David Swann statement on Ministerial Order to allow Gay-Straight Alliances

Edmonton, AB (March 24, 2017): Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann released the following statement in response to the Ministerial Order directing two schools to allow gay-straight alliances (GSAs):

“I thank the Minister of Education for his decision to enforce the law permitting gay-straight alliances to be established in all schools where students request them.

“However, I admonish him for not having taken a firmer stance from the beginning on this matter. By allowing a situation of open defiance to continue for as long as it had, he empowered a willful act of discrimination. This is something that he should not and must not permit.

“The incident further highlights the fact that many school board LGBTQ policies simply do not make the grade – the Minister even called them ‘clunky’. In some cases, students are even discouraged from using the terms LGBTQ or GSA. This goes against both the spirit and the letter of the law.

“One way to ensure transparency and accountability in this matter is to require all school boards, including private schools, to make their GSA policies publicly accessible. That way, parents, students, and the community can review them.

“The investigation that led to the Ministerial Order also raised concerns about a school’s ability to “out” LGBTQ students by notifying parents if students attend GSAs. If true, this is deeply troubling.

“Therefore, I call on the Minister to do everything in his power to protect these vulnerable students, and ensure their privacy and confidentiality is explicitly safeguarded.

“Finally, let us not forget that GSAs save lives. While students have the legal right to form GSAs, more needs to be done to remove all barriers to establishing these safe and inclusive student-led initiatives.”

Video of David Swann questioning Minister Eggen on Gay-Straight Alliances on March 14th can be found here

Dr. Swann Debates Bill 2 – An Act to Remove Barriers for Survivors of Sexual and Domestic Violence (Committee of the Whole) – 22 March 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Wednesday, March 22, 2017.

Bill 2 – An Act to Remove Barriers for Survivors of Sexual and Domestic Violence (Committee of the Whole)

Dr. Swann: Thank you very much, Madam Chair. I look forward to tabling an amendment that I’ve raised privately with the minister and I hope will be favourable to just adding the scope to the bill and clarity to the bill.

The Chair: This will be known as amendment A1. Go ahead, hon. member.

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Madam Chair. I very much support the intent of this bill. I am slightly concerned that its protections may not be afforded to all survivors due to a technicality. Bill 2, An Act to Remove Barriers for Survivors of Sexual and Domestic Violence, currently covers survivors who are either a minor, in an intimate relationship with or dependent on the perpetrator at the time that the sexual misconduct or nonsexual assault occurred. It is the term “dependency” that concerns me.

A relationship with dependency might not be an accurate description of incidents where the survivor and the perpetrators are co-workers with the same level of seniority such as the recent high-profile case of female police officers who were affected in the Calgary Police Service after enduring years of harassment from colleagues. It’s not clear if dependency applies to harassment or exploitation of an adult student by a university professor or a postsecondary instructor. It’s unfortunate that the specific mention of co-workers was left out as it would give confidence, I think, and encourage people to come forward. Even though it may be implied, it’s not explicit.

The bill cannot be amended at this time to include references to co-workers since that would involve altering the legislation, which is not under current consideration.

Consequently, I would like to propose an amendment aimed at reducing the bill’s ambiguity by inserting an additional category of protection. I have the appropriate number of copies as circulated, and my amendment reads as follows. I move that Bill 2, An Act to Remove Barriers for Survivors of Sexual and Domestic Violence, be amended in section 3 in the proposed section 3.1(1) as follows: in clause (b) by striking out “or” at the end of subclause (ii), by adding “or” at the end of subclause (iii), and by adding the follow-ing after subclause (iii):

(iv) the person who committed the misconduct was in a position of trust or authority in relation to the person with the claim.

The second part, (b), in clause (c) by striking out “or” at the end of subclause (ii), by adding “or” at the end of subclause (iii), and by adding the following subclause (iv):

(iv) the person who committed the assault or battery was in a position of trust or authority in relation to the person with the claim.

Essentially, the amendment seeks to amend Bill 2 to ensure that its protections apply to a broader category of survivors; namely, that the person who committed the misconduct was in the position of trust or authority in relation to the person with the claim. A “position of trust or authority” is admittedly a general term, and that’s exactly the point. My amendment seeks to ensure these limitations apply to a broader category of survivors.

