The Sovereignty Delusion

United Conservative Party (UCP) leadership contender Danielle Smith’s proposed sovereignty act is an unconstitutional delusion that will lead the United Conservative Party and Alberta down a dangerous path.

Even its most ardent supporters admit that the Sovereignty Act is unconstitutional. In fact, supporters are so brazen about its unconstitutionality that they say that’s “exactly the point.” In other words, the entire point of this legislation is failure.  

In practice, that means that there are two paths forward for the Sovereignty Act, but both will reveal that it is a delusion: It will accomplish nothing.  

The first path is that the Act will pass but it simply won’t be used because its authors know that it is unconstitutional. It will accomplish nothing because it is designed to accomplish nothing.

The second path is that any action under the Act will immediately be sent to the courts, where, as its authors already admit, it will lose. Result? It will accomplish nothing.

Well, not nothing, exactly.  

It won’t accomplish any of its aims, but it will undermine the Alberta government and the Alberta economy. In the same way that the rise and spectre of separatism (it is not lost on me that Quebec separatists also clung to the word “sovereignty”) in Quebec drove investment and head offices out of Montreal, so the blatant introduction of unconstitutional, quasi-separatist
legislation in Alberta will drive investment and head offices out of Calgary (and Edmonton). This Sovereignty Act is a blatant attempt to undermine the rule of law. How could such an intentional disruption of our most basic institution – the rule of law – not have serious economic repercussions?

The tragedy is that this unnecessary disruption would come at a time when Alberta’s economic recovery from low energy prices and the COVID pandemic is starting to take hold. Alberta is on a solid path to economic recovery and renewed fiscal health with the best growth prospects in Canada.  

I understand that for many, the Sovereignty Act may seem like a way to channel Alberta’s legitimate frustrations with Ottawa. Indeed, the arguments advanced by Ms. Smith are tantalizingly seductive. Many members of our party believe this is the last, best path to confronting our national government and settling our grievances.

But here’s the thing: It just isn’t.  

To repeat: It can’t work because it was designed not to work.  

This means that if the Alberta Legislature were to pass such legislation it can only make the situation worse. Supporters and opponents of the law will quickly see it for the delusion that it is. This will only serve to increase the level of frustration and anger.  

And that anger will have three outcomes. First, it will be the end of Danielle Smith’s leadership. At some point, the caucus and the membership of our party will see the Sovereignty Act for what it is and realize the delusion they have been sold. This could happen before the Act’s passage or after it. But it will happen.  

Second, its failure will inflame the fires of separatism – an even more destructive view than that peddled by supporters of the Sovereignty Act. The proponents of the Sovereignty Act today say that, if it fails today, the next step is separation tomorrow. Actually, according to the crafters of the Act, this is the plan. The final chapter of the plan says that failure of the Sovereignty Act should lead to “National Independence” and the creation of “The Republic of Alberta.” It’s right here in black and white.

Danielle Smith knows all this. After all, the Chairman of her campaign wrote it.

But the third thing that will happen is that, when the Act throws our party, and our province, into legal and economic turmoil, the people of Alberta will say “enough.” At that point, a highly motivated Rachel  Notley and her destructive NDP will coast to an easy victory.    

And if you think our chances of making progress with Ottawa are slim now… Under the NDP they will be non-existent. Will the NDP join with Saskatchewan and Ontario – two provinces that have stood steadfastly with Alberta to fight unconstitutional federal intrusion? Or will it stand with
their NDP cousins in British Columbia who have been tepid in their support of challenging federal laws?

To ask the question is to answer it.

During the UCP leadership debate in Medicine Hat, I argued that “a Danielle Smith victory today means a Rachel Notley victory tomorrow.” I know that Alberta must fight back against a Federal government that is seriously out of touch with our province – and not just with Western Canadians. However, it will not profit Albertans to take huge legal and economic risks in
a hot-headed way.    

I urge Albertans to consider supporting a leadership candidate who can and will call out and stop the Sovereignty Act delusion. What Alberta needs is careful, considered, and balanced policies that I am laying out in my campaign for the leadership. This is what will win the day not just for the UCP but for all Albertans.