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Alberta

Alberta cracking down on mask exemptions – Note required

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Masking exceptions for health conditions

  • Starting May 13, the rules around exemptions from wearing a mask due to a medical condition are changing. Individuals will now be required to obtain a medical exception letter verifying their health condition from an authorized health-care provider.
  • The medical exception letter must come from a nurse practitioner, physician or psychologist. It may be presented when in a public setting, if requested by enforcement officials or retrospectively in court if a ticket is issued.
  • This is modelled after the approaches currently used in Saskatchewan and other provinces.

Update 221: COVID-19 pandemic in Alberta (May 13, 4:15 p.m.)

Cases remain high in all parts of Alberta. Continue following the restrictions in place to stop the spread of COVID-19 and protect the health-care system.

Latest updates

  • Over the last 24 hours, 1,558 new cases were identified.
  • There are 722 people in hospital due to COVID-19, including 177 in intensive care.
  • There are 24,586 active cases in the province.
  • To date, 188,475 Albertans have recovered from COVID-19.
  • In the last 24 hours, there were nine additional COVID-related deaths reported: one on April 28, one on May 8, two on May 10, one on May 11, three on May 12, and one on May 13.
  • The testing positivity rate was 10.6 per cent.
  • There were 15,266 tests (4,375,995 total) completed in the last 24 hours and a total of 2,103,334 people tested overall.
  • All zones across the province have cases:
    • Calgary Zone: 11,584 active cases and 75,055 recovered
    • South Zone: 1,255 active cases and 10,227 recovered
    • Edmonton Zone: 5,470 active cases and 67,097 recovered
    • North Zone: 3,618 active cases and 20,117 recovered
    • Central Zone: 2,647 active cases and 15,961 recovered
    • 12 active cases and 18 recovered cases in zones to be confirmed
    • Additional information, including case totals, is online.
  • Alberta has identified 276 additional cases of variants of concern, bringing the provincial total to 39,989.
  • Currently, 907 schools, about 38 per cent, are on alert or have outbreaks, with 6,736 cases in total.
    • 439 schools are on alert, with 1,067 total cases.
    • Outbreaks are declared in 468 schools, with a total of 5,669 cases.
    • In-school transmission has likely occurred in 818 schools. Of these, 273 have had only one new case occur as a result.
  • There are currently 115 active and 9,487 recovered cases at long-term care facilities and supportive/home living sites.
  • To date, 1,251 of the 2,121 reported deaths (59 per cent) have been in long-term care facilities or supportive/home living sites.

COVID-19 vaccination program

  • As of May 12, 2,019,714 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Alberta, with 38 per cent of the population having received at least one dose. There are now 322,247 Albertans fully vaccinated with two doses.
  • All Albertans age 12 and older are eligible to book appointments through AHS or a participating pharmacy provincewide.
  • Legislation now allows Albertans up to three hours of paid, job-protected leave to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

New vaccination campaign launches

  • Back to Normal is a new phase of Alberta’s vaccination campaign, intended to emphasize the crucial importance of Albertans getting vaccinated so life can return to normal.
  • This advertisement is the first element of the campaign. Additional advertising showing other aspects of daily life will be released soon.

Masking exceptions for health conditions

  • Starting May 13, the rules around exemptions from wearing a mask due to a medical condition are changing. Individuals will now be required to obtain a medical exception letter verifying their health condition from an authorized health-care provider.
  • The medical exception letter must come from a nurse practitioner, physician or psychologist. It may be presented when in a public setting, if requested by enforcement officials or retrospectively in court if a ticket is issued.
  • This is modelled after the approaches currently used in Saskatchewan and other provinces.

Restrictions in place for high case regions

  • Restrictions are in place. Outdoor gatherings are limited to five people, most schools have moved to online learning, retail capacity is reduced and in-person dining and services are not allowed at restaurants, bars and cafés.
  • Municipalities that have fewer than 50 cases per 100,000 people and/or fewer than 30 active cases are able to return to Step 0 level restrictions.

Enforcement of public health measures

  • Fines for non-compliance with public health measures have doubled to $2,000.
  • Unpaid fines are backstopped with stronger fine collection actions and restrictions on registry services. For example, a person may have to pay their outstanding fine before they can renew their driver’s licence.
  • Repeat offenders will be targeted with a new multi-agency enforcement framework.
  • Tickets can be given at the time of an incident or post-infraction – someone who isn’t charged immediately may receive a ticket after authorities do further investigation.

Rapid testing

Continuing care

  • Restrictions for visitors to continuing care facilities have been eased.
  • These changes will vary by site based on the design of the building, wishes of residents and other factors.
  • Each site must develop their own visiting approach that falls within the guidelines set out and reflects the risk tolerance of the residents who live at that site.

COVID Care Teams outreach

  • If you or others in your home have been directed to self-isolate/quarantine by Alberta Health Services and are unable to do so safely at home, please contact 211 to discuss options, including accessing an assigned hotel to safely isolate (free of charge). Financial assistance may also be available in the amount of $625, upon completion of the self-isolation period.

