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Alberta

“Most discriminated-against group”: Alberta premier pledges to protect unvaccinated

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By Dean Bennett in Edmonton

Danielle Smith, sworn in Tuesday as Alberta’s new premier, said she will shake up the top tier of the health system within three months and amend provincial human rights law to protect those who choose not to get vaccinated.

“(The unvaccinated) have been the most discriminated-against group that I’ve ever witnessed in my lifetime,” Smith told reporters at the legislature.

“I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a situation in my lifetime where a person was fired from their job or not allowed to watch their kids play hockey or not allowed to go visit a loved one in long-term care or hospital, not allowed to get on a plane to either go across the country to see family or even travel across the border.

“We are not going to create a segregated society on the basis of a medical choice.”

Earlier in the day, Smith was sworn into the job by Lt.-Gov. Salma Lakhani at a ceremony at Government House.

In a speech there, Smith said, “Albertans have been through so much over these last 2 1/2 years. Our rights and freedoms have been tested.

“I will ensure as head of this government that those rights and freedoms are protected and will never be taken for granted again.”

Smith, 51, ran and won the United Conservative Party leadership race last week to replace Jason Kenney as leader and premier.

She ran on a promise to provide human rights protections for the unvaccinated and fire the top management of Alberta Health Services, the province’s front-line provider of care.

She said AHS botched the job during the COVID-19 pandemic by not fulfilling cabinet direction to increase surge capacity as hospitalizations soared, while also implementing vaccine rules that depleted staffing levels.

“When they fail to meet targets and fail to meet direction, you change the management. And so that’s what we’re going to do,” said Smith. “My intention would be to have a new governance structure in place within 90 days.”

Smith also announced she plans to be replace Dr. Deena Hinshaw as Alberta’s chief medical health officer.

Hinshaw was lauded in the early days of the pandemic then faced criticism as hospitals were overwhelmed.

“I appreciate the work that Dr. Deena Hinshaw has done, but I think that we are in a new phase where we are now talking about treating coronavirus as endemic, as we do with influenza. So I will be developing a new team of public health advisers,” said Smith.

Smith will also serve as intergovernmental affairs minister and plans to announce a revised cabinet on Oct. 21.

Prior to the swearing-in ceremony, Kenney formally submitted his resignation as premier. He announced he was quitting months earlier following an uninspiring 51 per cent vote of support in a party leadership review.

Smith and Kenney sparred publicly during the leadership campaign. He characterized her core promise to create an Alberta sovereignty act to reject federal laws and court decisions as “nuts” and a fuse to light a powder keg of political and economic turmoil.

Smith said she hasn’t heard directly from Kenney since her victory last Thursday.

“I reached out to him and he has not accepted my invitation for a meeting,” she said. “I think the premier needs a little bit of time and I’m prepared to give him a little bit of time. It’s a big adjustment.”

Smith doesn’t have a seat in the legislature but announced over the weekend that she will run in a byelection to fill a vacant seat in Brooks-Medicine Hat in southern Alberta.

Elections Alberta has called the byelection for Nov. 8.

Almost all of Smith’s leadership rivals and others in the UCP caucus have criticized Smith’s proposed sovereignty act as unconstitutional and untenable.

In Calgary, Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley said she and justice critic Kathleen Ganley have written to every UCP caucus member and asked them to oppose it in person in the legislature.

“If they were speaking the truth on the leadership contest trail, the bottom line is they cannot allow this bill to pass. It is time to put province before party and do the right thing,” said Notley.

The next general election is set for May 29 and Smith has said she won’t call an earlier vote.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 11, 2022.

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Alberta

Premier Smith uses First Ministers’ meeting to catch up with Quebec Premier Legault and Saskatchewan’s Scott Moe

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Premier Smith’s update from the Ottawa

Premier Danielle Smith participated in the First Ministers’ Meeting on health care in Ottawa and provided the following update.

Alberta is leading the country with major reform to health care. After 2.5 years of requests from Canada’s premiers, today, the federal government presented their plan. While this is a start, overall, this is significantly lower than the premiers anticipated. Premier Smith will take this information back to her team in Alberta in advance of meeting with Canada’s premiers again in the coming days.

Premier Smith also met with premiers François Legault of Quebec and Scott Moe of Saskatchewan in Ottawa in advance of today’s first ministers’ meeting.

Premier Smith and Premier Legault committed to a desired outcome for a health-care deal that recognizes and respects provincial jurisdiction over health delivery and leads to better outcomes for Albertans and Quebecers. Premier Smith stressed the importance of Alberta’s energy sector, advocating for the importance of natural gas exploration and development both for the growth of the Canadian economy and to provide energy security for Canada’s allies. Premier Legault reiterated his desire to invest in clean energy like hydroelectricity to fight climate change. Both premiers expressed concern about federal overreach and the need for the federal government to respect provincial autonomy in areas of provincial jurisdiction to better meet the needs of their citizens.

Premier Smith and Premier Moe expressed a need for flexibility in the delivery of health-care services, especially those that Alberta’s Healthcare Action Plan commits to, such as reducing surgical wait times, improving ambulance services and reducing emergency room wait times. Premier Smith emphasized Alberta’s progress on recovery-oriented care to support those struggling with mental health and addictions challenges and invited Premier Moe to Alberta to visit the province’s recovery-oriented treatment centres. The premiers also discussed the mutual importance of the energy sector to their provinces for job growth and export to Canada’s allies and a desire to work together on establishing economic corridors for trade and energy export.

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Alberta

Premier Smith asks Prime Minister to halt “Just Transition” legislation

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Premier Smith meets with the Prime Minister

Premier Danielle Smith met with the Prime Minister for approximately 30 minutes primarily discussing Alberta’s request for the federal government to halt the introduction of its proposed ‘Just Transition’ legislation and other emission reduction strategies.

The Premier asked the federal government to instead work collaboratively with the Government of Alberta on developing a plan and partnership to attract energy investment and workers into Alberta’s conventional, non-conventional and emerging energy sectors while reducing Canada’s and Alberta’s net emissions.

The Prime Minister expressed a willingness to explore this strategy with the Premier through their respective ministers and the Premier will be following up with further correspondence regarding proposed next steps in the near future.

The Premier used today’s discussion to outline Alberta’s expectations as to what must and must not be included in any future federal legislation, targets or policies as it relates to Alberta’s energy sector. These expectations included:

  • Abandonment of any references to ‘just transition’ or any other terminology or policies that signal the phaseout of Alberta’s conventional or non-conventional energy sector or workforce.
  • Increased workforce training and participation in all of the conventional, non-conventional and emerging energy sectors.
  • The need for formal consultation and collaboration with Alberta before the federal government announces or implements legislation, targets or policies that materially impact Alberta’s energy sector.
  • Substantial increase in LNG exports to Asia through the lens of meeting targets through replacement of higher emitting fuel sources with clean Canadian LNG.
  • Joint federal-provincial initiatives to facilitate increased private investment in nuclear, hydrogen, bitumen beyond combustion, geothermal, lithium, helium, zero-emission vehicle, CCUS, petrochemical and other emerging technologies and fuels that make Alberta’s conventional and non-conventional energy sector increasingly carbon neutral.

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