On November 29, 2022, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith and her United Conservative Party (UCP) introduced Bill 1: the Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act. The bill’s sweeping claims have already raised enough concern that Smith has had to concede that aspects of it grossly overstep the limits of democracy, and that she will be amending it to remove a clause that would allow cabinet to rewrite legislation behind closed doors without consultation with, or approval from, legislature. Even without the anti-democratic language, the Sovereignty Act is a threat to the commons, affects climate targets, and is precedent-setting. In addition, it violates the treaty rights and duties of all treaty peoples and violates the inherent rights of all Indigenous peoples within the boundaries of Alberta. It is a dangerous development that challenges the fundamental democratic principles that Canadians value and consider foundational to the nation.
Although Saskatchewan’s government has taken pains to make it clear that their recently introduced Saskatchewan First bill is in a different vein than the Alberta Sovereignty Act, both pieces of legislation have similar goals. They seek to allow the provincial governments of their respective provinces to avoid complying with national climate legislation and they put the accumulation and protection of corporate profits ahead of the protection of the environment and the commons. At their core, these bills express a desire to continue to pollute and emit CO2 without restriction, while allowing the continued sell-off and development of land currently held in common.
The bills are rooted in longstanding Western grievances with the Canadian state, chief among them that much legislative power is consolidated in the East and Canada unilaterally makes decisions that are economically and/or socially harmful to Western provinces without offering much in the way of alternatives. “Actions taken by the Parliament of Canada and the Government of Canada have infringed on the rights and freedoms of Albertans enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in an unjustified and unconstitutional manner,” the Alberta sovereignty bill reads.
Like all good lies, there is a kernel of truth at the centre of Smith’s bill. Alberta (and, to a lesser extent, Saskatchewan) has an undiversified economy that is heavily dependent on fossil fuel extraction, which makes decisions that require economic shifts away from fossil fuels – like, for example, climate change and just transition legislation – have a particularly acute impact on Alberta’s prosperity. Rather than seeking opportunities to diversify these extractive economies, to create a sustainable, socially and environmentally just foundation in which everyone has access to the necessities of life, this kind of legislation seeks to further entrench fossil fuel dependence.
The people of Alberta and Saskatchewan deserve better. They deserve diversified economies that provide interesting, challenging, and sustainable jobs in industries that don’t contribute to the devastation of the environment and the water, land, and air we need to survive. They deserve leaders who understand that the best science tells us we must transition away from fossil fuels immediately, and act accordingly in a way that is socially and economically just. As an organization dedicated to People, the Planet, and Democracy, we will be keeping a close eye on the proposed Alberta Sovereignty Act. While Premier Smith has said she hopes to never use the law, we cannot afford to overlook this dangerous and precedent-setting attack on federalism, democracy, and the environment. We are in the process of reaching out to allies and organizations concerned about this legislation, will continue to follow how this legislation develops, and will be in touch about opportunities to intervene and engage in opposition to all that the Alberta Sovereignty Act entails for Albertans, and Canadians.
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