Albertans downloading tracer app

  • All Albertans are encouraged to download the secure ABTraceTogether app, which is integrated with provincial contact tracing. The federal app is not a contact tracing app.
  • Secure contact tracing is an effective tool to stop the spread by notifying people who were exposed to a confirmed case so they can isolate and be tested.
  • As of May 13, 314,511 Albertans were using the ABTraceTogether app, 69 per cent on iOS and 31 per cent on Android.
  • Secure contact tracing is a cornerstone of Alberta’s Relaunch Strategy.

MyHealth Records quick access

  • Parents and guardians can access the COVID-19 test results for children under the age of 18 through MyHealth Records (MHR) as soon as they are ready.
  • More than 600,000 Albertans have MHR accounts.

Addiction and mental health supports

  • Confidential supports are available. The Mental Health Help Line at 1-877-303-2642 and the Addiction Help Line at 1-866-332-2322 operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Resources are also available online.
  • The Kids Help Phone is available 24-7 and offers professional counselling, information and referrals and volunteer-led, text-based support to young people by texting CONNECT to 686868.
  • Online resources provide advice on handling stressful situations and ways to talk with children.

Family violence prevention

  • A 24-hour Family Violence Information Line at 310-1818 provides anonymous help in more than 170 languages.
  • Alberta’s One Line for Sexual Violence is available at 1-866-403-8000, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
  • People fleeing family violence can call local police or the nearest RCMP detachment to apply for an Emergency Protection Order, or follow the steps in the Emergency Protection Orders Telephone Applications (COVID-19).
  • Information sheets and other resources on family violence prevention are at alberta.ca/COVID19.

Alberta’s government is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic by protecting lives and livelihoods with precise measures to bend the curve, sustain small businesses and protect Alberta’s health-care system.

Quick facts

  • Legally, all Albertans must physically distance and isolate when sick or with symptoms.
  • Good hygiene is your best protection: wash your hands regularly for at least 20 seconds, avoid touching your face, cough or sneeze into an elbow or sleeve, and dispose of tissues appropriately.
  • Please share acts of kindness during this difficult time at #AlbertaCares.
  • Alberta Connects Contact Centre (310-4455) is open Monday to Friday, 8:15 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Alberta

Alberta promising changes to campuses amid university ‘woke’ free speech standoff

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By Dean Bennett in Edmonton

The Alberta government says changes are coming to further protect free speech on campuses as a former professor speaking out on so-called “woke” policies prepares for a showdown with the University of Lethbridge.

Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides says he plans to announce the changes in the coming days but did not give details.

He was responding to the case of Frances Widdowson, a former tenured professor at Calgary’s Mount Royal University, who was invited then disinvited to speak on campus this week about her concerns that a mob mentality and “woke policies” increasingly threaten academic freedom.

Widdowson has previously come under fire for her comments on residential schools.

“I understand past comments made by this speaker are controversial,” Nicolaides said in a statement Tuesday.

“But I believe it is important for our universities and colleges to foster a strong culture of free speech and diverse viewpoints, even when those viewpoints are deemed controversial, or even offensive, barring speech intended to incite hatred or violence of course.”

Widdowson, asked about Nicolaides’ comment, said in an interview: “I think that’s great.

“I think we need a public inquiry about what’s happening at universities.

“The universities are being run by woke activists who are completely opposed to the open and honest discussion of ideas on campus.”

Widdowson was fired from Mount Royal in late 2021 amid controversy over comments she made lauding the educational benefits of Canada’s residential school system while questioning whether abuses at the schools against Indigenous children equated to “cultural genocide,” as described in the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

Widdowson was invited by a professor to speak Wednesday and the University of Lethbridge granted space for the event.

About 2,500 students signed a petition pushing back on the university for hosting the speech.

University president Mike Mahon, as late as last Thursday, defended the decision to host Widdowson, citing free speech even if the university did not agree with her views.

However, on Monday, Mahon said after further consultation the offer of space was revoked because Widdowson’s views would not advance the residential schools discussion and would cause harm by minimizing the pain and suffering inflicted on First Nations children and families.

“It is clear that the harm associated with this talk is an impediment to meaningful reconciliation,” said Mahon in a statement.

Widdowson said she plans to deliver her speech in a public atrium on the campus Wednesday afternoon and has challenged school security to toss her out.

“I’ve never denied the harm of the residential schools,” she told The Canadian Press.

“People are distorting what I’m saying about it. My issue is residential schools were not genocidal. (They) were a misguided effort which often had serious problems.”

“I’ve been branded as some kind of hate monger,” she added. “I’m just arguing if we want to create a better world for everyone, a more co-operative world, we have to be able to speak truthfully about issues that matter.”

Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley said Nicolaides is being distressingly tone-deaf and needs to reconsider his statements.

“The idea of having someone come and speak at the university … to a student body that consists of many Indigenous students about how they somehow benefited from residential schools is deeply troubling to me,” Notley told reporters.

