Conservatives in Western Canada Pass Law Rejecting Federal Sovereignty

OTTAWA – In the heavily conservative western prairie province of Alberta, Canada, most residents, especially those on the far right, are disgruntled by Covid-19 restrictions imposed by the Liberal federal government in Ottawa, the country’s capital.

Widespread outrage fueled this year’s massive truck blockade that disrupted trade with the United States and paralyzed Ottawa for a month.

Now, the oil-rich province of Alberta has rekindled the longstanding divide between western and eastern Canada by passing a bill that would allow the province to waive any federal laws and regulations it opposes, a move that some critics describe as an unconstitutional threat to the basic fabric of the country’s government.

Alberta provincial government leader Danielle Smith justified her support for the bill by saying: “Ottawa is not a national government,” a conclusion widely disputed by constitutional experts. cobble. Ms Smith, leader of the United Conservative Party of Alberta and prime minister of the province, added: “The way our country works is that we are a federation of independent jurisdictions, with sovereignty.”

The new law is the latest development that reflects an informal, far-right effort in Canada’s western provinces, mainly Alberta, to break away from Canada, underlining how difficult it is for Ottawa to run the country. divided by region.

Although Ms. Smith is not a member of any of the groups involved in the separatist movement, sometimes known as Wexit, she has long endorsed its driving view that the federal government is taking advantage of Alberta. .

Holding views seen as extremist even among conservatives in Canada, Ms. Smith has opposed all anti-pandemic measures, including vaccines and masks. Her government has suggested that Alberta’s law could be used to override government and federal law in a number of areas, including public health, the environment and guns.

However, critics say the law is a violation of the province’s constitution and is unlikely to survive a court challenge. They also said the law would create uncertainty that could keep investors away from Alberta and could jeopardize Indigenous peoples’ treaty rights and obligations.

The law reflects the province’s deep-seated grievances against the federal government.

Many Albertans have long argued that Ottawa has exploited the wealth generated by the province’s lucrative energy sector for the benefit of other provinces while ignoring the pressing needs of Alberta, including growing funds for health care. Much of Alberta’s energy is exported, and the province is the largest source of imported oil for the United States.

They see Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s ambitious program to phase out fossil fuels to combat climate change as a threat to their vital industry and his progressive government as out of touch. with Albertans on many issues, especially gun control.

In introducing the proposed legislation, Ms. Smith said, “I hope we have sent a message,” that we will vigorously defend our constitutional jurisdictions and that they should quit. “

But analysts and political scientists say the law has less to do with constitutional jurisdiction but more about wooing separatist and anti-vaccination movements by tapping into anger and frustration. expectations for the federal government and especially for Mr. Trudeau.

“This comes from deep anger towards the federal government and Justin Trudeau,” said Duane Bratt, professor of political science at Mount Royal University in Calgary. “She clearly wants to fight Trudeau.”

For his part, Mr. Trudeau doesn’t seem interested in taking the bait. While the federal government has the power to overrule the law or take it directly to Canada’s Supreme Court for constitutional review, there’s no indication he plans to pursue either move.

After the law was passed, he told reporters he was “not interested in fighting the government of Alberta.”

Many legal experts consider the law unconstitutional because it claims to have the power to nullify bills passed by federal lawmakers.

Although the provinces have historically had some gaps in the Canadian system in how they enforce and follow federal law, “Alberta has now taken two big steps forward to say the existence of flexible federalism exists. is the basis for the province to reject, directly and frankly, applications of federal law,” said Eric Adams, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.

Jason Kenney, Ms. Smith’s predecessor as prime minister and a Conservative who resigned from his seat in the Alberta Legislature shortly after the proposed legislation was introduced, has issued a statement when he resigned that was widely understood to be critical of Ms. Smith.

“Our democratic life is moving away from the usual prudential debate toward a polarization that undermines our fundamental institutions and principles,” said Mr. Kenney.

Critics of the law include business and energy groups that are often allies of conservative politicians, but they argue that selective disregard for federal rules could reduce investment and causing the province to lose jobs.

“This could cause problems for us in Canada and with other provinces, as well as with Ottawa,” Deborah Yedlin, executive director of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, told Global News broadcaster.

Rachel Notley, leader of the left-leaning New Democratic Party’s provincial branch, urged Ms. Smith to ask the court for an immediate review.

“I believe this legislation will fail in court, but in the interest of Alberta workers, we should do it as quickly as possible to limit the chaos and uncertainty this legislation creates. out,” Ms Notley, the former premier, told reporters.

The government of Alberta has long claimed that the landlocked province’s oil industry has been hampered by federal environmental regulations that have hampered efforts to build new pipelines or increase capacity. existing pipelines to the United States and ports.

Although Mr. Trudeau enjoys little support in Alberta, he has made several proposals to the province over the years. During his first term, he purchased an oil pipeline from American owners, which would allow Alberta to export more oil without using trains – a move that was unpopular. his supporters.

But Mr. Trudeau also has to bear the brunt of a family legacy that continues to fuel outrage in Alberta. His father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who was prime minister for most of the time from 1968 to 1984, introduced a sweeping national energy policy in the 1970s that aimed to lower fuel prices in Canada, but limited the benefits. profits of oil companies and limit the collection of royalties. by Alberta, which has most of the energy reserves under its lands.

Separatists in Alberta and other western provinces have tried for decades to gain the upper hand in this and other power struggle, cyclical ups and downs. The movement revived after Mr. Trudeau came to power in 2015, although the Wexit political parties remained on the sidelines.

The new law has also caused anger among Indigenous groups in Alberta, who say it would undermine their rights under treaties they signed with Britain prior to Canada’s creation and now run by the government. federal administration.

The law “is just another illegal attempt to continue the province’s deliberate abuse and exploitation of our people, land, territory, and resources,” said Grand Chief Arthur Noskey of Treaty 8 First Nations, said in a statement.

The Onion Lake Cree Nation, which straddles the Alberta-Saskatchewan border, this month filed a lawsuit in Alberta’s high court asking it to repeal the law because, according to the community, it violates or jeopardizes many rights under the law. pact.

Ms. Smith’s office did not respond to a request for an interview.

Ms. Smith asserts that the law will withstand any court challenge and has equated the law with efforts by Indigenous communities to regain sovereignty over their territory.

“I think, unfortunately, Ottawa treated the First Nations with disrespect and they treated the provinces with disrespect as well,” she told the legislature after the law was passed.

Among Alberta residents, the law appears to be more common in rural and suburban areas than the cities of Edmonton and Calgary, which account for more than 51% of Alberta’s 4.5 million population.

In one radio interview Smith suggested that the province should have used the law to reverse the federal ban on single-use plastics, which is currently being sued in court.

“How many people like the fact that they are using paper straws?” Miss Smith said. “When you’re trying to give a kid a root beer float, you have to plan on giving them four paper straws because they’re easy to destroy.”


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