Jason Kenney has his say on Danielle Smith’s sovereignty law, the head of the electoral list: Alberta would be a “laughing stock”

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Jason Kenney answers a question from the media on the final day of Canada’s Summer Premiers Meeting at the Fairmont Empress in Victoria on July 12, 2022.CHAD HIPOLITO/The Canadian Press

Jason Kenney has avoided saying much about the United Conservative Party contest that will see him replaced as leader and prime minister in October. “I’m not going to become a color commentator on the leadership election,” he says. But at times, he can’t help it.

This was highlighted when Mr Kenney attacked a core policy of Danielle Smith’s Let’s Put Alberta First campaign over the weekend. And Ms Smith, who many consider a frontrunner in the contest, was quick to tell the Prime Minister to stay out of it, arguing how many party members support his plan. With two months to go before the leadership question is decided, it shows how deep the divisions within the UCP still run.

On Saturday, Mr Kenney received the question he was long overdue to answer. Speaking on his weekly phone show on Corus Radio, someone texted him asking about the idea of ​​a ‘so-called’ sovereignty law. The idea became closely associated with Ms Smith’s campaign.

There was no cover from him. “Alberta would become a laughing stock. He said the idea of ​​legislation that would give the province leeway not to enforce federal laws, including the Criminal Code, “is crazy.”

“The proposition is for Alberta to ignore and violate the Constitution in a way unprecedented in Canadian history,” he said. The province should focus on realistic and practical ways to fight Ottawa’s unjust policies.

There is no doubt that Mr. Kenney was prepared for this question (which he explained he would only answer because it related to politics, not the leadership race). He had an opinion piece criticizing the idea of ​​the Sovereignty Act, and Mrs. Smith, handy to quote.

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On Sunday, Smith’s campaign responded by saying – in short – that Mr Kenney should stay out of the leadership race. Ms Smith said she would urge Mr Kenney ‘to focus on being a voice for party unity’ and for the party leadership process to take place without interference from the ‘interim’ prime minister .

“With respect, the Prime Minister’s comments regarding the Sovereignty Act are premature, ill-informed and disrespectful to a large and growing majority of UCP members who support this important initiative,” she said in a statement. communicated.

“Albertans are tired of seeing Justin Trudeau and Ottawa continually crush the rights and freedoms of Albertans and they want a leader who will stand up and defend our province without apologies,” she continued.

‘If elected to replace him as leader and prime minister,’ she will work with MPs to ensure the sovereignty law is drafted, passed and implemented ‘in accordance with sound constitutional language and principles. “.

The clock counts down on Mr. Kenney’s radio broadcasts and his time as a chef. On the radio show this weekend, he revealed he would like to remain MP for Calgary-Lougheed, even after stepping down as premier, and that he had ‘no intention’ of one day seek the leadership of the Federal Conservatives.

He also spoke about his strategy to fight federal policy measures that he says are causing problems for commodity producers, noting that the Alberta government is fighting against Ottawa’s plan to reduce carbon emissions. greenhouse gases from synthetic nitrogen fertilizers by 30% below 2020 levels by 2030. Many farmers say putting more pressure on the country’s agricultural sector as global food systems are upended by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, droughts and supply shocks related to COVID-19 will lead to even higher costs and real shortages.

“I want to encourage Canadians, as ordinary people, if they think food prices are already too high and they don’t want to see people in the developing world starving to death, please please talk to us and help us stop the madness,” Mr. Kenney said.

The difference in strategy in the fight against Ottawa could be confusing to some outside the province or to non-Conservatives. But there is no doubt within the UCP that federal policy decisions are often, or largely, out of step with the on-the-ground realities of energy or food production, much of which is centered in Western Canada. The debate within the UCP is how best to challenge Ottawa.

While Mr. Kenney has often led the provinces in fighting federal intrusion, Ms. Smith argues that Alberta governments have been too passive in fighting Ottawa’s policies. His anti-establishment campaign has won him donations and support, even of some UCP deputies who originally supported its rival, former Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews.

Mr. Toews is the establishment. He has drawn the endorsements of nearly half of the UCP caucus and is considered to have been part of Mr Kenney’s inner circle. His campaign rhetoric is that he is a ‘serious and reliable’ leader and that the legal uncertainty that could arise from Ms Smith’s proposed legislation ‘has the potential to create economic chaos in the province of Alberta’. But he will still touch on things like the fight to make sure the federal equalization formula that expires in 2024 is renegotiated for greater fairness to Alberta, or laying the groundwork for a provincial pension plan.

The Prime Minister has not officially endorsed any leadership candidate, but it is clear that he will participate in some of the political battles. His comments on the Sovereignty Act and Ms Smith’s response show that there are still deep divisions within the UCP – even as members try to present a unified front ahead of the May provincial election.

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