Braid: UCP is building Alberta sovereignty from the ground up, brick by brick

In the background, the UCP is building its sovereign Alberta in a way no government has done before

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It’s a lot of work, building a little sovereign enclave called Alberta in a great big country like Canada, but the UCP is hard at it.

The initial uproar over the Sovereignty Act created the impression that this new Alberta will emerge from some specific crisis with Ottawa — a flash-bang issue that forces the UCP to establish a quasi-independent state.

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But such fights are already going on: over the Impact Assessment Act and the federal refusal to fully accept a Supreme Court ruling; over clean electricity rules, which the UCP insists are ruinous for Alberta; over hard caps on oil and gas emissions.

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Last fall, the UCP passed the first legislature motion under the Sovereignty Act.

It enabled cabinet to force agencies and regulators to ignore federal electricity rules. Premier Danielle Smith promised to shield officials from any federal penalties.

That was dramatic. And yet, Smith’s responses are also surprisingly restrained — or Canadian, if you like.

She tackles the cases one by one, goes to court, insists her measures are fully constitutional, and in general sounds like the latest in a long line of boiling mad western premiers.

But in the background, the UCP is building its sovereign Alberta in a way no government has done before.

They’re laying the foundations brick by brick, from the ground up, preparing the province, Quebec-like, for the fullest degree of independence possible.

Since late 2022 the UCP has passed at least seven bills that give the government both stronger power against Ottawa, and, crucially, much wider authority within the province.

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First came the Sovereignty Act itself. It was soon followed by the Firearms Act, a direct response to Ottawa’s deeply troubled buy-back and seizure program.

That act overrides federal authority over gun control. It states that only officers appointed by the province — not by Ottawa — can seize firearms within the province.

Crucial to the whole sovereignty project is an Alberta pension. As planned, or dreamed, it would establish a huge capital pool under provincial control, much like the Quebec pension plan administered by the Caisse de Depot.

This gives Quebec financial clout — and autonomy from Ottawa — unmatched by any other province.

The pension proposal is unpopular in Alberta. That doesn’t stop the UCP. They brought in Bill 2, which promises nothing will be done without public approval in a referendum.

But the bill also says a referendum would not be binding unless cabinet declares it to be so. This gives the government wiggle room to keep trying until a positive vote emerges.

With Bill 11, the UCP established the framework for another key piece of the autonomy puzzle — a provincial police force to replace the Mounties.

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Ontario and Quebec have had provincial forces for many decades. There’s nothing radical about that. Also, the RCMP might withdraw from provincial policing in 2032.

But in Alberta, the proposal is highly political — and sovereigntist. Try to imagine Quebec without its Sureté du Québec, widely known as the “national” police force.

RCMP detachment
Signage is shown on the exterior of the RCMP detachment in Chestermere, east of Calgary on Tuesday, February 28, 2023. Photo by Jim Wells /Postmedia

Two recent moves also give the province far more control over local authorities.

The Provincial Priorities Act forbids them from entering into any agreement with Ottawa unless the province specifically agrees.

This applies to literally hundreds of municipal councils, boards of education, post-secondary schools, health regions, public agencies and Crown organizations.

They can’t take a penny without a provincial stamp of approval — a highly bureaucratic measure from a government that boasts a department of red tape reduction.

Then came the Municipal Affairs Statutes Amendment Act, which allows the province to fire elected councillors, cancel or change municipal bylaws, countermand local health mandates, outlaw electronic vote tabulators, and enable municipal political parties.

Many local officials say the province is flexing its power to force compliance and supress dissent.

They’re not far wrong. The UCP does not want internal opposition when the real crisis with Ottawa comes.

And so, they’re shaping Alberta to face Ottawa as a loyal and united little state, sealed off from the temptations of federal money.

Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald

X: @DonBraid

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