Shortly after becoming premier of Alberta, Danielle Smith expressed her intention to pardon violators of health restrictions. (She referred to the Covid unvaccinated as the most discriminated group she had ever seen in her life.) Then someone whispered in her shell-like ear that premiers don’t have that power, and she backed off. Apparently she had confused the powers of a provincial premier with those of an American governor.

This failure did not, however, do anything to deter her search for more power. Recently her government announced two bills to enhance her cabinet’s grip on the municipalities and Alberta institutions generally.

One is Bill 20, the Municipal Affairs Statutes Amendment Act. The bill would give her cabinet the authority to dismiss councillors and repeal bylaws of any municipality. The provincial government already has the right to dismiss councillors but there is a process, i.e. due process. Under the proposed legislation, cabinet could dismiss them without explanation. Municipal councillors could become a lot more careful about criticizing their senior government.

The president of Alberta Municipalities, Tyler Gandam, stated, “It’s taking away our ability to govern and represent our residents.” Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi put it more succinctly: “I see Bill 20 as an attack on local democracy.”

The bill also allows for the creation of municipal political parties, specifically a pilot project only affecting Edmonton and Calgary. The UCP is frustrated by the fact that in this supposedly conservative province, the two major cities keep electing progressive councils and mayors.

The bill will also allow corporations to fund municipal politics, something banned by the former NDP government. One suspects the premier is dreaming of well-financed Conservatives finally taking over the province’s two most important city halls. After the outrage from the municipalities the government has promised to revisit the bill before introducing it. In polls, 70 percent of Albertans have said they don’t want political parties in municipal politics.

The second overreach is Bill 18, the Provincial Priorities Act which would require the federal government to involve the province in any deals it wants to make with provincially legislated bodies including municipalities, universities, school boards, housing agencies and health authorities. Needless to say, the universities are alarmed that the province wants to gatekeep research funding approved by non-partisan federal agencies. Nor do the municipalities look forward to the UCP gatekeeping such badly-needed funding as federal housing grants.

Other than micromanaging municipalities, Smith et al. have notoriously set their sites on both the RCMP and the CPP. They continue to show an interest in creating a provincial police force even though the municipalities are happy with the Mounties. And, equally unpopular, is their threat to replace the Canada Pension Plan with an Alberta version.

Smith’s government has also gone in for crown corporations. They created one this spring to research drug addiction recovery, and the premier has mused about establishing another to manage an Alberta train network she envisions, as well as proposing Crown-run natural gas plants.

For a government that dislikes bureaucracy so much it has a Red Tape Reduction Minister, it’s adding an awful lot of red tape. As University of Alberta political scientist Jared Wesley observed, “With every bill, they’re making it more difficult to call themselves conservative, and tougher to avoid the label “authoritarian.”

What one wonders about is Smith’s endgame. Does she have one, or is it just power for power’s sake. At least one conspiracy-minded pundit has suggested it’s her road to Alberta independence. Perhaps she finds Canada too progressive or just not sufficiently oil-friendly. The NDP opposition calls her power-centralizing an intent to “control everything, everywhere, all at once.”

In any case, this libertarian lady, mistress of free enterprise, seems to be going all big government on us.

One thought on “Danielle Smith’s power grab(s)”
  1. I wonder if Mrs. Smith gleans her policies from watching West Wing or the House of Cards?

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