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Incoming premier Smith says Alberta, Ottawa will get along if feds stay in their lane


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CALGARY — Danielle Smith began her first day as incoming Alberta premier mending fences with a fractured caucus and telling Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that they’ll get along just fine so long as he stays in his lane.

“I think we can have a constructive relationship with Ottawa if they recognize we expect the same level of respect that they give to Quebec and the same level of deference that they give to Quebec,” Smith said Friday after meeting with her United Conservative Party caucus at McDougall Centre.

“We have exclusive rights to develop and manage and export our resources. And, unfortunately, the prime minister and his environment minister have not been respectful of that.

“(The relationship) hasn’t been very constructive over the last seven years and we need to do some work.”

Alberta and Trudeau’s Liberal government have long been at odds over federal rules the province says make it harder to approve and launch energy megaprojects. Alberta also fought a tanker ban off British Columbia’s north coast.

In 2018, Trudeau’s government spent $4.5 billion to ensure completion of an expanded Trans Mountain pipeline from Alberta to the B.C. coast.

Smith’s pugnacious tone in federal relations on issues from energy to COVID-19 helped captivate party voters, who catapulted her to victory Thursday in the leadership race to replace Premier Jason Kenney.

Kenney announced he was quitting months earlier following an uninspiring 51 per cent vote of support in a party leadership review.

He had been bludgeoned for months by critics in his caucus and party, who accused him of not being tough enough with the feds and for inflicting health and vaccine rules during the COVID-19 pandemic, which they called an unnecessary and inexcusable violation of personal freedoms.

Those divisions were evident in the leadership race when five of Smith’s six rivals denounced her signature promise to bring in an Alberta sovereignty act as an illegal, unconstitutional gambit guaranteed to deliver confusion over the rule of law and chaos to the economy.

Smith promised the bill would allow Alberta to ignore federal laws and court rulings deemed harmful to its interests.

She also acknowledged that she needs to mend fences after she nearly destroyed the Wildrose Party – one of the two conservative legacy parties that merged to form the UCP – when she nearly collapsed the caucus with a mass floor crossing in 2014.

“We had just a terrific caucus meeting,” said Smith, who posed with her team for a photo after Friday’s meeting. Kenney was not there.

“This was just a little bit of relationship building.

“I feel like everybody is really keen to pull together as a group and make sure that we’re prepared for the next election in (spring) 2023.”

Smith said she would be sworn in as Alberta’s 19th premier on Tuesday.

There will be a caucus retreat after that, she said, with a new cabinet announced Oct. 21. The sovereignty act is to be introduced in the upcoming fall session, she added.

Smith does not have a seat in the house but said she plans to run very soon in a byelection.

Earlier Friday, UCP backbencher Michaela Frey announced she is resigning her seat in the southern Alberta constituency of Medicine Hat-Brooks. Smith said she will head there this weekend to see if it’s a good fit for her and for the local constituency board.

Smith captured nearly 54 per cent of the vote on the sixth and final ballot. The runner-up was Travis Toews, a finance minister under Kenney, who had the support of the majority of UCP caucus during the race.

Toews didn’t speak to reporters after the loss but was at the caucus meeting Friday.

He congratulated Smith and, while he had criticized her proposed sovereignty act during the race, told reporters he’s keeping an open mind to see what is ultimately put on paper.

“Many of the objectives of the sovereignty act initiative I’m very much in favour of,” he said.

Toews declined to say if he will run again in the next election.

In Ottawa, Trudeau said, “I wish to congratulate Danielle Smith for becoming the next premier of Alberta.

“I will be speaking with her hopefully in the coming hours to congratulate her on her victory in the leadership campaign and to commit to her, as I do to all Canadians, that I am there to work with premiers of the provinces to deliver concretely for Albertans and indeed for all Canadians.”

In Edmonton, Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley said Smith has no mandate to implement radical promises, including the sovereignty act or a promise to fire the board of Alberta Health Services over what Smith has called an abysmal performance during COVID-19.

Notley said a Smith government will bring more party infighting and a renewed round of performative fights with Ottawa, while Albertans struggle with real-life concerns on rising prices and an overwhelmed health system.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 7, 2022.

