The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms has expressed concerns about Alberta’s United Conservative Party for what they say is an “unconstitutional power grab” made by the government using COVID-19 as a justification.
Bill 10, the Public Health Amendment Act, was quietly passed through the legislature on April 2. While the Bill appears to be aimed at pandemic mitigation, the JCCF claims it contains far-reaching expansions of power for the Kenney Government.
John Carpay—who is also a TPM columnist—explained that public health emergencies already entitled cabinet ministers to suspend laws, but that Bill 10 now also enables ministers to create new laws without any need for the approval of the legislature.
Section 52.1(2) of the Bill states that so long as the minister is “satisfied that doing so is in the public interest” they may suspend, modify, or enact new orders “without consultation.”
The JCCF notes that previous emergency powers provided ministers the ability to suspend laws for 60 days, under Bill 10 there is “no clear limitation as to how long these restrictions and new laws can continue.”
Other drastic changes brought on by Bill 10 include a dramatic fine increase for any violations of any public health orders issues from $2,000 to $100,000. Violations might include social distancing, lockdown, or quarantine orders.
“Bill 10 gives one single minister the power to unilaterally make news laws and offences for the entire province,” stated Jay Cameron, Litigation Manager for the Justice Centre.
During the April 2 legislature session, NDP MLA David Shepherd confronted the UCP government with concerns about the sweeping powers they were granting themselves with Bill 10.
“The new power that the government is asking for is the ability to write entirely new laws and have them supersede other laws.” He stated, according to the official Hansard, questioning whether the Government was being transparent with the public on the Bill.
“During this pandemic and now more than ever we need to be crystal clear with ourselves and with the public on the legislation and the powers that we are granting to government, the exceptional powers being granted to government.”
Shepherd’s sentiment is echoed by Carpay who stated “Why the Alberta Government needs these new powers to write laws without any accountability or oversight from the legislative assembly has not been explained.”