Unfortunately, short of rewriting the entire proposed section 3.1, which I’m sure the government members would not support, my amendment cannot capture everything in terms of eliminating the limitation period for sexual harassment claims. Instead, it builds on the bill’s original wording but doesn’t radically alter it. Since the sexual misconduct section deals primarily with power differentials, this proposed bill is in line with the government’s intent. Regrettably, it will not include situations where workplace sexual harassment occurs among relative equals, such as the situation in Calgary that I mentioned.

Again, I hope the government would consider bringing forward further legislation that would deal explicitly with workplace sexual harassment, but for now the government may wish to argue that what my amendment seeks to accomplish is already covered by subclause (iii), which deals with situations of dependency, as in financial, emotional, physical, or otherwise. However, this is far from certain in cases of workplace dynamics or adult educational settings, and I think we owe it to survivors to be as inclusive as possible.

I call on my colleagues to support the amendment to ensure that more survivors feel included under these important protections and will more readily come forward.

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Dr. Swann Debates Government Motions: Provincial Fiscal Policies – 22 March 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Government Motions: Provincial Fiscal Policies

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Madam Speaker. I’m pleased to speak to the 2017-18 budget. I think a lot of what we are expressing in this House is degrees of comfort with debt and degrees of comfort with borrowing and degrees of comfort with protecting public services and infrastructure. What we have seen in the past at least 20 years, since I started paying attention, is a PC government that has not kept up with either infrastructure or human services needs. In fact, it has allowed those things to slip on the basis of balancing a bottom line that doesn’t recognize environmental deficits, human deficits in access to services, care, housing and health care, and doesn’t recognize that liabilities related to infrastructure don’t go away if you don’t spend the money.

During good times and bad we faced the same challenge in the previous 20 years at least, where we were not keeping up with some of those key elements of a civil society. We’re now facing a true challenge for all of us, and I think a lot of what we’re debating here is how quickly we should be moving on some of these deficits and how much we should be borrowing and indeed how we should be paying for it. The latter I’ll leave to the end, but I think that’s a crucial one that we still haven’t come to grips with in a lot of respects.

If we have a difference of opinion on this side in the Liberal caucus, it’s primarily around the pacing of change in this province and the lack of connection to what’s happening on the ground and a recognition that small business is continuing to suffer. There’s a recognition also that some of these new, dramatic changes, all of which I think had to be brought into place, including the carbon levy – how we can balance those things out in a thoughtful way and try to reduce the impact on everything from small business to nonprofit organizations and various services and generally low-income earners that are going to be adversely impacted by the knock-on effect of all the changes at once that are increasing the cost of living? Obviously, we can’t wait for oil prices, and this is the perfect time for borrowing for infrastructure. This is a stimulus for our economy, and it’s going to keep people employed. The question is how much and how we’re going to pay it off.

Clearly, if we’re looking at trying to both minimize our impact on future generations and budget appropriately, health care has to be a primary focus for our attention. It is by far the biggest expenditure of government, and it has grown by up to 8 per cent per year for the last decade, again leaving us in a position where the expectations are there, public expectations and professional expectations, that it’s going to continue and that they’re always going to have exactly what they need. The Minister of Health is in a very difficult position trying to balance the needs of people and the professional demands and the infrastructure demands, the technology demands, the growth of all these new technologies.

[The Deputy Speaker in the chair]

But she has to make tough decisions, and I think some of the positive decisions that she’s made are around the amending agreement with physicians, some of the drug cost issues that we’ve managed over the last few years to bring under some control. But there are a number of areas – and I’m a constant thorn in her side about prevention and early intervention and health promotion – which continue to get less and less relative to the population and cost-of-living increases.

We are gradually getting into the position where we are faced with a sickness care system. This is not a health care system anymore; it’s a sickness care system. We spend virtually all of our money on managing people after they get sick and break down when there are tremendous studies showing evidence of reducing the incidence of mental illness, addictions, injuries, reducing the incidence of lifestyle diseases, heart disease, and cancer by working with families, especially high-risk families, those that often consume most of the health care system. In fact, as some of you may know, it’s about 5 per cent of the population that consumes 50 per cent of our health resources because of their chronic, long-term, complicated illnesses. Many of those are seniors, but many of them simply are born with poor-functioning bodies and they need a lot of medical care in and out of hospital. If we focused more attention on some of those folks and managed them better, we would also reduce substantially some of the costs that we’re dealing with.