— With files from Bob Weber in Edmonton

Colette Derworiz and Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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‘Not true’: Justice minister denies crying or yelling during doctor confrontation

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By Bill Graveland in Calgary

Alberta’s justice minister said he felt sad and disappointed when he discovered someone he considered to be a friend was behind a social media post targeting him and his wife.

The Law Society of Alberta is in the final day of a hearing into allegations Tyler Shandro violated the profession’s code of conduct. The three complaints date back to his time as the provincial health minister early in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Mukarram Zaidi, who had posted a photo on social media of Shandro with a caption related to privatizing health care, told the hearing the minister and his wife visited his home in March 2020. He said it occurred during fractious negotiations between the government and the Alberta Medical Association over fees.

The photo of Shandro, with a thought bubble caption, said: “So every Albertan that I can kick off health care is another client we can sign up for Vital Partners. We’re going to be RICH.” Shandro’s wife, Andrea, is the co-founder of Vital Partners, a health insurance agency.

Shandro said Thursday his spouse alerted him to the post earlier in the day, when there had been up to a thousand threats made against the couple.

“I recognized the account being someone I considered a friend and who lived around the corner,” Shandro said under questioning by his lawyer.

“The irony is that this is a fellow who had often engaged with me to discuss the importance of being careful with words, with online posts and what that could result in.”

The doctor testified earlier this week that he went outside of his home to meet Shandro and described the minister as being highly upset as he demanded the doctor remove the post immediately because his family was being subjected to death threats.

“I see Shandro and his wife standing at the sidewalk. He was crying, he was emotionally charged. His wife was holding him,” Zaidi said.

“He said: ‘You can’t do this to us. We’re getting death threats.’ I think I asked him: ‘What do you want me to do?’ And he said: ‘Delete your post.”’

Shandro said he walked over to Zaidi’s home by himself and asked the doctors’ children to send out their father. He said the conversation was over in a matter of minutes.

“I said: ‘Mukarram, why wouldn’t you have just asked me if you had questions? We know each other. You know me. You know Andrea. You know this isn’t true.’ And then I asked him: ‘Do you know this conspiracy theory is resulting in Andrea getting death threats?'” Shandro said.

“He said softly: ‘What do I do? Do I delete the post?’ I specifically did not take him up on that offer. I said: ‘Look, you have to decide that for yourself.'”

Shandro’s lawyer, Grant Stapon, asked his client what he had to say to Zaidi’s description of him crying and yelling while being held by his wife during the discussion.

“It’s not true. It isn’t true at all. Andrea was not there and if she really was there, it doesn’t benefit me to say she wasn’t there. If anything, it would be helpful to have her be there to corroborate,” Shandro replied.

“I definitely did not yell at him.”

Shandro said his wife did show up at the end of the conversation.

“She was emotional. She did have red eyes. She was crying earlier. She said: ‘Don’t talk to him. He’s not interested in us. He’s only interested in money.'”

Shandro said at that point they returned home.

Andrea Shandro is expected to testify later Thursday afternoon.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2023.

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Alberta considers training doctors for rural practice in smaller centres

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Calgary – Alberta is looking for ways to train doctors in smaller cities in hopes they will be more likely to help relieve a shortage of physicians in rural areas.

Health Minister Jason Copping and Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides say the government is providing $1 million to four Alberta post-secondary institutions to look for ways to train doctors in Grande Prairie and Lethbridge.

Alberta has medical schools at universities in Edmonton and Calgary, but Copping says training doctors outside the big cities increases the odds of graduates practising in the province’s smaller municipalities.

Todd Anderson of the University of Calgary’s medical school says there are a wide variety of options being considered, including stand-alone schools.

The University of Lethbridge and Northwestern Polytechnic in Grande Prairie are also involved in the program.

Anderson says research suggests three-quarters of doctors who train in rural areas end up practising in one as well.

Copping says the project will take six to eight years to show results.

“It’s going to take time to set the program up,” he said Thursday. “That’s a long-term strategy. But if you don’t start, you’ll never get there.”

Meanwhile, rural health care continues to experience staff shortages. On Thursday, the Milk River Health Centre Emergency Department announced it would close until Monday due to a doctor shortage.

Nurses were to remain on-site to provide care for long-term care residents.

Copping said Thursday’s announcement was just one part of the government’s health-care strategy.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2023.

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