Survey: Push for Alberta, Saskatchewan sovereignty acts raises concern, support from fellow provinces

The past few days have provided a glimpse of what some provincial governments in Canada have chosen to focus on.

In British Columbia, the outgoing administration has promised a revamp of the health-care system, at a time when a shortage of doctors and nurses has been identified as the biggest challenge by 50 per cent of residents.

In Ontario, the provincial government ultimately repealed a bill that sought to override sections of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to authorize a new contract with education workers.

Two other seemingly controversial proposals, each one spearheaded by a premier, have recently spawned in Alberta and Saskatchewan. The first act was a promise issued in the middle of a leadership campaign by a recently anointed head of government. The second one represents a major policy shift from a premier who has been in office since February 2018.

This past weekend, Research Co. and Glacier Media asked Canadians about their views on these two proposals. The results show a cautious public that, while not especially tuned in to the intricacies of the legislative plans, appears to be more sympathetic to one of the two causes.

The Alberta Sovereignty Act proposed by Premier Danielle Smith would allow the province to refuse to follow specific federal laws if they are deemed not to be in Alberta's best interests. More than a third of Canadians (37 per cent) have followed stories related to this legislative plan “very closely” or “moderately closely”, a proportion that rises to 59 per cent in Alberta and 50 per cent among Conservative Party of Canada voters in the 2021 federal election.

Just over half of Canadians (51 per cent) claim to be “very concerned” or “moderately concerned” about the Alberta Sovereignty Act. Residents of Western Canada are more likely to be worried about it (59 per cent in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba and 58 per cent in Alberta) than their counterparts in the East (48 per cent in Ontario and Atlantic Canada and 43 per cent in Quebec).

There is a split when Canadians are asked if the Government of Alberta is right to refuse to follow specific federal laws if they are deemed not to be in Alberta's best interests. While 39 per cent agree with the provincial administration’s charted path, 42 per cent disagree and 21 per cent are undecided.

Fewer than two in five residents of British Columbia (38 per cent), Ontario (also 38 per cent), Atlantic Canada (34 per cent) and Quebec (33 per cent) endorse Alberta’s outlined push for “sovereignty” from Ottawa. The numbers are higher in Saskatchewan and Manitoba (43 per cent) and in Alberta (52 per cent).

The countrywide response is different for the Saskatchewan First Act proposed by Premier Scott Moe, which seeks to confirm Saskatchewan’s autonomy and exclusive jurisdiction over its natural resources.

Awareness of the Saskatchewan First Act is low across the country, with 31 per cent of Canadians saying they have followed stories on it “very closely” or “moderately closely.” Half of residents of Saskatchewan and Manitoba (50 per cent) are paying attention, but the proportions are decidedly lower in other jurisdictions.

More than four in five Canadians (45 per cent) are concerned about the Saskatchewan First Act, including 50 per cent of British Columbians and 46 per cent of Ontarians.

A majority of Canadians (53 per cent) believe the Government of Saskatchewan is right to confirm its autonomy and exclusive jurisdiction over its natural resources. This includes significant majorities of those living in Saskatchewan and Manitoba (60 per cent) and Alberta (57 per cent), as well as practically half of British Columbians, Ontarians and Quebecers (48 per cent each).

The federal government will not have to face voters until 2025 and may not spend too much time arguing with provincial administrations in regions that have rarely been kind to the governing Liberal Party of Canada. Still, in the early stages of discussion about the two proposed acts, there are some clear differences in the perceptions of Canadians. While few are actively following the developments in the two provinces, the level of agreement is markedly higher for the Saskatchewan First Act than for the Alberta Sovereignty Act.

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.

Results are based on an online survey conducted from November 4 to November 6, 2022, among 1,000 adults in Canada. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region in Canada. The margin of error – which measures sample variability – is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.