Alberta Premier Smith holds off on bill to protect COVID-19 unvaccinated
Posted Nov 28, 2022 12:37:34 PM.
Last Updated Nov 29, 2022 09:31:40 AM.
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith is holding back on legislation that would have outlawed restrictions on people not vaccinated against COVID-19.
Government house leader Joseph Schow says such a bill will not be introduced this fall while outlining the province’s legislative agenda Monday morning.
He declined to say whether the bill is gone for good.
The premier also called unvaccinated people the “most discriminated against group” she has ever seen in her first speech as premier.
Smith reiterated the discrimination of the unvaccinated to reporters Monday, and she says the bill is going to be readjusted to include a “number of pieces of legislature.” She also says changing the Human Rights Act is not enough of a change.
“I’m in the process now of identifying individuals who might be able to assist with that legislative review. And so once I’ve established that I’ll make sure that we have the full Terms of Reference, as well as the legislation that we’re looking at,” Smith said.
“It’s not going to be that long. It’ll be a matter of weeks, not a matter of months, and I’ll make sure that we announce that pathway forward.”
She also says that there has not been any discrimination towards unvaccinated people in businesses, and says she is “pleased with them.”
“I’m seeing that there’s a lot of responsible employers who are rescinding vaccine mandates and a lot of responsible vendors who are not discriminating against their customers. And I’m glad to see that,” Smith said. “In fact, if there is still discrimination, I’d like to know about it.”
“We want to make sure that we’re creating an environment where no one is discriminated against in this province for any reason.”
The premier says the bigger issue, according to her supporters, is to ensure that there is a “proper pandemic plan” in the future.
“Just making this one change to this one piece of legislation isn’t going to be adequate; that’s what I determined. We’re going to have to make probably substantive changes to a number of pieces of legislation,” Smith said.
“I didn’t want to do this as a bit of a slapdash measure. I want to make sure that we’re solving this problem for the future. So, there’ll be more to come.”
She says her supporters will understand the decision and will “see the approach that we’re taking.”
Smith calls out businesses that implement vaccination, NDP calls it harassment
Smith says her government has reached out to businesses and other organizations that have had vaccine mandates and said the province will withhold funds if they don’t change their act.
“For instance, the Arctic Winter Games wanted $1.2 million from us to support their effort, and they were discriminating against the athletes, telling them they had to be vaccinated. So we asked them if they would reconsider their vaccination policy in the light of new evidence, and they did, and I was pleased to see that,” Smith said.
“Those are the kinds of things that we’ll do.”
Smith said she heard an Alberta film production has a COVID policy for its hairdressers, so she has directed a cabinet minister to call the company to urge it to reconsider.
She says she is “quite prepared to make those phone calls,” along with receiving calls from citizens who spot any discrimination related to COVID-19 mandates.
“We just want to remind people that in this province, we do not discriminate against people for any reason,” Smith said.
“And that now that we know a lot more about this virus, … we would like them to address their policies and bring them up to speed with what the environment is here, that we are trying to create a welcoming environment that will accept people from all backgrounds and all occupations, and we don’t want to have any discrimination for any costs.”
Irfan Sabir, Alberta NDP Justice critic, said in a statement that Smith is “intimidating” Albertans and potential investment opportunities in the province.
“For Danielle Smith to admit today that she’s calling businesses and non-profits to harass and threaten them is deeply troubling,” Sabir said.
“Smith’s behaviour will do serious damage to our reputation. It will drive away investment, destroy jobs, and stifle opportunities for Albertans.
“Instead of calling these companies and organizations to intimidate them, we should be welcoming them to come and do business in Alberta.”
Sabir said that if people believe in public health measures, “your funding will be cut, you will be discriminated against.”
“That is clear cut intimidation and harassment.”
Premier shakes up AHS at request of supporters
The premier also said that her supporters wanted to see a change of leadership with the chief medical officer and the removal of the Alberta Health Services (AHS) board of governors, which she says she has honoured.
“I think people understand that there’s a lot of different ways that we have to address some of the things that went wrong over the last two and a half years,” Smith said.
“What I proposed was not going to be sufficient, so I need to do something more fulsome.”
Smith did away with the 11-member board of AHS in early November and replaced them with an administrator, Dr. John Cowell. He filled the same role in the Alison Redford government after the AHS board was dismantled at that time.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, was shown the door.
“I think people expect for me to uphold the Charter of Rights and Freedoms of our citizens as part of the reason I think I got elected,” Smith said.
Smith, who won the Brooks-Medicine Hat byelection to seat in the legislature with 54 per cent of the vote, has yet to enter an election with the province. She won the UCP leadership with 53 per cent of the vote after six rounds of the preferential voting system
As recently as five weeks ago, Smith said the human rights change needed to be passed immediately, characterizing it as a stand-alone symbolic line in the sand tantamount to an Alberta declaration of freedom.
In an Oct. 20 speech to the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce, Smith told the audience the bill was coming this fall whether they liked it or not.
A provincial election, where all Albertans will vote, is in six months’ time.
The Alberta legislature is scheduled to resume Tuesday for the fall sitting, but Smith’s promised bill to amend the provincial Human Rights Act to forbid restrictions based on someone’s COVID-19 vaccination status won’t be on the docket.
The first bill in the sitting is Smith’s long-promised, controversial Alberta sovereignty act which has been renamed the `”Alberta sovereignty within a united Canada act.”
-With files from Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press