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Alberta

Angry about COVID-19? – Premier’s response to Albertans furious about the province’s relaunch strategy

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From Premier Jason Kenney

I know there’s many who are angry about restrictions still being in place on business operations, whether in Calgary or Brooks, or elsewhere across the province. I also know there are others who think we’re moving too fast.

I want everyone to know that I would love nothing more than to open everything up, go back to the way it was before COVID-19, and pretend like it never happened.

But we simply can’t do that. Other jurisdictions that have opened everything up without any precautions have seen massive outbreaks spark back up, creating unmanageable pressure on their health care systems. This has happened in some places in the U.S. like Alabama, and even in countries who previously had it under control like Singapore. That then forced these places to clamp down twice as hard and close parts of the economy all over again.

We do not want to do that in Alberta. We want to open up carefully, confidently, and permanently so we don’t lose all the progress we’ve made thus far in containing the virus.

That’s why, in the interest of our economy and public health, we will always make informed decisions, with cool heads, on the latest available medical evidence we have. That’s the surest path to getting a foothold on this virus, and ensuring we can get back to a version of normal where we protect both lives and livelihoods.

After 15 years as a TV reporter with Global and CBC and as news director of RDTV in Red Deer, Duane set out on his own 2008 as a visual storyteller. During this period, he became fascinated with a burgeoning online world and how it could better serve local communities. This fascination led to Todayville, launched in 2016.

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Alberta

Alberta Medical Association head concerned over government lifting COVID restrictions

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EDMONTON — The head of the Alberta Medical Association says he has significant concerns with the province’s decision to suspend almost all of its COVID-19 public health protocols. 

In an open letter to members, Paul Boucher says the pace at which the United Conservative government is ending restrictions is troubling.

He says the government should release the data on which the decision was made. 

Boucher adds the government’s planned reliance on hospitalization data and monitoring wastewater for viruses isn’t likely to provide enough information on the spread of COVID-19, especially as new variants take over.  

The letter says easing back restrictions more slowly would be safer, easier on the health care system and cause less public worry. 

Boucher says Alberta will eventually have to move away from pandemic measures, but concludes the government is doing so too quickly. 

“The pace at which public health measures are ending is troubling,” he writes. 

“I do not disagree that moving from pandemic state to endemic state is the future but would strongly advocate for a less precipitous approach.”

Boucher says he has shared his concerns with the province. 

This week, Alberta announced that close contacts of people who test positive for COVID-19 are no longer legally required to isolate, nor are they notified by contact tracers.

As of Aug. 16, infected individuals won’t need to isolate. Testing will also be curtailed.

The moves come as the province’s active case numbers and infection rate increases. 

The lifting of Alberta’s restrictions has been viewed with concern by other top doctors. 

Canada’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Theresa Tam has warned against opening too quickly. The Canadian Pediatric Society has written to her Alberta counterpart Dr. Deena Hinshaw urging her to reconsider.  

 This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 30, 2021. 

The Canadian Press

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Alberta

Deadline day for inquiry's final report on eco groups and Alberta energy industry

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EDMONTON — Friday was the deadline for a public inquiry into what the Alberta government says is foreign funding of environmental groups who want to curtail energy development — an investigation lauded by Premier Jason Kenney as principled but derided by critics as a buffoonishly sinister political witch hunt.

“We have not yet received the (final) report but expect to have it delivered to the minister’s office sometime today,” Jerry Bellikka, chief of staff to Energy Minister Sonya Savage, said in an email.

The inquiry was given five deadline extension stretching back a year to July 30, 2020. Its budget was set at $2.5 million, but later increased to $3.5 million.

Savage has up to three months to release the report once she receives it from forensic accountant Steve Allan.

Kenney launched the inquiry in 2019, fulfilling a United Conservative election campaign promise. He accused Canadian environmental charities of accepting foreign funding in a co-ordinated attempt to hinder energy infrastructure and landlock Alberta’s oil to benefit U.S. competitors.

Kenney recently said he was not surprised eco-groups are criticizing the inquiry as unfair and tilted toward a prejudged outcome

“They don’t want the public to realize they have been receiving massive amounts of money from foreign sources to shut down the largest job-creating industry in Canada,” Kenney said on July 22.

“They don’t want the disinfectant of transparency to come down on them. That’s why they went to court … Thankfully, the Court of Queen’s Bench threw their case out.”

In May, a judge dismissed a challenge by the environmental law firm Ecojustice to quash the inquiry. The judge ruled Ecojustice failed to prove the inquiry was called to intimidate charities concerned about the environmental impact of the energy industry.

In recent days, leaked sections of Allan’s draft report show he has concluded that eco-groups have not in any way broken the law. But critics say Allan exceeded his mandate by linking any opposition to resource development as being “anti-Albertan.”

Allan, in a letter this week to Greenpeace Canada, made it clear that “anti-Alberta” is meant simply as a “a non-pejorative geographic modifier.”

University of Calgary law professor Martin Olszynski said “anti-Alberta” is not an innocent term but a broad-based slur, easily weaponized by political opponents. He said it turns those concerned with the pace of resource development and its effect on the environment into scapegoats and depicts them as traitors to the community.

“The precedent (is) anything can become anti-Alberta, essentially anything that the premier disagrees with,” said Olszynski.

“To some extent a government has a democratic mandate, but it only goes so far. It can’t go to the point where opposition to that mandate –dissent — is branded as treason and sedition.

“That’s very authoritarian.”

The inquiry has been criticized for operating in secret: no witnesses called publicly, little to no evidence on its website and those investigated being given little time late in the game to respond. Its terms of reference have also been altered twice.

“This has been something out of ‘Alice in Wonderland,’” said Keith Stewart, a senior energy strategist with Greenpeace Canada. “We got funding from international foundations. It was about two per cent of our revenue over a decade.

“We got a lot more money from Albertans.”

He said Greenpeace Canada has been one of the inquiry’s targets and that letters to Allan asking for information and details have been ignored.

“We don’t even get to publicly defend ourselves or even see the evidence against us. (Allan) says, ‘I interviewed 100 people.’ He won’t tell us who they were. How are we supposed to respond to evidence that we’re not allowed to see?”

Allan, on his website, noted that his inquiry sent out 40 invitations in mid-June for participants to respond by mid-July. 

“Some participants did not accept the commissioner’s invitation until some weeks after June 18, and they were then granted access to the (inquiry) dataroom to review content,” Allan said in a statement July 21.

“The material provided to each party for review included material necessary to understand the context surrounding potential findings and contained potential findings related to them.”

Olszynski said there’s a “good chance” Allan’s final report will be challenged in court on the grounds it was procedurally flawed and reached unqualified conclusions.

“Inquiries are not courts of law … but it’s not the Wild West,” he said.

Kathleen Ganley, energy critic for the Opposition NDP, said Savage should release the report immediately upon receiving it.

“Leaked drafts of the report show the inquiry relied on misinformation found in Google searches and ‘research’ conducted by the UCP’s own ridiculous war room,” said Ganley.

“But despite putting their thumb on the scale with this shoddy research, the inquiry was still forced to conclude there was no wrongdoing or illegal activity.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 30, 2021.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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