THE WEST BLOCK
Episode 12, Season 12
Sunday, December 4, 2022
Host: Mercedes Stephenson
Danielle Smith, Alberta Premier
Petro Poroshenko, Former Ukrainian President
Mercedes Stephenson: Alberta’s premier sends a direct message to Ottawa: stay out of our province and keep your politics to yourself. But critics say Danielle Smith’s proposed Sovereignty Act is a power grab that goes much further than that.
And a former Ukrainian president’s appeal for unity against Russia, to forget about diplomacy and deliver a message he says Putin understands: a fight.
I’m Mercedes Stephenson. Welcome to The West Block.
Proposed new legislation to give Alberta the power not to enforce federal laws it considers harmful and that would allow cabinet to unilaterally change bills is being called undemocratic. Is it? We’ll talk to Premier Danielle Smith about why she thinks Alberta needs the Sovereignty Act.
And as Russia continues to target Ukraine’s critical infrastructure, leaving millions without heat, power or water, a candid interview with former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko about what it will take to end Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith followed through on a campaign promise last week and introduced a bill aimed squarely at the federal government. It’s called the Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act, and it would give the province the power to not enforce federal laws that it considers harmful to Alberta’s interests.
In Ottawa, a muted response to the move from the prime minister:
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “We’re going to see how this plays out. I’m not going to take anything off the table, but I’m also not looking for a fight. We want to continue to be there to deliver for Albertans. There’s going to be things that we agree with that government on. There’s going to be things we disagree with them on. And my focus is always going to be, to be constructive in terms of delivering for people right across the country.”
Mercedes Stephenson: Some constitutional experts are calling the proposed legislation undemocratic as it grants sweeping powers to the provincial cabinet, while critics say it’s not necessary in the first place. Obviously, the premier disagrees with that and she’s joining me now. Danielle Smith joins me from Alberta. Premier, thank you for making time for us today. Nice to see you.
Danielle Smith, Alberta Premier: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Mercedes Stephenson: I have to be honest with you. I was a little bit surprised when I saw this bill, knowing your background and some of your more libertarian tendencies that you would write a clause into this that allows cabinet to unilaterally make changes. Why is that in the bill and are you seriously considering taking that out?
Danielle Smith, Alberta Premier: Well I think the intention of the bill was to make sure that everything was validated through the legislature. It’s why we’ve taken the process of if there is a motion that would need to come forward that would assert provincial jurisdiction, that it would be debated first in the legislature. I understand there’s a problem with one of the clauses. People have raised some concerns about us. We’re taking a look at that. If we need to tidy a few things up, then we’ll do that because the intention has always been to make sure that anything that we do, any action that we take, has been fully debated by those who are represented to represent the interests of the people of Alberta. And if that is not—that’s being misconstrued or it’s not clear, then we can certainly work to clarify that. I’m taking feedback on it, and we’ll see if we need to do anything to tidy it up next week.
Mercedes Stephenson: I mean that seems like more than basic housekeeping. That seems pretty major. If you had a clause that says cabinet can unilaterally change it, and now you’re saying no, it’s the legislature. I mean the legislature has always had the rule of passing bills. What was remarkable about this is that it allowed cabinet to alter it after it had passed the legislature without being voted again on MLAs. So, you know, did you ever intend on using this? Was it a political statement? Is it just that you’re rushing this through? How does something that big that’s inaccurate, if that’s what you’re saying, end up in a bill?
Danielle Smith, Alberta Premier: Well I guess the thing is enactments take two forms. I mean we’re getting a bit into the weeds, but you know how you have statutes and you also have regulations, it’s pretty understood that cabinet has the ability to do ministerial orders, to make changes in regulations, to do directives, to make changes in policy. I think we just have to be very clear that any statutory change has to return to the legislature. That was always the intention of it. If that’s not clear, then I may have to just make some amendments to make sure that’s underscored.
Mercedes Stephenson: Yeah, I mean well not only was it not clear, it was in the bill. But I have to wonder, you know if Justin Trudeau said that he wanted a power like that what your reaction would be?
Danielle Smith, Alberta Premier: Well, my reaction would be that you put legislation forward to get feedback. It goes through multiple readings, you make amendments. And if there’s some amendments that we need to make, to make sure that we underscore and clarify that the legislature has the ultimate say when it comes to statutory change, then we’ll do that.
Mercedes Stephenson: Is there anything on your radar right now as you look at this Alberta Sovereignty Within United Canada Act and you say this is my first target. It’s going to be the gun legislation and the changes that there’s been this political bun fight over this week in Ottawa. Is there, you know, the carbon tax? Do you have a particular target in mind at this point, to use the act?
