Premier Danielle Smith’s proposed Sovereignty Act, introduced Tuesday in the Alberta legislature, won’t hurt foreign investment by triggering constitutional battles with Ottawa, Finance Minister Travis Toews said Wednesday.
Toews told a roundtable of community newspaper reporters in southern Alberta that the UCP government is eyeing volatility now affecting international commodity prices, especially oil.
“When we take a look at the uncertainty right now that we see in the economy globally, which always has an impact on commodity prices and creates volatility in those prices, we have to always budget with that in mind here in the province of Alberta,” Toews said.
But the Sovereignty Act, he said, will ensure “certainty and predictability” because it upholds the rule of law and the Canadian Constitution.
Toews was openly critical of Smith’s Alberta Sovereignty Act during the recent UCP leadership race, in which both were candidates, when Smith said the act would empower the province to override federal laws, policies and programs the legislature determined to be unconstitutional or hurtful to Alberta’s economic interests.
“I’ll just be really transparent,” he said Wednesday. “My concern was that (the Sovereignty Act) certainly would have the probability of creating unpredictability or a lack of certainty within our business environment.”
But Toews now says the UCP’s rebranded Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act (Bill 1) shouldn’t worry investors that the province might upend the status quo.
The overwhelming bulk of Alberta’s budget surplus, now on track to hit $12.3 billion for the current fiscal year, comes from energy royalties and corporate tax revenue. Toews said his ministry anticipates “solid surpluses” of $5.6 and $5.3 billion in the next two fiscal years.
The minister said he’s confident the province’s political stability will continue to make Alberta a smart place to invest, but he won’t unconditionally vote for the new Sovereignty Act.
“Look, I can support this act if it, in fact, respects the rule of law; if it’s constitutional, and if it can be implemented in a way that’s not going to create uncertainty and a lack of predictability in our business environment.”
Toews stressed that the act “won’t and can’t” compel Albertans or businesses that operate in the province to “disregard federal law.”
As it now stands, Bill 1 gives Smith’s cabinet the authority to direct Crown corporations and a host of provincial entities, including post-secondaries and school boards, not to follow federal laws the legislature deems unconstitutional. The law is silent on what would happen to these bodies should they refuse cabinet’s direction.
“We’re talking hypotheticals here,” Toews said, adding, “There’s a lot of assumptions that we would have to make in order to answer that question. My concern is that, whatever we do with this legislation, we do it in a way that’s going to continue to provide certainty and predictability within Alberta’s economic environment.”
“It won’t undermine the rule of law and it will be constitutional,” he said. “And those two pieces will be important as we continue to attract investment for our economy.”
MLAs will deliberate Bill 1 between now and Christmas, as the legislature works through its fall session.