Danielle Smith, considered one of the front-runners in the United Conservative Party leadership race, faced sharp criticism Wednesday from debate rivals over her Alberta sovereignty plan and controversial comments on cancer.
Many of the seven candidates, including three who left Premier Jason Kenney’s cabinet to run in the race, criticized Smith’s proposal to immediately bring in a bill to give Alberta the power to ignore federal laws and court rulings deemed not in its interest.
They said Alberta must push back against the federal government, but said Smith’s plan is not only illegal and unenforceable — it would also create business uncertainty at a time the province is just getting back on its feet financially.
“It would be great to just wish away all our problems with this thing called the sovereignty act. We’re delusional if we think that’s going to happen,” former finance minister Travis Toews told Smith at the debate, held in the HALO air ambulance hangar at the Medicine Hat Regional Airport.
“We need a strategic thoughtful approach. That’s how we win.”
Rajan Sawhney, the former transportation minister, said such an act would fail in the courts and bring debilitating economic uncertainty.
Former children’s services minister Rebecca Schulz told Smith, “You are writing cheques you can’t cash and making promises you can’t keep.”
UCP backbench member Brian Jean called the plan “a fiscal fairy tale.”
Smith, a former radio talk show host and Wildrose party leader, rejected the criticism. She said her proposed act can pass legal muster and said it is the federal government that has created uncertainty in Alberta through policies that strangle development of the oil and gas industry.
“Ottawa has created the chaos,” said Smith.
Legal scholars say such a bill is not only illegal but also a dangerous dismissal of respect for the rule of law. Government house leader Jason Nixon and Toews, who has the support of almost half the UCP caucus, have said they doubt the house would even pass such a bill.
Front-runners and backbenchers
Polling suggests Smith, Toews, and Jean are the front-runners in the race that culminates in an Oct. 6 vote to replace Kenney as party leader and premier.
Smith was the focus of criticism from Toews, Sawhney and Jean again during the health policy section of…