Alberta’s lieutenant governor says it’s not a done deal that she would automatically approve a proposal by a United Conservative Party leadership candidate to pass a bill to ignore federal laws and court decisions.
Salma Lakhani says she would seek legal advice if needed, but says she is obligated to ensure the Constitution is upheld.
“We will try to cross that bridge when we get there, and we will get the proper advice that we need on whether we can sign, if it is against our Constitution,” Lakhani said Thursday of the bill on sovereignty proposed by former Wildrose party leader Danielle Smith.
Lakhani’s signature is required for any law to come into effect. She acknowledged that some view her role as purely ceremonial and that she should simply sign any bill passed by the legislature and let the courts handle any disagreements.
She said she didn’t see her role that way.
“We are a constitutional monarchy, and that’s where we keep checks and balances,” she said.
“I am what I would call a constitutional fire extinguisher. We don’t have to use it much, but sometimes we do.
“We want to do the right thing for our people and for our Constitution.”
Lakhani added that it is essential that Alberta upholds the rule of law, saying she has first-hand experience after she and others of South Asian descent were deported from authoritarian Uganda. .
“I value the rule of law very much. I think we have to protect and respect it and we also have to protect democracy. These are gifts,” she said.
Smith is seen as the favorite among seven candidates vying to replace Jason Kenney as party leader and prime minister.
Candidate Brian Jean took to Twitter to respond to Lakhani’s comments.
“I am extremely uncomfortable with the lieutenant governor becoming 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 centerpiece policy.
She made headlines in June as the campaign escalated, vowing to pass a bill designed to ignore federal laws and court rulings in order to administer a shock to a “lawless” federal government that is undermining Alberta’s economy.
However, jurists called this act illegal and a betrayal of the rule of law. Other politicians have stepped in to criticize him.
Smith then began to describe it as a symbol 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 many times, she will work collaboratively with the caucus to ensure that the sovereignty law is drafted in accordance with common language and sound constitutional principles.”
Kenney called Smith’s proposal “crazy” and Government House Leader Jason Nixon questioned whether such a bill could pass in the form Smith proposed.
Most of the other leadership contenders say the law is not only legally dodgy, but would see businesses and investments flee a province beset by confusion over which rules apply on which day.
Smith was challenged to wait for the spring general election and seek a popular mandate for the Sovereignty Act. Smith declined, saying she believes she has enough popular support to sue him.
Confusion over the law was evident earlier this week when Smith, during a two-hour leadership debate, repeatedly described his plan as a legislative cudgel and a reaffirmation of existing values.
“It (the Sovereignty Act) puts us in a sovereign mindset,” she said.
This then prompted candidate Travis Toews to turn to Smith and ask, “What sovereignty law are you talking about today?”
“The one who chases tens of billions of dollars out of this province, or the one who is completely benign (while) over-promising and under-delivering?”
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on September 1, 2022.