Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Friday December 2, 2022
‘We’ve never seen anything like this’: Is Alberta’s new Sovereignty Act actually legal?
At long last, Danielle Smith’s Alberta government has revealed its long-awaited bill to push back against Ottawa — and grant the provincial cabinet sweeping new powers in the process — but so far, there are arguably more questions than answers.
Top of the list: Is this legal?
So far, what has been known as the Sovereignty Act seems to have sparked general confusion.
Smith had made a law — intended to hit back against the federal government on behalf of what she argues is an unfairly treated Alberta — a flagship promise of her leadership campaign, which saw her replace Jason Kenney as the leader of the United Conservative Party and become Alberta premier in October.
“We are finally telling the federal government ‘no more,’” Smith said Tuesday, as the bill was unveiled at the beginning of a new legislative session.
In some ways, the bill had been softened since originally floated. Perhaps to dispel the whiff of separatist sentiment, its title had been elongated to the “Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act,” and an earlier proposal to ignore court rulings the province disagreed with had been jettisoned.
The bill does seem to do two things, however: It would let the Alberta legislature pass motions declaring a federal law or policy unconstitutional or otherwise harmful to the province. Then, in a twist that seems to have surprised politics-watchers, that motion would give cabinet the “extraordinary” power to change provincial legislation if needed to otherwise fight back.
Taken together, critics say, this process raises eyebrows, because it would seem to put Alberta in charge of deciding what is constitutional — a role typically played by the courts — and it would concentrate democratic power in the hands of a small group of politicians who don’t have to necessarily listen to the wider elected legislature.
“We’ve never seen anything like this from any Canadian province,” said Lisa Young, a professor of political science at the University of Calgary.
Further raising questions about the readiness of the legislation, the government issued a statement Wednesday, less than a day after the bill was introduced, seeking to dispel some of the criticism already gaining traction.
“In no way does (the act) permit cabinet to unilaterally amend legislation without those amendments being first authorized by the legislative assembly,” the statement said. In other words, the legislature must first give cabinet the green light and some guidance before it heads off to start tweaking laws.
The bill itself stresses that “nothing in this Act is to be construed as authorizing any order that would be contrary to the Constitution.”
But those assurances aside, critics say it remains unclear whether the legislature will have to approve every word and line of a potential amendment, or whether it would just be giving cabinet a blank cheque to make any adjustments to a particular provincial law in response to federal government action.
At the heart of the issue is the risk of letting an executive go around the legislature, said University of Alberta law professor Eric Adams. These laws are known as Henry VIII clauses, named for the monarch famously unbothered by the rules that would have otherwise prevented him from marrying his six wives. (“It’s not a compliment,” Adams notes.) (The Toronto Star)
From sketch to finish, see the current way Graeme completes an editorial cartoon using an iPencil, the Procreate app, and a couple of cheats on an iPad Pro … These sped up clips are posted to encourage others to be creative, to take advantage of the technology many of us already have and to use it to produce satire. Comfort the afflicted. Afflict the comforted.