Byron Hackett is the Managing Editor of the Red Deer Advocate.

HACKETT: Maybe chaos was the point all along

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you should be aware by now that Premier Danielle Smith tabled Bill 1 on Tuesday, the Alberta Sovereignty within a United Canada Act.

It has been a tad bit controversial.

Since that very moment, the act has been called a number of different things by a number of different people with different political leanings. Undemocratic, unconstitutional, a threat to democracy but also “likely constitutional” and “appears to be constitutional.”

There are those who believe the act will cause chaos to Alberta’s energy sector and other areas of investment and others who have said the Act makes Alberta the “most democratic province in Canada.”

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The best and most succinct summary I have found of the bill is this, it gives “the province’s cabinet the ability to rewrite laws and order government agencies, police, cities and universities to disregard federal legislation that the Alberta government deems unconstitutional or harmful to the province.”

That should be and is concerning.

Yet, one of the most concerning aspects of the past week has nothing to do with the Act itself.

Smith was elected leader of the United Conservative Party to the tune of 54 per cent of the membership. Just over 42,000 people, less than one per cent of Alberta’s entire population. This is to say– who is the mandate for the Act coming from?

Regular, everyday Albertans haven’t had a chance to tell the premier or the province that this is the avenue they want to pursue. That is not democracy.

Of course, elected MLAs will have a chance to vote down the bill or any amendments, but what incentive do they have to do so?

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Many of them were offered cushy cabinet positions, more cabinet positions in fact, than any other Alberta government in history. So, of course, they’re going to vote in favour of the person who offered them those posts. MLAs who decried the use of the sovereignty act while they were running for leadership, have suddenly fallen silent.

As for the actual Act, opinions are all over the map.

I’m not going to try and break down the nuances or specifics of the bill, people way smarter than me have been taking swings at that all week.

What does some of it mean? I can at least dive into that.

First, the word sovereignty seems to be tripping a lot of people up. Smith herself has spent plenty of time dissecting and both-siding her interpretation of it.

Merriam-Webster defines sovereignty in several different ways. Freedom from external control or one that is sovereign, especially an autonomous state.

To the premier, as she’s laid out in podcasts on several occasions, sovereignty simply means not bowing down to Ottawa or looking after our own interests first.

From that, people easily and quickly draw the line to separation or ignoring federal laws, which was written in the original Free Alberta strategy, from which the act was born out of.

Smith has been explicit on a number of occasions recently that separation is not the goal of Bill 1.

Trust her word as you choose.

Even going so far as to change the name of the bill from the Sovereignty Act, to the Sovereignty within a united Canada Act (which, on the surface, is an oxymoron, for you language fans out there).

It’s clear that even the premier and her allies recognize the danger of the word. The bill also explicitly lays out that it’s not about separation, for what it’s worth.

The problem here is the textbook definition and most people tend to read sovereignty as the literal definition of “freedom from external control,” a.k.a. separating from Canada. In the eyes of some, that’s the only way to get freedom from external control, no longer being a part of Canada.

Regardless of how you parse that, it’s clear the provincial government has created chaos within the province and confederation just hours after the act was proposed.

They issued a clarification one day after the bill was tabled, hours after the justice minister and the premier vehemently defended it, before admitting in its original form, it did give unintended powers to cabinet.

Former Justice Minister Kaycee Madu mused Thursday on Twitter that perhaps another clarification is needed. Smith has said she’s open to amendments.

For regular folks, a lot of the talk about the act has been muddied in lawyer and political speak. Depending on what you believe, that could be an intended or unintended consequence of the act in the first place.

Keep the language complicated enough so people don’t really understand and won’t question it, or potentially, the government didn’t know how to put what they actually wanted in plain enough language so that people will accept it.

Personally, I think chaos is precisely the point. Even if unintentionally, for two reasons.

For one, almost nobody was talking about the disaster of our healthcare system by Friday after Smith’s sovereignty act was introduced.

The second is to potentially sow mistrust in our government institutions in order to provide more self-serving ones. Like privatized health care and privatized education, all in the name of profit for those who are loyal to the premier and friends.

Smith even admitted Tuesday her government hopes they “never have to” use the sovereignty act. Which I think is a bit of hyperbole but also backs up the sentiment that it is being used as a bit of a political smoke screen.

She drew a very thin parallel to federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault’s no vote to a resolution on “phasing down oil and gas” at the UN’s Climate Talks before Bill 1 was introduced in Alberta.

Smith said it was Alberta’s pressure on the federal government, even in the implication of the act, that made them vote the way they did. A long stretch to find an example that proves her point, if you ask me.

Still, chaos, in short, is a tactic as old as time.

For a month or so, maybe people will stop talking about the healthcare crisis or the damaging impact of inflation. They’ll be debating to the ends of the earth her act and the powers that it does or doesn’t hold.

Chaos, once again, reigns supreme.

Byron Hackett is the Managing Editor of the Red Deer Advocate.

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