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How Alberta is Undermining Democracy in Canada
I am fortunate to live in a country that respects the rule of law, harbours the essence of democratic institutions, and is considered one of the world’s most prestigious countries. Many people in Canada come from countries whose politicians and ruling class do not value democracy, are obscenely corrupt, and offer no real solution or improvement to people’s lives. People come to Canada for opportunities for themselves, their families, and their children. Refugees come to Canada to escape persecution from authoritarian governments, terrorist groups, and violence. When these people come to Canada, they see hope and good. Most of them don’t go back because they recognize that Canadian society is the pinnacle of their dreams. I remember when I was early voting during the 2021 federal election. I went into the designated building and saw many people lining up to put their early ballots in. A single file line with volunteers looking at our ID and voter cards to allow us in to vote. I went into the voting room, cast my ballot, and left the building in less than 3 minutes. It was a seamless experience that made me proud of our democratic process in Canada. I don’t think I would change it for the world. Coming out of the building, I saw what I assumed was a Muslim woman. She wore a hijab overhead, dark sunglasses, a wide-sleeved long top that went to her knees, and baggy pants. They were typical clothing of a devout Muslim woman, modest and respectable. Her hands were folded in front of her stomach, patiently waiting for her turn in line to vote, and in her hands, she had her voting card. Most of all, though, her entire outfit was patterned with the iconic red maple leaf that the world associates with this country—a deep, bright red in front of a sharp white. The woman’s hijab and her outfit were filled with red leaves. Looking at her incited a feeling of patriotism and pride in me. “That’s what democracy is; that’s what this country stands and fights for,” I thought. But it was more than that; this woman probably prepared her hijab and outfit for this day to vote. That speaks volumes to what people like her value and what so many others in the world don’t have access to. That woman represents what people want—a country where people can have a voice in public life. A voice, a voice, a voice. That’s what people want; that’s also what so many people don’t have. They don’t feel they have a voice or if their voice matters. Muslim women in Afghanistan have their votes taken away, women in Pakistan and Qatar with their voices suppressed, men in Palestine having their voices crushed, Ukrainian men defending their agents, and Iranian women and men creating their voices. How can we not be proud, sympathetic, and overtly protective over something rare? We live in a country where our voices are assumed to be a part of public life. We must protect it at all costs. ~~ For however much Alberta is the province, everyone thinks of it as the outgoing kid in the family who seems to be in their rebellious phase even in their adult years. Things seem to be especially bad under Danielle Smith, Alberta’s newly chosen premier, after the previous premier, Jason Kenney, resigned. I didn’t think we could get someone worse than Kenney. Still, here we are with a premiere that doesn’t seem to understand the value of democracy, democratic institutions, and national unity. Passing a “Sovereignty Act” allows the provinces to ignore federal laws. Even Quebec isn’t stupid enough to do that, no matter how much the CAQ larps as the party of “sovereignty, nationalism, and autonomy for Quebec!”. Trying to ignore federal laws is unconstitutional itself. It will not be able to bypass any judicial review in Alberta, nor will it even be something agencies want to follow if they were instructed to. It blows a nasty hole in any federal or provincial accountability by allowing the Alberta parliamentary cabinet to amend laws at will. The Act is literally undemocratic as one can bypass parliament to amend regulations per the Cabinet’s wishes. I thought the US would think of something like this first. But I completely forgot about the Alberta wildcard. For how Smith runs her province, Republican-governed states should take notes on how to unilaterally throw away democracy on a whim to “own the Libs” and “fight federalism.” The real reason is that Smith and her party are trying to bait the federal government into using the disallowance clause for political gain in the upcoming election. The ancient disallowance clause allows the federal government to void a provincial law through the power of the governor-general of Canada. If disallowance is considered, the lieutenant governor of the provincial legislature will withhold the bill until the federal cabinet concludes the decision to utilize disallowance. However, in this case, it could be possible that the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta does not provide the Royal Assent necessary to put the bill into law. To ensure constitutional compliance, sometimes measures like the disallowance clause are necessary. But the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, is not taking the bait. He says that the federal government is “not looking for a fight” with Alberta, meaning there is likely no way that he will use disallowance. Instead, Trudeau is likely to play the waiting game, use public and media outcry to belittle Smith and the UCP until either Smith gives in or some other unexpected factor comes into play, like the Liettnaent governor refusing to provide Royal Assent for the bill. With an upcoming election, the Alberta NDP will likely gain from the constant media attacks on Smith and the UCP. Based on current polling, the ANDP is expected to win a majority, but even that isn’t guaranteed based on the UCP’s solid rural base. The real battleground will be Calgary; whoever decisively wins Calgary will win the election. Rachel Notley needs to be on the side of media and good governance. Anything away from that is a risk to what Albertans typically think of any NDP party as an all-talk, economically incompetent party. Notley only needs to focus on the significant issues in Alberta (and indeed in the rest of Canada): improvements to healthcare, dealing with inflation, winding down spending and creating good jobs for the future, and fixing the current incompetent governance in the Alberta legislature. Please keep it simple and effective, and let the daggering media attacks hit the UCP as the NDP leads the charge against such an obscene touch party. So that’s what we’re left with. Either the UCP loses the next election, or some outside force like courts or the governor in council at the federal or provincial level kills the bill. There are options on the table; it’s only a matter of who acts first. Unfortunately, what Canada is increasingly finding out is that democracy is authoritarian. Even democratic societies have politicians, voters, and adversaries that want to undermine democracy for their gain purposefully. Democracy is something society and people must constantly fight for, even in countries where democracy is hailed in. Nothing, not even democracy, can be assumed
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