Danielle Smith, Alberta Premier: Two in particular. One of the issues that we’ve seen in the last number of months is a consultation that would impose a strict emissions cap on our oil and natural gas industry. They want to—they’ve been polling and doing consultation on a policy that would apply only to oil and natural gas, to reduce emissions 42 per cent by 2030. That’s eight short years. Now if you have an emissions cap that is that aggressive in such a short period of time, where there is no technological capacity to reach it, that is a de facto production cap and that would be a violation of the Constitution. We have exclusive right to develop our resources and to determine the rate of production, to conserve them and to get them to market and that would be one area if the federal government tried to proceed with something like that, that we would use the Sovereignty Act as a shield. And similarly to that, the fertilizer cap. We have some of the most effective farmers in Western Canada who are using fertilizer to produce massive quantities of food, but they’re doing it effectively and efficiently. Nobody wants to waste that resource and yet we’ve got a federal government that wants to reduce emissions, 30 per cent in the same period of time. Once again, if you don’t have the technology, capacity to do it in this too short a period then it’s a de facto production cap. And in my view, and incidentally in the view of Premier Scott Moe, that would also be a violation of the Constitution and another way that we would use the Sovereignty Act as a shield.
Mercedes Stephenson: If the federal government is doing things that are unconstitutional, then they’re unconstitutionally you can challenge them in court. Why do you need the Sovereignty Act to do that?
Danielle Smith, Alberta Premier: Well I think what has happened in the past is we’ve been very passive. I think we have felt like Ottawa was on our side and would work collaboratively with us. We’ve seen that’s not the case. When we sit back, then they take draconian action and then force us to earn our rights back. We’ve seen that with Bill C-48, which is a tanker ban that applies only to Alberta products. We saw that with Bill C-69, all 10 provinces are onboard with fighting against federal intrusion into our provincial jurisdictions. We’re seeing with the plastics ban and declaring it toxic. We’re now having to fight that in court and this is the problem, is that the federal government passes clearly unconstitutional legislation and then forces us to go to the court to get our rights back. What we would be doing is we’d say upfront, sorry, but we’re not enforcing that. And if they want to go to court, take us to court to try to declare somehow that they do have a right to invade our constitution then they’re the ones who can fight it out. And in the meantime, we’re going to provide an investment climate that allows people to have some certainty that they can continue to invest in our province. You have to remember, the number one thing causing the most investment uncertainty in Alberta right now is federal government, federal regulatory uncertainty, federal intrusion and laws that just don’t make sense. And so this is what I’m very concerned about is making sure that we continue to support our business community and that means fighting back against laws that shouldn’t be passed in the first place by the federal government.
Mercedes Stephenson: A number of folks in the business community have said they’re worried that it is—this law could have that very approach, that it could cause capital flight from Alberta, that people won’t be confident. And you’re also telling me that the federal government’s doing things that are unconstitutional. If that’s the case, that can all be challenged in court without the Sovereignty Act, which leads me to my next question. I’m from Alberta. I’m very familiar with the Alberta firewall letter. I know the sentiment of many Albertans that they want more Alberta and less Ottawa. You see the billboards of it out there. Is this really about having an act and legislation, or is this about making a political statement?
Danielle Smith, Alberta Premier: We have tried in Alberta to have a constructive relationship with the rest of the country. Rachel Notley passed a carbon tax and a cap on emissions and phased out coal hoping we’d get social license and instead, we got cancellation of projects: the Northern Gateway project, Energy East, Tech Frontier Mine and so on. We had—our former premier went to Quebec to try to see if we could get an agreement on LNG export, and initially we thought we had one. And then all of a sudden, cancellation of Port Saguenay and cancellation of oil and gas leases of our firms here. And on top of that, we had a referendum on equalization: 62 per cent of people said we wanted to take equalization out of the Constitution and the federal government response to that was Steven Guilbeault, an environment minister who has done nothing but attack our province ever since. So I think we’ve tried to be a constructive partner in Confederation and it hasn’t worked, so we’ve got to try something different and that’s what the Sovereignty Act is all about. It’s about defending our constitutional right, our constitutional jurisdiction, which quite frankly, Ottawa has been trampling over for the last number of years.
Mercedes Stephenson: Well I mean there’s a lot of experts who say that this law in and of itself is unconstitutional, though, because you’re saying you’re not going to enforce federal laws which have nothing to do with provincial jurisdiction. What’s your response to those folks?
Danielle Smith, Alberta Premier: We have gone through teams of lawyers looking at it and I can—you know, I suppose you can point to some that say it’s unconstitutional. I can point to several who say it absolutely is constitutional, because what it does is it—it acknowledges the actual spade of our country. Our country, when I pass laws in Alberta, I don’t have to seek the approval of Justin Trudeau to pass them. It is buy-in with the consent of the King. It’s with his Majesty’s consent, and that tells us something about how our country is set up. The federal government has sovereign rights in its area of jurisdictions and we have our sovereign rights in our areas of jurisdiction. We’ve been acting like a subordinate level of government to Ottawa. Just because Ottawa introduces something, doesn’t mean they have a right to do that. And we are drawing a very clear line that if Ottawa wants to have a constructive relationship with our province, and I want to have a constructive relationship with Ottawa, they have to stay in their own lane and they have to allow us the jurisdiction that we are entitled to, to make sure that we can make our own decisions.