It’s disappointing not to see more significant changes in the health care system where we could substantially reduce, not tomorrow but in the years to come, the impacts on emergency departments, on EMS services, certainly on hospitalizations. Alternate level of care beds is one that we’ve often talked about, spending somewhat over $75 million a year on people that shouldn’t be in hospital at all and that could be saved by getting them into long-term care. To their credit, they’re building some new long-term care beds, but we’re way behind the curve on that and wasting a tremendous amount of money and increasing the suffering of people because they’re not where they want to be and they’re not in the best place, in a hospital where they can get other infections and are often neglected at the preference of other people who are sicker.

The lack of an integrated plan for mental health. I’ve harangued the government on this for some time, and it’s been brought to maybe a peak with the opiate crisis. We see so many different organizations doing their own thing without an integration across them all to serve people with the social services they need, the housing, understanding and communications between police and health services and social services and even the education depart-ments and First Nations, that need to have much more thoughtful and open communication. These people come in and out and in and out and in and out, and we know what they need, but we’re simply not providing them with the integrated, co-ordinated care that they need.

I’ve raised this week the office of the mental health advocate, who is there to deal with people who feel that they’ve been harmed by the health system, harmed by the mental health treatment they’ve received, and need an advocate for them, just as the children’s advocate speaks out on issues of children in care who have not been adequately treated. With a staff of 40 he is addressing the serious issues of children in care and trying to address some of the deficits in their care. Well, the mental health advocate has two staff and has had the same number of staff since 1990.

How is it possible that we have left this advocate to wither and those patients who have just given up on the mental health system because they’ve never been able to get accountability from either doctors who have not properly managed them or institutions that have not recognized their rights or other services within the mental health system that have violated them in one way or another? With only a single formal review last year and no formal review of a mental health complaint in 2015, you have to know that there’s a serious problem there. That is not about budget saving. That’s about violating basic rights of human beings.

While I’m talking about kind of the relationship between and a more integrated approach, some of you may know about the drug courts. Drug courts keep people with mental illness, addictions out of jail.

An Hon. Member: Right place.

Dr. Swann: Yeah. Right place, right time, right people.

Calgary can manage 25 people in the drug courts. There are hundreds of people that would benefit from being diverted from jail into the community for appropriate services, rehabilitation, treatment and get them on track to lead a productive life. Instead, they’re being sent to jail, which is the very worst place for people with mental illness and addiction. So the drug court needs to be substantially strengthened with finances, and that would reduce the cost on the policing system, EMS, emergency. Again, a tremendous cost savings if we can move on with that.

We have taken a position on this side that the ideal in terms of plasma for this country would be to have our own sustainable supply of blood. So far in the 50-odd years – maybe it’s longer – that we’ve had a blood service here, we have not been able to get to the point where we can manage more than 20 per cent of our own supply of plasma, so we’re having to import it, recognizing that much of the imported blood has been from paid donors. My position is that the ideal would be to have all voluntary donors, all Canadian-made plasma and plasma products. It doesn’t look like that’s possible in the near term, maybe not at all, when you think about the fact that only 5 to 7 per cent of Canadians donate blood, and we need four times that much to sustain blood plus plasma products.

I’ve come to the position and our caucus has come to the position that, while it would be ideal, we have to start to recognize the health care system itself, the public funding for health cannot cover every possible service and product and support. In this case I’m willing to say, especially since we’re importing paid plasma to the tune of 80 per cent today, that it’s time for us to recognize that we will not get that in my lifetime. We need to start moving towards alternatives, ensuring that we have the best testing, the best, safest system possible and make sure that the people that we’re working with have been properly screened before they’re providing their donation.

The vaccination programs are still much below what they should be. We’ve heard from a number of the public health divisions that they’re struggling with children getting only up to 60 or 70 per cent of their childhood vaccinations. We need to make those easier to get and more accessible for people. That also would reduce costs on the heath care system, obviously.

I very much support the lowering of school fees and the recog-nition that in some cases families are not able to feed their kids appropriately because they are spending money on school fees. That’s not an effective and appropriate issue. We can again find both savings and improved outcomes, but it’s not clear to me whether we’re borrowing for these savings. I think the challenge for us in this lowering of school fees is to recognize that there are all kinds of things that we should do, that we could do, and that we must do at some time, but piling this on top of so much other borrowing would not be, in my view, sustainable until we see a plan to repay.

