constitution? Yes. Absolutely. Threatening sovereignty or independence is the riskiest possible way to do that.

If asked, I think Albertans will say “No, thanks” to provoking an extended constitutional battle. Thus, we run the substantial risk of electing a Rachel Notley government.

I don’t believe that’s the right choice for Alberta’s future. But that is the path Danielle Smith is recklessly pursuing.

Rajan Sawhney, MLA for Calgary-North East, is running for the leadership of the United Conservative Party and premier of Alberta.