Mercedes Stephenson: We just have a few seconds left, but do you think that this move is going to help you win the provincial election in May?
Danielle Smith, Alberta Premier: Well I’m looking forward to actually winning some important political battles with Ottawa right now. I mean what I’m hoping for is that in seeing that we want to be a constructive partner that we want to work with them on meeting our international commitments, but we want to do it in a way that doesn’t crush our industry. We want to do it in a way that supports our industry. We want to do LNG export. We want to look at carbon technology. We want to make sure that we develop our hydrogen economy. And if we can do all of those things collaboratively, I would see no reason why we would need to invoke this Act. I’ve seen some early signs that the federal government is beginning to understand this, the fact that Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault did not sign the final communiqué of COP27. He said because in doing so, he would be violating the provincial rights over natural resource development and we’d face a legal challenge that he would lose. I’ve never heard the environment minister speak that way before, so I think the Sovereignty Act has already had the effect that I was looking for, which is to make sure that Ottawa stays in its lane. And as long as they do that, we’re going to have a very constructive relationship.
Mercedes Stephenson: And certainly a muted response from the prime minister so far. We’ll certainly be keeping on top of this issue. Thank you so much for joining us today, Premier Smith.
Danielle Smith, Alberta Premier: My pleasure. Thank you.
Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, one-on-one with former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.
Petro Poroshenko, Former Ukrainian President: “Putin weaponized energy, oil and gas. Putin weaponized the nuclear contamination and now he weaponized electricity.”
Mercedes Stephenson: NATO foreign ministers, including Canada’s Melanie Joly, reaffirmed their support for Ukraine at meetings in Romania last week.
Ukraine very much wants to join NATO and NATO’s secretary general says the door is open, but the focus for now he says, is on ending Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko says joining NATO and the European Union will be key to Ukraine’s future. I sat down with him at the Halifax International Security Forum, to talk about the war and what Canada can do to help.
Here’s our conversation:
Mercedes Stephenson: Mr. Poroshenko, thank you so much for joining us today and welcome to Canada.
Petro Poroshenko, Former Ukrainian President: Thank you very much, indeed, for your hospitality.
Mercedes Stephenson: It’s a very difficult time for Ukraine as you prepare to head into another winter of war. Can you share with Canadians what the experience is like for the Ukrainian people right now?
Mercedes Stephenson: You’ve been speaking with our minister of national defence. Is your sense that Canada is going to support you in those requests for more weapons, for approving Ukraine’s membership and NATO being fast-tracked? Are you getting the sense the Trudeau government is behind you?
Petro Poroshenko, Former Ukrainian President: No doubt, and I have these feelings since—this feeling since the year 2014, when we launched a special program for cooperation and Canada was among the first nation in the world since the beginning of the war, because I want to remind you that Putin attacked us in the year 2014, and that was not only Crimea, that was his plan to create so-called Novorossiya, divided the country by half and we threw Russians away from two thirds of the occupied Donbas, from Kharkiv, from Kherson and from all these regions, which is now.
Mercedes Stephenson: Do you believe that Vladimir Putin is willing to go further than Ukraine? Is he willing to strike a NATO country?
Mercedes Stephenson: How do you stop him then?
Mercedes Stephenson: Mr. Poroshenko, we appreciate your time and the Ukrainian people are in all of our thoughts and our hearts at this difficult time. Thank you for sitting down with us.
Petro Poroshenko, Former Ukrainian President: Thank you. And remember, I invite you to visit Kyiv.
Mercedes Stephenson: Thank you. I would love that.
Petro Poroshenko, Former Ukrainian President: To visit Ukraine. And believe me, this is now the place where the future of the world is defined.
Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, another veteran speaks out about being offered Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD).
Mercedes Stephenson: Back in August when Global News first broke the story that a Veteran’s Affairs employee had allegedly inappropriately and repeatedly brought up Medical Assistance in Dying to a veteran, the government insisted that it was an isolated case, a one-off. But it seems that’s not true, as another veteran has come forward at a parliamentary committee on Thursday, alleging that she, too, was offered MAiD by a VAC employee.
Retired Cpl. and former Para-Olympian Christine Gauthier, who testified at the House of Commons Veterans Committee says she, too, received an unwelcome offer.
Christine Gauthier, Retired Cpl.: “I can’t believe that you will in less amount of time give me an injection to help me die, but you will not give me the tools I need to help me live?”
Mercedes Stephenson: Last week, Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence McCauley testified that the number of veterans who had been offered MAiD had risen to as many as five. Gauthier’s testimony brings the total number of cases up to six. It is not yet known if Gauthier’s case is linked to the now suspended employee who made the offer in the other cases, allegedly. RCMP have been contacted to investigate. We’ll be watching closely to see if any more veterans come forward through those committee hearings, in coming days.
That’s our show for today. Thanks for watching. For The West Block, I’m Mercedes Stephenson and I’ll see you next Sunday. Have a great week.