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Trudeau says nothing is off the table when it comes to Smith's new sovereignty act

Prime minister said Wednesday his government will be watching closely what happens next, but added he is not looking for a fight.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives to a cabinet meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022. Trudeau says nothing is off the table when it comes to Alberta Premier Danielle Smith's new sovereignty act. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

OTTAWA — Nothing is off the table when it comes to responding to newly proposed legislation that would give Alberta Premier Danielle Smith's government "exceptional powers," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday.

Trudeau stopped briefly on his way into a Liberal caucus meeting to address the long-awaited legislation Smith's government introduced Tuesday in the provincial legislature. 

The bill, called the Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act, proposes to give Smith's cabinet the power to rewrite provincial laws without legislative debate.

Trudeau said his government will be watching closely what happens next.

"I'm not going to take anything off the table," he said.

"I'm also not looking for a fight," he added.

"We want to continue to be there to deliver for Albertans."

Smith promised the legislation when she was a candidate in the United Conservative Party leadership race to replace former premier Jason Kenney. She characterized the bill as a way to push back against Ottawa.

Frustration with the federal government over equalization payments and resource development has been a long-standing issue in Alberta. That anger is part of what Smith is hoping to tap into with the new bill. 

Critics of it, however, say it proposes to consolidate power around Smith's cabinet.

"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," said Trudeau. "We're going to see how this plays out."

Under Smith's bill, her cabinet would have the power to direct "provincial entities," from municipalities to regional health authorities, not to use the money it receives from the province to enforce federal rules it deems to hurt Alberta's interests.

Liberal MP Anthony Housefather, who represents a riding on the Island of Montreal, says Smith's proposed bill does not offer the stability sought by businesses or residents and feels her proposal goes too far. 

"I don't think that this is appropriate for a province to determine whether or not a federal law exceeds it's constitutionality. That is for a court," he told reporters. 

"If Alberta eventually adopts this bill, we'll have to see how they use it," he said. 

"I think it's more a question of how Canadians see their country … I feel very strongly that as a Canadian, everybody should play in their lane and playing in their lane means that legislatures don't determine whether something is constitutional from a different level of government."

While Smith has said she hopes the bill does not need to be used, briefing materials provided to reporters show her government is prepared to do so as early as next spring to deal with issues ranging from health care to property rights. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 30, 2022. 

Stephanie Taylor and Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

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