Braid: Smith infuriates local leaders with effort to stifle independence. It's all about sovereignty

The message to municipal leaders is that they’re subservient, not independent. Every action — even their election by Albertans — will be open to reversal

Get the latest from Don Braid, Calgary Herald straight to your inbox

Article content

Alberta politics suddenly has more lanes than a bowling alley.

Stay out of our lane, Premier Danielle Smith says to Ottawa.

Article content

Now she sends the same message to Alberta municipalities — beware of “creeping” into the province’s lane.

The munis say wait just a minute, the province is doing the creeping, straight into the local lane.

This is all about Ottawa and the UCP’s sovereignty agenda. The premier is very clear about that in her prickly legalistic way.

Advertisement 2

Article content

She is ensuring that the munis and their councils don’t become centres of opposition, compliant to Ottawa in the hunt for funding, and hence disloyal to the UCP and its goals.

“We want to make sure that municipalities are not creeping into provincial jurisdiction, and that they’re also not enacting policy and then are upset with the kind of policies that we’re trying to implement at the provincial level,” Smith said at a news conference.

“What we’ve observed is that the federal government is attempting to do a variety of workarounds to get their agenda passed, which may be in conflict to what it is that we want to do as a province.”

She’s referring to direct bilateral deals between municipal governments and Ottawa, which she will ban for just about every public authority in the province, from elected councils to school systems, universities and health care.

She continued: “There is also a need as well, I think, to give some clarity around the fact that we intend to defend our jurisdiction from a provincial point of view.”

Smith seems to be saying the UCP needs defending from its own local governments.

Article content

Advertisement 3

Article content

Recommended from Editorial

“And so we are taking every mechanism that we need to make sure that we’re asserting that the federal government has to talk with us when it comes to supporting municipalities.

“The Constitution doesn’t have a specific mandate for municipalities other than to say that they’re the responsibility of the province.”

Smith says the Bill 20 powers mostly exist now, at least in theory. They would only be used in “extreme” cases.

But the message to municipal leaders is that they’re subservient, not independent. Every action — even their election by Albertans — will be open to reversal.

Alberta governments are usually very careful not to offend the broad range of local leaders. These people have influence in their communities and can be very helpful in provincial election campaigns.

Advertisement 4

Article content

But local politicians also believe their first duty is to the people who elect them, not the provincial rulers.

Smith has pretty much shattered that illusion.

Alberta Municipalities, which represents 265 munis of all sizes covering 85 per cent of Alberta, responded with unprecedented fury.

“Alberta municipalities is concerned the bill will intimidate and even silence legally elected officials who dare to criticize the provincial government,” president Tyler Gandam told a news conference.

He said Bill 20 would “fundamentally redraw the blueprint of our local democracy” and set a dangerous precedent for future provincial governments.

Tyler Gandam
Wetaskiwin Mayor and President of Alberta Municipalities Tyler Gandam. David Bloom/Postmedia

Gandam, the mayor of Wetaskiwin, added that the UCP’s move is nothing less than “an attempt by the provincial government to grab more power and wield more control over how people live in their communities.”

These local bodies are often respectfully critical of specific provincial politics. Until now, not one of them has ever claimed the province is stifling their independence and threatening local democracy.

Smith is taking a big risk here. Why? The answer can only be that the UCP will brook no local dissent when the real crisis with Ottawa comes.

There’s a common view that Smith’s sovereignty zeal will fade away when the federal Conservatives are elected.

Don’t count on that. These deep structural limits to local independence may seem anti-Trudeau now, but they’ll be anti-federal in any era.

Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald

X: @DonBraid

Article content