I think that’s part of what all of us are asking for on this side. Everything is possible with a credit card. The question is: how much are we going to start paying for ourselves? How much are we going to pass on to future generations? Will we have a heritage fund in the future? We’re already down to what has been there for the last 30 years, about $15 billion to $16 billion. Thirty years. This is really a sad state to be in. Recognizing that oil prices have been low in the last few years, when are we going to get back to saving some of our nonrenewable resource revenue?

We do support the carbon levy, but we’re not supportive of the way it’s being implemented. It hasn’t been clear how it’s going to be disbursed. It hasn’t been clear on what the limits are. There have been all kinds of promises for this carbon levy that would appear to exceed by far the $3 billion that we’re expecting to bring in. Again, it’s going to stimulate different lifestyles. I think consumers and producers need to pay for our carbon emissions. There’s no ques-tion that all of us are responsible for the carbon and the climate change problem. The question, I guess, is how we manage it. Preferably, in our view, the carbon levy should be revenue neutral for Albertans so they can continue to stimulate the economy with their own revenue.

Now, to be fair, the government is giving rebates to 66 per cent of Albertans. In some cases it’s a little bit hard to know where that’s going, especially given that it’s all based on last year’s tax, and people may not be here following last year. But with all due respect, it’s a reasonable – in fact, I think it’s too generous.

Thank you, Madam Speaker.

Dr. Swann in Question Period on the Mental Health Patient Advocate – 22 March 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Mental Health Patient Advocate

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. On Monday I raised concerns about how each year the Mental Health Patient Advocate office’s work increases but the resources do not. The 2015-16 annual report yesterday revealed a significant increase in caseload, yet it was only able to initiate one formal investigation in all of last year. Same staff count as 1990. The associate minister recognized the importance of the Mental Health Patient Advocate’s role but pointed out that funding in Budget 2017 will stay the same. Why isn’t the minister backing up her words with action?

The Speaker: The Associate Minister of Health.

Ms Payne: Thank you, Mr. Speaker and to the hon. member for the question. As we discussed on Monday, the Mental Health Patient Advocate is a very important position, and we are actively recruit-ing to fill that role. We also need to make sure that we’re improving access to mental health supports for Albertans so that we can help diminish some of that caseload work by making sure that we’ve got services available to Albertans when and where they need them. I am proud to say that Budget 2017 is delivering on that promise.

Dr. Swann: Mr. Speaker, this is about funding for the mental health advocate.

The commitment to new funding to implement the mental health review is promising. Unfortunately, it doesn’t address the Mental Health Patient Advocate’s inability to do formal investigations for people calling for help. Since 1990 the number of people has tripled, the number of issues has quadrupled, and investigations continue to take more time due to complexity. Why is the govern-ment allowing this situation to continue by not properly resourcing the advocate’s office?

The Speaker: The Associate Minister of Health.

Ms Payne: Thank you, Mr. Speaker and to the member for the question. As I said, we are very proud of the work that the mental health advocate has been able to do on behalf of Albertans, and we will continue to support that role and that office. We are also ensur-ing that we are able to expand access to services, working in the community and with mental health practitioners both inside and outside of Alberta Health Services as well as partners within the community. That is one way that we’re working to make life better for Albertans.

Dr. Swann: Mr. Speaker, we’re not talking about Albertans in this case. We’re talking about a mental health advocate that has no resources to do her job.

One of the most interesting items in the 2015-16 annual report is the fact that the mental health advocate’s office did not use its entire budget last year. It seems odd given the advocate’s 2015 remarks that there was a critical lack of resources. I understand that approval is required to fill vacant positions and get additional staff even if the funds are available. To the minister: did the government impose last year a hiring and spending restraint on the advocate’s office, and if so, why?

The Speaker: The associate minister.

Ms Payne: Thank you, Mr. Speaker and to the member for the question. Our government has implemented hiring restraint measures across government, ensuring that when positions become vacant, they are being filled when they are critical to the role and to the work of government, including implementing our mandate. A huge part of our mandate is ensuring that Albertans have access to the mental health supports that they need. It is a reality that recruitment takes time and that for these important positions we want to make sure that we are filling them with the right person so that we are able to help make life better for Albertans.

Banning paid donations will not ensure a safer, more sustainable plasma supply

Edmonton, AB (March 21, 2017): Alberta Liberal Leader Dr. David Swann will not support Bill 3, the Voluntary Blood Donations Act, over concerns that banning paid donation will not ensure a safer or more sustainable supply of plasma.

