Alberta Politics

Danielle Smith’s transgender youth policy isn’t really about parental rights

“Parental rights” has a long history in Alberta and it’s not what it sounds like

When you write about politics for long enough you begin to notice certain themes and issues that pop up perennially year to year.

So when Premier Danielle Smith’s office released a 7-minute video last week laden with messages about parental rights, my mind immediately wandered back to the first time I heard that term in 2006.

Those were heady days to be a political writer in Alberta. The Ralph Klein era was coming to an end and there was a whiff of change in the air.

From the Progressive Conservative backbenches came a private members’ bill that, under the guise of parents rights, would force schools to notify parents anytime school material included a mention of same-sex marriage and that no student be required to attend or teacher be required to teach that part of the course. This was less than one year after same-sex marriage was legalized in Canada.

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Alberta Politics

Alberta Politics Roundup – Eve of Fall Sitting

Alberta Legislative Assembly
Alberta’s Legislative Assembly will begin the fall session on Monday, November 17, 2014.

Fall Legislative Session
November 17, 2014 will mark the start of the first legislative session for new Premier Jim Prentice, Health Minister Stephen Mandel and Education Minister Gordon Dirks. The 43-year old governing Progressive Conservatives have promised to introduce new laws focusing on property rights and ‘ending entitlements’ for their MLAs.

This will be Rachel Notley’s first session as leader of the NDP Caucus. And Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman will introduce a private members’ bill supporting students who want to create Gay-Straight Alliances in their schools. Newly Independent MLA Joe Anglin is also expected to introduce a private members’ bill.

With the price of oil declining to the mid-$70 range and next year’s budget being prepared, Jonathan Teghtmeyer has shared 9 ways that Alberta could better manage our resources.

Constitutional Property Rights
Flanked by Lethbridge Conservative Member of Parliament Jim Hillyer and Lacombe-Ponoka MLA Rod Fox, Wildrose leader Danielle Smith announced her plans to introduce a motion calling on property rights to be included in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Wildrose motion will likely call for stronger action than will be included in Mr. Prentice’s flagship property rights bill. Also, it is almost politically impossible to amend the Canadian Constitution.

Wildrose in Red Deer
The Wildrose Party is holding its annual convention in Red Deer on November 14 and 15 (the PCs will meet in Banff). Sparks are expected to fly as activists vent their frustration about the party’s poor showing in four recent by-elections.

The departure of Mr. Anglin, a cancelled leadership review and a controversial motion to take away the ability of MLAs to remove their leader and the leader’s staff are also expected to fuel intense debate.

Government House leader
CBC reporter John Archer tweeted news that Justice Minister Jonathan Denis has replaced Municipal Affairs Minister Diana McQueen as Government House leader. Ms. McQueen was appointed to the position two months ago.

Mr. Mandel has announced plans to make it illegal for adults to smoke tobacco in vehicles with children and ban flavoured tobacco, but not menthol cigarettes. Menthol cigarettes are said to be favoured by seniors, who also tend to vote in larger numbers.

In 2012, Liberal leader Raj Sherman introduced the Tobacco Reduction (Protection of Children in Vehicles) Amendment Act, which would have made it illegal for adults to smoke tobacco in vehicles with children. Dr. Sherman’s bill was passed but never proclaimed by the PC Government.

Tailing Ponds
It has been one year since a breach of a containment pond at the Obed Mine spilled 670 million litres of toxic tailings into the Athabasca River and its tributaries.

The Alberta Wilderness AssociationMikisew Cree and Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations  and other groups are criticizing the federal and provincial governments for laying charges against the mine’s former owners, Sherritt International, or new owners, Westmoreland Coal Company.

Pro-pipeline Democrats force Keystone XL Vote
Hoping to stave off defeat in a December 6, 2014 runoff vote, Louisiana Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu is trying to force the United States Senate to vote on approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline before the end of 2014. Approval of the pipeline’s crossing the US-Canada border ultimately rests in the hands of President Barack Obama.

Yellowhead by-election
Voters in the Yellowhead federal riding will cast ballots in a by-election on Monday, November 17, 2014. Although Conservative candidate Jim Eglinski is expecting an easy victory, federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau visited the constituency to campaign with candidate Ryan Mahugn last week.

