Three of the candidates running to be leader of the United Conservative Party believe Alberta should create its own provincial police force, while others believe Albertans should be further consulted.
Seven of the eight UCP leadership hopefuls and Alberta’s next premier participated in a panel discussion Thursday hosted by the Free Alberta Strategy. The strategy, launched in September 2021, shares initiatives the province can “implement today” to make Alberta a “sovereign jurisdiction” within Canada.
Former finance minister Travis Toews, Independent MLA for Central Peace-Notley Todd Loewen, and Former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith said they would fully support creating a new police force in Alberta.
UCP MLA for Chestermere-Strathmore Leela Aheer said there was not enough consultation with Albertans to pursue the initiative. Rajan Sawhney, former transportation minister, noted rural municipalities had expressed concern about the idea.
Brian Jean, former Wildrose Party leader and UCP MLA for Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche, worried that with all the upfront costs of creating a force, the province would end up with fewer officers deployed.
He would push more cities to create their own police services to “free up” the RCMP for rural policing.
Rebecca Schulz, former children’s services minister, said the inquiry into the RCMP response to Nova Scotia’s mass shooting in April 2020 showed “gaps” in the service Mounties provide.
If elected, Schulz said she would take the issue to Albertans directly to inform what direction the government would take.
ALBERTA SOVEREIGNTY ACT
The Free Alberta Strategy calls for creating a sovereignty act to grant the province “absolute discretion” in refusing to follow federal decisions intruding on the province’s jurisdiction.
While all candidates agreed Alberta could do more to stand up for itself regarding relations with Ottawa, the leadership hopefuls differed on what that could look like.
Smith endorsed the act, saying the federal government had moved too far into Alberta’s areas of responsibility.
“Quebec has established that they are able to make these decisions independently, and we should follow suit,” she said, promising she would pass the sovereignty act if selected this fall.
Loewen said he was open to considering passing the act but thinks the province could focus on what it could actually change first, like creating its own pension plan.
“Teddy Roosevelt had a really good quote: ‘Speak softly and carry a big stick.’ And it seems like we’ve been speaking loudly and carrying no stick at all,” Loewen said. “Let Ottawa know we mean business.”
The remaining six candidates said they were against the act.
Toews said the act would scare investors from the province and “undermine” Alberta’s economic trajectory.
Aheer said collaboration and improving relationships with stakeholders would lead to better outcomes.
Jean and Schulz both said choosing to ignore the rule of law created a “slippery slope.”
“If the laws are bad, I believe you can be in the system and fix them,” Jean said. “That’s what I am trying to do. If the constitution is bad, let’s change it.”
“I think a major risk of some of that chaos around not following the rule of law, the biggest risk, quite frankly, is Rachel Notley being elected and seeing a Trudeau-Notley sequel in 2023,” Schulz added.
Sawhney said the act sounded more like “virtue signalling” than concrete action.
“I want to focus on the real issues,” she said. “The real issue is that demand for our resources is going up while our ability to supply that demand is going down.”
Most provinces rely on the federal government to collect personal income taxes, while Quebec has its own tax collection system.
Leadership hopefuls were asked if Alberta should follow Quebec, with only Smith, Loewen, and Toews throwing their weight behind the recommendation. The three agreed it would grant the province more leverage with Ottawa.
Toews noted that for the change to be cost-effective, the province would also need to collect federal taxes.
For Schulz, the idea represented introducing “more red tape” and “more bureaucrats.”
“Growing both the cost and the size of delivering government in an area that has little benefit for Albertans I don’t think is something that’s a great idea right now,” Schulz said.
The move would represent a “waste of money” for Albertans, Jean said and Aheer echoed, with Jean adding that Quebec created their system to prepare for separation.
Sawhney said investors enjoy jurisdictions with predictability and that there needs to be certainty rules won’t simply change overnight.
“Our competitive advantage here in Alberta is that we are a low-tax, low-cost jurisdiction for investors, and we need to continue to signal that,” she said.
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