UCP leadership candidates discuss plans to deal with Ottawa

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Most of Alberta’s UCP leadership hopefuls agree that the province needs to assert itself against Ottawa, but disagree on how far they would take it.

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A Thursday night panel of seven of the eight candidates who declared they want to become premier was organized by Free Alberta Strategy, which released its proposals last September, including ideas dating back to the 2001 Firewall letter and the Fair Deal panel. of the UCP government. achieved in 2019, such as the creation of a provincial police force and an Alberta pension plan.

The strategy calls for Alberta to declare itself a sovereign jurisdiction in Canada that can replace federal law if it is not in Alberta’s best interest with an Alberta Sovereignty Act.

Former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith has stood out, touting an aggressive stance after promising earlier this week to enact the sovereignty law in the legislature if elected premier this fall.

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On Thursday night, she accused the federal government of breaking the law and creating chaos and confusion.

“What is to come is a constitutional reckoning. We cannot continue to operate under the Confederacy rules that we have,” she said.

However, former community and social services minister Rajan Sawhney, former children services minister Rebecca Schulz, the UCP MLA for Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche Brian Jean and former finance minister Travis Toews were fiercely against.

“If you tell people to ignore the laws, it’s a slippery slope, and I think telling Alberta residents who are angry right now to not follow some laws is downright irresponsible, negligent, and would lead to all sorts of very negative issues.” , Jean said, adding that he agrees with most of the Free Alberta Strategy’s other proposals.

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Toews reiterated that he is worried it could create chaos and scare investors, as well as threatening Alberta’s economic growth.

“We must not do anything now that will undermine this position of strength. I believe invoking the Alberta Sovereignty Act would put us behind,” he said.

Schulz agreed that the province needs to defend Albertans’ constitutional rights, but warned of chaos if the province threatens to not uphold the rule of law. She said the party needs a leader who can handle inflation and health care “without starting fights we can’t win.”

Sawhney also highlighted issues she said were most important to Alberta residents, including support for the energy sector.

“One of the authors of the Alberta Free Strategy admitted that the act of sovereignty is unconstitutional and that it is all about politics. And do you know what that sounds like to me? It seems like a sign of virtue – a distraction.”

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UCP MLA for Chestermere-Strathmore Leela Aheer focused on building relationships and collaboration, including with other like-minded provinces.

“If I were to consider my first account, it wouldn’t be this one,” she said, adding that she would immediately focus on helping vulnerable Alberta residents.

Independent MLA for Central Peace-Notley Todd Loewen did not rule out the idea, but said the province needs to focus on what it has the power to do first, such as collecting income taxes and establishing its own pension plan.

Many candidates pointed to victories under the UCP government, but said they would like to see more progress, particularly with regard to the equalization program.

Sawhney said the UCP government was able to bring forward an equalization referendum last fall, but not enough.

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“Our administration made a lot of noise in federal relations, but we didn’t do much,” Sawhney said.

Schulz pointed to his track record, getting a $3.8 billion child care deal with Ottawa.

“There’s a lot more work to be done, but I think a lot of positive work is underway,” she said.

Jean, who has vowed to push for constitutional negotiations on the equalization program, said Prime Minister Jason Kenney’s government had made the equalization referendum “a fraud” by not doing enough in his tenure. Last fall, about 62% of voters in the referendum said they would like to see the equalization program removed from the Canadian Constitution.

Jean reiterated that the only way for Alberta to “get our fair share of money” is to get back to the constitutional negotiating table, but, like Schulz, he shot down the idea of ​​collecting income tax provincially as unnecessary and expensive bureaucracy.

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Toews said that collecting provincial income tax within Alberta would cost Albertans money with little benefit, but he would be in favor of collecting all taxes – provincial and federal – as a province.

Smith said the province must “be in a position” to collect federal taxes.

Thursday’s panel came after Conservative Congresswoman from Calgary Nose Hill, Michelle Rempel Garner, who was weighing an offer, announced she would not seek UCP leadership, citing division within the party caucus.

NDP opposition leader Rachel Notley told a news conference Thursday that Rempel Garner’s statement shows Albertans that the UCP cannot be trusted to focus on the challenges Albertans are facing. , including accessibility, health care and correction of the education system.

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