Calgary Liberals
November 28. Kent Hehr expected to be acclaimed as federal Liberal candidate in Calgary-Centre. The popular MLA was first elected in Calgary-Buffalo in 2008. It is unclear if Mr. Hehr and fellow Liberal MLA Darshan Kang, who is running for the federal Liberals in Calgary-Skyview will resign their provincial positions before the next federal election.

Borderlands By-election
Voters on the Saskatchewan side of the divided city of Lloydminster elected a new MLA in a by-election held yesterday. Saskatchewan Party candidate Colleen Young was elected with 64% of the vote, defeating second place New Democrat Wayne Byers, who earned 29%. It is almost impossible to image an NDP candidate receiving that much support on the Alberta side of Lloydminster.  

Ms. Young replaces former Rural and Remote Health Minister Tim McMillan, who resigned in September to become the President of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

A plug…
I had the pleasure of joining the good folks at The Unknown Studio podcast to chat about Alberta politics this week. I also appeared on this week’s Alberta Primetime politics panel with Edmonton lawyer Roberto Noce and Mount Royal University professor Lori Williams.

Alberta Politics

stability and political control in our health care system & the alberta health act.

When discussing public health care in Alberta, there is a lot to be said about the lack of stability in the system over the past twenty years. I have found that much of the recent media coverage around Alberta Health Services and emergency room wait times has neglected to mention the long-term effects of the lack of stability as some of the root causes of these problems.

For example, by my count, over the past 16 years, there have been 11 different Deputy Ministers of Health, some permanent and some acting. When it comes to staffing, the health care system is still recovering from the cuts in the 1990s that eliminated or downgraded over 10,000 employees. When it comes to the administration of local health authorities, there has been a constant state of provincial government initiated restructuring over the past fifteen years:

1995: Around 200 hospital boards, public health units, long term care boards and facilities were joined together under 17 Regional Health Authorities (RHA) filled with appointed board members.
2001: The 17 RHA were merged into nine. This is the first year that a third of the RHA boards were elected, which took place in conjunction with the municipal elections.
2003: The 1/3 RHA boards members were terminated and replaced with completely appointed board members.
2008: The 9 remaining RHAs were dissolved and the Alberta Health Services superboard was appointed.

You would be hard pressed to find any Albertan who would characterize AHS as perfect, but considering all constant overhauls that have been happening in our health care system, maybe its time for some stability? In my mind, a return to regional control would be ideal, but it would need to be gradual and not as recklessly hasty as the merger that created AHS.

Do not to confuse stability with political control.

In the Alberta Legislature this week, MLAs are debating a new piece of legislation, Bill 17: The Alberta Health Act. Bill 17 is filled with vague, yet nice-sounding language, like the establishment of a Health Charter and the appointment of a Health Advocate, but what does this really mean?

A quick read of the Alberta Health Act will show that while a Health Charter may sound impressive, it is not the kind of “charter” that most Albertans would expect it to be. Rather than being a legally-binding document, it will be open to changes through Order-in-Council (or a vote at a closed-door cabinet meeting). The Health Advocate will not be an independent officer of the Assembly, but an employee of the Government of Alberta who will report to the Minister of Health & Wellness.

As a piece of “enabling legislation” the Alberta Health Act would move a number of other decison-making powers behind closed doors, including allowing the Minister of Health & Wellness to create regulations “respecting the roles and responsibilities of (regional health authorities, provincial health boards and professional colleges)” and “respecting the designation of other persons as health providers.” Under current legislation, these changes would need to be made through legislation and public debate. Not so under the Alberta Health Act.

The changes proposed in this legislation were apparently the result of a months long province-wide consultation led by Edmonton-Rutherford PC MLA Fred Horne. I am not sure who Mr. Horne consulted, but I do not know many Albertans who would list a non-binding Health Charter and more authority to cabinet ministers as their priorities for health care.

(Jonathan Teghtmeyer has written an excellent analysis about why Albertans should be concerned about the changes in the Alberta Health Act.)