“Alberta currently imports 80 per cent of its plasma products from clinics in the United States which pay donors,” says Swann. “There is absolutely no way for the government to replace this capacity with volunteer donors.

“Growing our domestic plasma supply is a critical goal. Systems allowing for paid plasma donations have had success in other jurisdictions without any of the adverse effects that the NDP are raising as justification for this bill.”

Paid plasma donations are regulated by Health Canada regulations and have been deemed to be every bit as safe as those that come from unpaid donors.

Swann is also concerned about the additional burden Bill 3 might put on the public health care system.

“Health care is already the largest line item in the provincial budget. The government cannot hope to ‘bend the cost curve’ by adding more public services that could be provided through private sector partnerships,” says Swann. “We saw this same approach with private laundry services.

“Canada deserves a safe, sustainable supply of plasma. I am not convinced Bill 3 helps us get there. For those reasons, I cannot support it.”

Dr. Swann Debates Government Motions: Member for Calgary-Hays – 21 March 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Government Motions: Member for Calgary-Hays

Dr. Swann: Thanks very much, Mr. Speaker. Well, it’s an interest-ing question, one that I think we’ve been wrestling with for some time. I compare it, to some extent, to the issues that I would face, for example, as a physician – my wife is a physician – if I were to rise in the House and try to influence this House in relation to negotiations with physicians. I think I’m aware enough and I think I’m mature enough to recognize that there might be a perceived problem there.

We as a Legislature have identified and appointed officers of this Legislature to be watchdogs over us to ensure that we follow due process, that we recognize conflicts of interest, and that in many cases if there are issues to be passed on, we pass them on to a fellow party member, a caucus member, to address the issue rather than place ourselves in a conflict of interest. I’ve looked at a little bit of the literature. A similar occurrence has occurred in B.C. It was referred to the courts in B.C., and the B.C. courts sent it back to the Legislature, saying: this is a matter for the Legislature to decide.

I think it’s fairly straightforward that when there’s a pecuniary interest, when someone in our own family or ourselves are going to benefit from pressing on a certain issue, there is a conflict of interest. I think we do a disservice to this Legislature if we don’t honour the appointments that we’ve made to those official independent officers – independent officers – who try to, you know, keep this august body accountable and ethical and act in the public interest to even in this mild way say: this is not an appropriate action in this particular case.

I don’t doubt that the member was not aware and did not think about the possibility, but I will be supporting this motion, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker: Any questions for the hon. member under 29(2)(a)? The hon. Member for Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills.

Mr. Hanson: Yes. I’d just like to clarify that the hon. member understands that the member wasn’t voting on a motion, wasn’t voting on a bill, that he was simply asking a question in the House.

Dr. Swann: I think it was very clear from Hansard that he was trying to influence the decision on the bill. That’s the position that the Ethics Commissioner took, that he was trying to influence, through his influence as the leader of the party and through his particular position in this House, the decision of the government. Whether it was in the form of a question or it was actually in the form of an assertion, it was clear to many of us.

I defer to the Ethics Commissioner. I actually believe that she is acting in good conscience and acting on behalf of all of us to try and make sure that our reputation in the public is not tainted, that our reputation is upheld as honourable members that are acting strictly in the interests of the public. I stand by what I understood to be the Hansard remarks and the good office of the Ethics Commissioner, who I think is acting in the best interests of all of us in the final analysis.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker: Under 29(2)(a), hon. member?

Mr. Rodney: Yes, please, and thanks. I appreciate that the member has spent almost exactly the same amount of time as I have in this House, and it’s the first time both you and I have had anything like this in front of us, so I’d ask the hon. member: since the constitutional question has been raised and the Justice minister has been served, why do you think it’s appropriate that this would be raised at this point? Would it not be prudent for rulings of other bodies to be decided so that this is done in the correct order? Why would it not be adjourned until after the court decides on a constitutional matter? Do you think the Legislature does not have jurisdiction to interpret the Constitution or decide about the scope of its own privilege? That’s for the courts. What are your comments on this topic, again, that will affect every member not only in this Chamber but in other Legislatures, the Parliament in Ottawa, and the Commonwealth beyond?

