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Constitutional questions: UCP ministers say proposed Sovereignty Act won't violate the law

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Some of the Alberta Sovereignty Act's former critics are now defending it, as questions about its constitutionality continue to swirl.

"We have taken advice of legal experts and lawyers - that was one of the key questions we all had," said Rajan Sawhney, Alberta's minister of trade, immigration and multiculturalism and former UCP leadership rival to Premier Danielle Smith.

"We didn't want anything on the floor that was deemed unconstitutional, we wanted to make sure the rule of law was held, that is what fundamental democracies are based on."

The act, introduced in the legislature on Tuesday, could ultimately give the provincial government the right to direct its various arms not to enforce federal rules if they're deemed to be "harmful to Albertans."  

While this could include things such as energy, education and healthcare, many are concerned it could also be expanded to ignore federal laws.

Critics say the province is attempting to ignore the constitution and the courts, which have the final say on the rule of law.

Brian Jean, another former rival-turned-supporter of Smith, says if the federal government doesn't want a fight with Alberta, it shouldn't start one.

"If (the federal government) is going to infringe on our jurisdiction, they're going to have conflict.

"I think business would like a government that sticks up for them, whether its the fertilizer industry, the cow/calf producers, manufacturers," said Jean, Alberta's minister of jobs, economy and northern development.

"The constitution clearly lays out the powers of Ottawa and the powers of the provinces, and as long as the government of Ottawa stays in their lane, they don't have anything to worry about," he said.

Eric Adams, a law professor at the University of Alberta, believes once the Sovereignty Act is passed, it will only be a matter of time before it's challenged.

"Do I think there will be a quiet life for the Sovereignty Act in the back room of some dusty shelf of legislative acts? No, that wouldn't be my best guess," Adams said.

"It's such a significant piece of legislation. It departs markedly from anything we've seen before (and) it's almost inevitable that it finds it way into court."

Many members of the business community, including the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, have criticized the proposed bill, saying its inherent conflict with federal laws could drive business away.

However, Rick Christiaanse, CEO of Invest Alberta, says Alberta's growing economy and work force are the main thing investors are looking at.

"Investors make decisions based on two main criteria," he said.

"Number one is their a market for their product and number two is there work force: they can hire to execute their plans.

"Alberta is incredibly well positioned in both of those regards. We are close to the US and we have excellent access to Asia... and we will continue to build on those strengths."

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