“That the (United Conservative Party government) doesn’t understand how incredibly hurtful those ideas are to huge swaths of the Alberta population reveals their lack of understanding about the real experiences and traumas that treaty people in Alberta have been subjected to.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 31, 2023.

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Alberta

Alberta landowners fear repeat of orphan well crisis as renewable energy booms

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By Amanda Stephenson in Calgary

Once bitten, twice shy.

It’s an old adage that explains why Jason Schneider, the elected reeve of Vulcan County, Alta., is jittery about the renewable energy boom under way in his province.

Like many in rural Alberta, Schneider is still smarting over the way municipalities were left holding the bag when an oil price crash nearly a decade ago resulted in billions of dollars of unfunded liabilities left behind by bankrupt fossil fuel companies.

In Vulcan County alone, the landscape is littered with hundreds of wells with no owners that need to be cleaned up, and the municipality itself is owed more than $9 million in back taxes left unpaid by insolvent oil and gas firms.

So Schneider has a hard time looking at acre upon acre of massive wind turbines or solar panels without fearing a repeat of Alberta’s orphan well crisis, or wondering who’s going to fix everything if something goes wrong.

“These are large industrial developments, and the reclamation costs are going to be substantial,” he said.

“We can see the warning signs, and we are being ignored.”

Across rural Alberta, concerns are growing about the long-term implications of the province’s renewable energy boom — the speed and scale of which has been nothing short of stunning.

A province that not that long ago was largely reliant on coal for electricity, Alberta is now home to more than 3,800 MW of wind and solar capacity, 1,350 of which came online in just the last 12 months. An additional 1,800 MW of capacity is currently under construction, putting the province on track to meet or exceed the target it set in 2016 to generate 30 per cent of its total electricity from renewable sources by 2030.

In Schneider’s Vulcan County, which is home to both the country’s largest solar farm and one of Western Canada’s largest wind farms, renewable energy developments now account for more than 40 per cent of the local tax base, displacing oil and gas as the number one source of revenue for the local municipal government.

But while many in rural Alberta welcome the economic activity, and farmers and ranchers enjoy the extra income that playing host to solar panels or wind turbines can bring, others are sounding the alarm.

For example, the Rural Municipalities of Alberta recently passed a resolution calling on the provincial government to protect taxpayers from incurring costs associated with the potential decommissioning of renewable energy infrastructure.

Specifically, the association wants to see the government mandate the collection of securities for reclamation from developers before a project goes ahead. That way, municipalities won’t be footing the bill if a developer becomes insolvent and walks away.

“What we’ve learned, and what Albertans have learned, is that the cheapest way to get out of reclamation is going bankrupt,” said Paul McLauchlin, president of the Rural Municipalities of Alberta.

“Some of these solar installations are being installed by one company, sold to another company … I talked to a gentleman who’s on his fifth owner, and his solar installation has been there maybe two years. So we’re seeing small companies owning these, and whether they have the wherewithal for reclamation, that’s really what’s driving this conversation.”

In Alberta, the Orphan Well Association is an industry-funded organization tasked with decommissioning old oil and gas infrastructure and returning the land to its prior state. (It’s currently backlogged, in spite of a $200 million loan from the federal government. In 2020, the feds also provided $1 billion for well clean-up to active companies under Alberta’s Site Rehabilitation Program.)

But there’s no equivalent for the renewable energy industry, though renewable energy companies are required to provide an overview of how they plan to cover decommissioning and reclamation costs before they can receive the go-ahead for their project.

However, for a landowner, entering into a wind or solar lease is entirely voluntary. That’s very different from oil and gas, where under Alberta law, property owners are not allowed to refuse companies seeking to develop the fossil fuels that lie under the surface of their land.

Evan Wilson, director of policy and government affairs for the Canadian Renewable Energy Association, said that because solar and wind leases remain private civil contracts between the developer and the landowner, the onus is on the landowner to ensure the inclusion of some kind of provision to mitigate risks associated with the project’s end-of-life.

But he added many companies do offer landowners some form of reclamation commitment, either in the form of a letter of credit or bond.

“Landowners do have the ability to veto these projects being built on their land,” Wilson said.

“So that puts a lot of pressure on our members to ensure that landowners do feel comfortable with the terms.”

Sara Hastings-Simon, an expert in energy, innovation and climate policy at the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy, said it’s understandable that municipalities have concerns.

However, she said it’s odd that there’s a push to enforce new regulations for the renewable sector, when the scope of the orphan well problem shows the oil and gas regulatory system could also use an overhaul.

According to the Alberta Energy Regulator, there are more than 83,000 inactive oil and gas wells in the province currently, and close to 90,000 more that have been sealed and taken out of service, but not yet fully remediated.

A report released last year by the Parliamentary Budget Officer estimated that the cost of orphan well clean-up in Canada will reach $1.1 billion by 2025.

“Obviously we need to make sure that all of our industrial development is done in a way that doesn’t offload costs to the public,” Hastings-Simon said.

“But it would make a lot of sense for the province to look at energy development holistically, rather than just picking the one that right now perhaps has more growth.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 29, 2023.

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