Dr. Swann: Well, I think this is the essential question that we’re wrestling with, and none of us have dealt with this before. I guess what I’m saying is that based on what I have read and what I have seen in B.C., the B.C. court punted it right back to the Legislature, saying: “These are your rules. You should be able to interpret your rules, and you should honour the commitments that you’ve made through your appointed, independent officers.” I’m no expert on constitutional law. That’s why we have an Ethics Commissioner. That’s why we have courts, and ultimately I guess the courts can still overrule this decision readily if they choose to. I don’t think we prejudice the court in any way. We vote, and we make our decisions here. If the courts decide that we are in error, then so be it, but the evidence from B.C. is that they want nothing to do with conflicts of interest related to the Legislature.

Dr. Swann Member Statement on the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination – 21 March 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Tuesday, March 21, 2017.

Member Statement – International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. On behalf of the Liberal caucus I’m very pleased to stand in observance of today’s international day against racial discrimination. It’s taken on increasing relevance in light of recent events here in Alberta and around the world. Unfortunately, there are still too many examples of hatred and discrimination based on race and religion. Just last week police in Calgary were called to investigate anti-Semitic, anti-Islamic graffiti in an off-leash park. And a recent attack in Quebec in the mosque has demonstrated that hatred has a cost, a cost that is paid in human lives. That is why we take a stand today to support and promote the Albertan and Canadian values of mutual respect, inclusion, and diversity. We must be clear that such hatred is not acceptable.

I’d also like to take the opportunity to call our attention to more subtle forms of racial discrimination, particularly against indigenous people. Already burdened with the long and destructive legacy of residential schools and racism, that we have only just begun to address, First Nations people continue to struggle with racial discrimination and stigma that robs them of opportunity, contributes to isolation, mental illness, suicide rates five times the average, and violence. I acknowledge the leadership of this provincial government and the federal government in this regard.

A recent Maclean’s article compared aboriginal Canadians to African-Americans and found that aboriginal Canadians were in a worse state on almost every metric, from median income to incarceration rate to life expectancy. We cannot be complacent about this racial discrimination happening beneath our noses, Mr. Speaker. So I stand with the members of this Assembly in condemning any and all forms of discrimination. All people among us are worthy and have the right to live free of discrimination. Clearly, we must do more individually and collectively to put these fine words into action with policies and funding every day.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Dr. Swann in Question Period on Mental Health Patient Advocate – 20 March 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Monday, March 20, 2017

Mental Health Patient Advocate

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The Mental Health Patient Advocate’s office was established in 1995 to protect patients’ rights and improve the mental health system. Since 1990 the advocate’s work has increased exponentially, but the resources have not. In fact, it went from being an independent office with its own budget to recently being rolled into the Alberta Health Advocate’s office and sharing its funds. To the Minister of Health: if the government truly values mental health and rejects stigma and protects patients’ rights, why does it keep shortchanging the mental health advocate’s office?

The Speaker: The Minister of Health.

Ms Hoffman: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker and to the member for the question. I look forward to having an opportunity to engage in full budget discussions. One of the things that I’m so proud to make sure that everyone knows is that we’ve more than tripled the investment to make sure that addictions and mental health are addressed properly as we move forward. I’m incredibly proud of that. It’s my understanding that at a specific point in time following the floods in southern Alberta that office was created, but there have been considerations of how best to serve the people, and I look forward to having opportunities to continue that dialogue with hon. members.

The Speaker: First supplemental.

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. In her previous annual report the advocate said:

The past year posed challenges to fulfill our legislative mandate in a timely manner . . . largely due to the loss of a position along with the Government . . . restraint measures. It had a direct impact on the number of Albertans we served and the comprehensive-ness of our investigations. As a result, the office was unable to conduct a single formal investigation of a patient complaint. To the minister: do you not see that chronic underfunding of this important office is causing it to fail to live up to its mandate?

The Speaker: The Associate Minister of Health.

Ms Payne: Thank you, Mr. Speaker and to the member for the question. Just to follow up on a piece of the earlier question, funding for the mental health advocate in Budget 2017 is consistent with last year. In fact, the advocate has been appointed on an interim basis during the recruitment process for a new person to fill that role. Our government is very committed to ensuring that Albertans are able to access the mental health supports that they need, regardless of where they live in our province. To that end, we’ve committed more than $5.6 million in new operating funds towards implementing the recommendations of the mental health review in addition to the funding that has been included to address the substance use crisis in our province.


