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Kenney calls Alberta sovereignty act idea backed by UCP leadership candidate ‘nuts’

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EDMONTON – Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has so far declined to pick a favourite in the race to succeed him, but when asked to comment on a prominent platform plank of one of the leading candidates, referred to it as “nuts.”

Kenney was appearing on his provincewide radio show on CHED and CHQR on Saturday when he was asked via text for his opinion of the Alberta sovereignty act, which has been proposed by United Conservative Party leadership candidate Danielle Smith.

Smith has said if she wins the leadership, she will bring in a bill this fall to give Alberta the power to ignore federal laws and court rulings deemed not in the province’s interest.

Legal scholars say such a bill would be illegal, unenforceable and a dangerous dismissal of respect for the rule of law.

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Kenney said he’s certain that even if the Legislature passed the law, the lieutenant-governor would refuse to give it royal assent and Alberta would become a “laughing stock.”

Smith chastised Kenney in a statement Sunday for “interference” in the leadership contest, saying his comments were “ill-informed and disrespectful to a large and growing majority of UCP members that support this important initiative.”

“If elected to replace him as Leader and Premier, I will work closely and collaboratively with our entire UCP Caucus to ensure the Sovereignty Act is drafted, passed and implemented in accordance with sound constitutional language and principles,” Smith said in her statement.

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“Perhaps the Premier and other ‘experts’ should reserve their opinion on this legislation until they can actually read it first.”

Kenney announced in May that he was leaving the top job after receiving 51 per cent support in a party leadership review, but he’s staying on until party members pick a replacement on Oct. 6.

Smith, who started out with a handful of supporters in the United Conservative caucus and cabinet, has seen more in-house support in recent days, including some who had initially pledged to back rival Travis Toews.

Almost every week Kenney takes to the airwaves, the program’s host Wayne Nelson or a caller asks for his opinion on the leadership race. He never bites, and his response to the question about Smith’s proposed legislation appears to be a rare deviation from that.

Kenney summed up the legislation idea as “a proposal for Alberta to basically ignore and violate the Constitution in a way unprecedented in Canadian history.” He compared it to the 1930s when the government of then-premier William Aberhart attempted to pass unconstitutional legislation which the lieutenant-governor refused to sign, escalating to the point where Aberhart cut off the utilities and fired the staff at the vice-regal’s official residence.

“So we would become a laughing stock, with the lieutenant-governor doing her job, which is to ensure that the rule of law and the constitution is respected,” Kenney said.

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“If a lieutenant-governor were, in the unthinkable circumstance, to grant it royal assent, it would immediately be struck down by the courts.”

Political scientist Duane Bratt noted last week that while the other two main contenders in the leadership race have excoriated Smith’s plan, they have adopted versions of it.

Toews has promised his government would seek to levy tariffs on goods and services or imports from specific regions to counter rules and policies deemed unfair to Alberta. Brian Jean has pledged to affirm that the Alberta Bill of Rights is paramount over Section 1 of the Constitution.

Kenney said his government has been successfully battling Ottawa while the sovereignty act would jeopardize investor confidence.

“We should be talking about real, practical ways to fight unfair Ottawa policies, fight for a stronger Alberta. That’s exactly what we’re doing.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 14, 2022.

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