EDMONTON — Alberta’s lieutenant-governor says it's not a done deal that she would automatically sign off on a proposal from a United Conservative Party leadership candidate to pass a bill aimed at ignoring federal laws and court rulings.
Salma Lakhani says she would seek legal advice as required, but says she is duty-bound to ensure the Constitution is followed.
“We will try and cross that bridge when we get to it, and we will get the appropriate advice that we need as to whether we can sign, whether it’s against our Constitution,” Lakhani said Thursday when asked about the sovereignty act bill proposed by former Wildrose party leader Danielle Smith.
Lakhani’s signature is required to have any law take effect. She acknowledged that some view her role as purely ceremonial and that she should simply sign any bill that passes the legislature and let the courts handle any disagreements.
She said she doesn’t view her role that way.
“We are a constitutional monarchy, and this is where we keep checks and balances,” she said.
“I’m what I would call a constitutional fire extinguisher. We don’t have to use it a lot, but sometimes we do.
“We want to do the right thing for our people and for our Constitution.”
Lakhani added it’s critical Alberta uphold the rule of law, saying she has firsthand experience after she and others of South Asian origin were expelled from an authoritarian Uganda.
“I appreciate very, very much the rule of law. I think we have to guard it and we have respect it and we also have to guard democracy. These are gifts,” she said.
Smith is the perceived front-runner among seven candidates vying to replace Jason Kenney as party leader and premier.
Candidate Brian Jean took to Twitter to address Lakhani’s comments.
“I am extremely uncomfortable with the lieutenant-governor getting political,” Jean wrote.
“That said, Danielle Smith's lack of clarity on this issue is already causing a constitutional crisis. To end this controversy, Smith must produce the text of the sovereignty act before UCP members vote.”
The act is Smith’s centrepiece policy.
She grabbed the headlines with it in June as the campaign heated up, promising to pass a bill designed to ignore federal laws and court rulings as a way to administer a shock to a “lawless” federal government undermining Alberta’s economy.
However, legal scholars labelled the act illegal and a betrayal of the rule of law. Other politicians have stepped up to criticize it.
Smith then started describing it as symbolic and a simple recitation of rights similar to those exercised by Quebec.
Her team responded to Lakhani in a one-line statement: “As Danielle has said repeatedly, she will work collaboratively with caucus to ensure the sovereignty act is drafted in accordance with sound constitutional language and principles.”
Kenney has called Smith’s proposal “nuts” and government house leader Jason Nixon has questioned whether such a bill could pass in the form Smith has proposed.
Most of the other candidates in the leadership race say the act is not only legally dubious, but would see business and investment flee a province stricken by confusion over which rules apply on which day.
Smith has been challenged to wait until the spring general election and seek a popular mandate for the sovereignty act. Smith has declined, saying she feels she has enough popular support now to pursue it.
Confusion over the act was evident earlier this week when Smith, during the two hours of a leadership debate, described her plan at various times as a legislative cudgel and a restatement of existing values.
“It (the sovereignty act) gets us in a sovereign frame of mind," she said.
That later prompted candidate Travis Toews to turn to Smith and ask, “What sovereignty act are you talking about today?
“The one that chases tens of billions of dollars out of this province, or the one that’s completely benign (while) over-promising and under-delivering?”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 1, 2022.
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press