As much as one hates to agree with Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, the man’s not wrong to call Conservative leadership front-runner Danielle Smith’s “Sovereignty Act” proposal “just nuts.”
Responding to reporters’ questions this week during a news conference to announce a weak vanity advertising effort to woo young professionals from Toronto and Vancouver to Alberta, Kenney excoriated Smith’s proposal as “a de facto plan for separatism.”
“This would be a disaster for Alberta,” he stated. “It would massively drive away investment, it would cause people to leave the province, businesses not to come here...”
“Instead of being able to attract people we’d start to hemorrhage people,” said the premier, who announced his plan to quit in May after receiving only 51.4-per-cent support in a leadership review vote.
If Alberta adopted a policy of ignoring the courts and the rule of law to assert its sovereignty, he asked, “Why wouldn’t other provinces?”
“If the principle of the so-called Sovereignty Act were to be accepted by other Canadian provinces,” he warned, pausing for emphasis, “farewell pipelines!”
Kenney mocked the notion held by some of Smith’s supporters that in such circumstances the United Nations could make British Columbia permit a pipeline it didn’t want on its territory.
During a broadcast Saturday of his personal on-air Corus radio program, the soon-to-be-ex premier told a listener that Alberta “would become a laughing stock” if the legislature passed the Sovereignty Act as proposed by former right-wing radio host Smith.
Lt.-Gov. Salma Lakhani would almost certainly refuse to sign it, Kenney predicted. And “if a lieutenant-governor were, in the unthinkable circumstance, to grant it royal assent, it would immediately be struck down by the courts.”
That’s happened before in Alberta — the last time the province had a radio preacher for a premier, as a matter of fact.
When premier William Aberhart’s Social Credit government passed laws in 1937 that brazenly invaded federal jurisdiction, Lt.-Gov. John C. Bowen exercised his vice-regal prerogative and refused to allow the legislation.
Aberhart had more democratic legitimacy when he was overwhelmingly elected in 1935 than any new United Conservative Party premier will in 2022. He got the job in a general election, not as a result of a party vote to replace an unpopular premier.
But it’s still pretty bold for Kenney to make this argument, seeing as he held a divisive and constitutionally meaningless referendum on Canada’s equalization program during a low-turnout municipal election to please the same portion of the UCP’s increasingly extremist base that now supports Smith.
When Kenney made his remarks Saturday, tout le monde in political Alberta hopped down the rabbit hole of whether or not a premier about to be put out to pasture should be criticizing the proposals of candidates to replace him, something he promised not to do.
The debate split predictably between Smith’s supporters and those who would prefer to see a more conventional politician with a better chance of defeating the NDP in the next election at the helm. Kenney responded yesterday by claiming he was only assailing the proposal, not the person who made it.
For her part, Smith argued that, never mind its blatantly unconstitutional premise, no one should judge the constitutionality of her proposal until they’ve actually seen the legislation.
This all meant there wasn’t much discussion of the fact Smith has also promised to ignore anything the courts have to say on the matter, and just what else might happen if Alberta gets stuck with an unelected Q-adjacent radical as premier.
Kenney’s former principal secretary Howard Anglin had earlier ventured into the same territory, deconstructing Smith’s proposal in more colourful language.
Calling Smith’s Sovereignty Act idea “a scam,” Anglin suggested anyone who believes it would work is acting like a circus sideshow visitor who looked at “a mangy monkey-torso artfully attached to half a dried fish” and saw a mermaid.
Ensuring everyone understood his position, Anglin called Smith’s big idea “baloney, bunk, balderdash and bunkum. Hooey, hogwash and hokum. Flim-flam, tommyrot, poppycock and fiddle.”
Like Kenney, Anglin argued that having a premier peddling constitutional snake oil like the Alberta Sovereignty Act isn’t going to benefit the province’s economy.
“In politics, scams like the Alberta Sovereignty Act have real life consequences. If Smith or any other leader is foolish enough to follow this fraudulent scheme, real jobs will be lost and real people will suffer. It will be the Alberta Suicide Act.”
But Smith has momentum. MLAs previously committed to other candidates to replace Kenney or just biding their time to see who would emerge as the likely winner are starting to move to her camp.
It seems likely this will have the biggest impact on the campaign of former finance minister Travis Toews, the accountant, rancher and neophyte politician from Beaverlodge who at the start of the race had the apparent imprimatur of Kenney and the United Conservative Party establishment.
Back then, Toews looked steady, if a little dull. Now, apparently, party members just find him dull. His campaign feels a bit like a ship taking on water while still tied up at the dock.
A week ago, Nathanael Glubish, minister of Service Alberta, became the second Conservative MLA to drop his endorsement of Toews and defect to Smith.
The first was Lesser Slave Lake MLA Pat Rehn, best known for being temporarily kicked out of the UCP caucus after his mid-pandemic Mexican winter holiday in 2021.
Other United Conservative Party caucus members now openly supporting Smith include Labour and Immigration Minister Kaycee Madu, former agriculture minister Devin Dreeshen (who left cabinet after allegations of drinking and tolerance of sexual harassment in his office last fall), Airdrie-Cochrane MLA Peter Guthrie, Lethbridge-East MLA Nathan Neudorf and Calgary-Falconridge MLA Devinder Toor.
Meanwhile, early this month Airdrie MLA Angela Pitt quit her role as former transportation minister Rajan Sawhney’s campaign chair, according to one theory because she risked losing her nomination to Smith supporters in her riding angry about Sawhney’s sharp criticism of the Sovereignty Act idea. One of the scheme’s authors is former Wildrose party Airdrie MLA Rob Anderson, now Smith’s campaign manager.
Facing the challenge of coming up with a Plan B to stave off a disaster of the Danielle Smith variety, Kenney must be kicking himself for not sticking to his vow before his leadership review that 51 per cent would be good enough for him to remain as premier.
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