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Trudeau says he's 'not looking for a fight' over Alberta Sovereignty Act

National Post logo National Post 2022-11-30 Ryan Tumilty
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the APEC summit in Bangkok, Thailand on Friday, Nov. 18, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick © Provided by National Post Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the APEC summit in Bangkok, Thailand on Friday, Nov. 18, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government isn’t “looking for a fight” with Alberta Premier Danielle Smith over her Alberta Sovereignty Act, but said he also won’t take any options off the table.

Smith introduced her long-promised legislation in the Alberta legislature on Tuesday. It sets up a mechanism where Alberta could potentially ignore federal laws or regulations if it deems them harmful to the province’s interest or a constitutional overreach.

On his way into a caucus meeting Wednesday morning, Trudeau said the federal government will take a wait-and-see approach.

“I’m not going to take anything off the table, but I’m also not looking for a fight. We want to continue to be there to deliver for Albertans,” he said. “My focus is always going to be constructive in terms of delivering for people right across the country.”

Smith is set to face voters next spring. Trudeau said he knows many people in Alberta are also concerned about the powers in the legislation.

“We know that the exceptional powers that the premier is choosing to give the Alberta government in bypassing the Alberta legislature is causing a lot of eyebrows to raise in Alberta and we’re going to see how this plays out,” Trudeau said.

If the bill is passed it would set up a new process where provincial cabinet ministers could introduce motions in the legislature to deem a piece of federal legislation as hurtful or unconstitutional and propose measures to address the bill.

It would allow the government to order “provincial entities” like universities, health authorities, Crown corporations and school boards to ignore federal legislation.

Smith has said her proposal is not about separating from Canada. However, on Wednesday, she released a video on Twitter that described her plans not to enforce so-called Liberal laws that “attack” the province’s economy and individuals’ rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Former premier Jason Kenney, who waded into the leadership race for his replacement to call the sovereignty proposal “catastrophically stupid,” resigned after Smith tabled her plan Tuesday.

Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc cautioned against a swift reaction, noting the bill is not yet law.

“The bill was introduced at first reading. It wasn’t debated and it wasn’t passed. So I think before people start talking about challenging laws, I’m not even sure it’s constitutional to challenge a law that hasn’t been passed,” he said.

LeBlanc said the Liberals don’t believe there is an overwhelming demand on this issue and the government will continue focusing on other important issues for Canadians and Albertans.

“My colleagues from Alberta say that their constituency offices haven’t been lit up by people calling and insisting on having more sovereignty in the province,” he said. “They’re talking about issues as important as job creation, as immigration, as infrastructure, as joining in a collaborative effort to fight climate change.”

LeBlanc reiterated the federal government will watch for now.

“We think it’s not particularly constructive to try and peer around every corner and imagine what the scenario might be,” he said. “We’re very serene that we’re occupying federal jurisdiction in a constructive and positive way.”

One of several pieces of federal legislation Smith has identified as going too far is the Liberals’ firearms bills, which include a mandate to buy back thousands of rifles that were legally purchased.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said he has no concerns that Alberta’s bill could challenge their firearms rules.

“It’s been established very clearly for more than 20 years now by the Supreme Court of Canada that when it comes to laws that pertain to firearms regulations that falls squarely within the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal government to set policy.”

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said the federal government should be taking a more aggressive stance on the act, which he argued could make lives more difficult for Albertans.

“We think the government can start with looking at (a) legal challenge, getting that ready right away in terms of how this is unconstitutional, and the potential risk or threat that something like the Sovereignty Act could pose,” he said.

Singh argued Smith could use the bill to ignore the Canada Health Act, making health care worse in the province.

Alberta Conservative MP Matt Jeneroux said he didn’t have all the details, but his focus is on ensuring the federal government treats his province better.

“As a federal MP what I’m entirely focused on is bringing in a government in Ottawa that better respects Alberta.”

With additional reporting by The Canadian Press

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Email: rtumilty@postmedia.com

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