Dr. Swann: Mr. Speaker, the truth is that the mental health advocate speaks for mental health patients who are not happy with the way that the system is working. Mergers seem to be the rage these days. Now even the NDP is getting into the act. When Carol Robertson Baker finished her term as mental health advocate, the government didn’t replace her; instead, the Minister of Health has simply merged the mental health and the Health Advocate, as I indicated. Apparently the government has no intention of empowering this office, which is odd given the increased complex-ity and the increased volume of cases we are now dealing with, especially with the opiate crisis. Clearly, the advocate needs independence and an increased budget . . .

The Speaker: Thank you, hon. member. The Associate Minister of Health.

Ms Payne: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I would like to reiterate my answer from the last question. Currently the mental health advocate role is being combined with the Health Advocate on an interim basis. We are in the process of an open recruiting process, and we look forward to hiring a new person for that role. Frankly, we know that that is an important role within the system, and we continue to look for other ways that we can expand access to all Albertans. You know what? The only way that we can get there is by continuing to work together to increase funding for mental health.

Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann responds to Budget 2017

Edmonton, AB (March 16, 2017): Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann released the following statement in response to Budget 2017:
“I would like to applaud the government on investing in public services and infrastructure, eliminating school fees, and committing to address climate change and protect the environmental. These are priorities that Alberta Liberals share.

“However, like many Albertans, I am concerned about the increasing deficits and debt our province is accumulating as a result of government borrowing for operational costs. This budget sees the NDP government borrowing $15.2 billion for operating costs this year – the beginning of a steady upward trajectory towards $30 billion in 2019-2020. In the past, we have compared this approach to paying the mortgage with a credit card or selling the family farm to pay the monthly bills. It simply does not make financial sense.

“Of course, anything is possible when you’re paying by credit, but this is not sustainable in the long-term. In this budget, as with every previous budget since this government took power, we see more spending with no plan to pay it back. Alberta’s total liabilities now sit at $85.7 billion, and higher interest rates associated with further credit rating downgrades will make this task even more difficult. I have no confidence that the NDP approach will do anything but add to the $1.4 billion in debt servicing costs Albertans are already paying.

“Fairness to future generations is a Liberal value. The NDP legacy of debt is anything but fair. We need to have an adult conversation about spending and revenue. The government cannot continue to spend at this rate while relying on volatile resource revenue.

“We would like to see the government make strategic decisions and targeted investments in areas that will reduce costs in the long run. Getting ahead of the cost curve is preferable to bending it.

“This is particularly the case for our province’s health care system. We need massive investments in home care, disease and injury prevention, wellness and mental health. This will not only save money and lower wait times by reducing the strain on the acute care system, but it will also improve quality of care and patient outcomes.

“Alberta’s legal system also needs an injection of cash to remove barriers and improve access to justice. Alberta Liberals have championed increasing funding to Legal Aid Alberta. Chronic underfunding has led to unnecessary backlogs, delays, and slower trial process when people try to self-represent. The government has committed some money to this program, but not enough to bring it out of its $10-million deficit.

“Alberta Liberals also support expanding the Drug Treatment Court program, which received no mention in this budget. The program badly underfunded for the valuable results it delivers in terms of keeping addicts out of prison and getting them back on the road to recovery.

“The Metta Clinic, which is the only specialized clinic for transgender youth, only receives enough funding to operate for half a day per month. This is totally unacceptable. We urge the government to increase funding so that these vulnerable youth can get the services they so desperately need.

“Finally, we need a savings plan. Over the last number of years, we have seen our trust and contingency funds depleted at an alarming rate – the contingency account will be gone by this time next year. We need to reverse this trend today and start saving for tomorrow.

“Overall, Alberta Liberals support the government’s attempt at protecting public goods and services, but we are calling on the NDP to show more fiscal restraint, make better investments and savings, and produce a plan to diversify our revenue and pay down the debt.”

Dr. Swann Debates Bill 2 – An Act to Remove Barriers for Survivors of Sexual and Domestic Violence – 16 March 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Thursday, March 16, 2017.

Bill 2 – An Act to Remove Barriers for Survivors of Sexual and Domestic Violence

Dr. Swann: Just a few comments, Madam Speaker. Thank you. I very much appreciate this bill, long overdue. The statute of limitations has obviously been arbitrary and inappropriate in a number of cases. Child abuse, clearly, has been relieved of that statute of limitations, and this is certainly another area that should be relieved of it.

I would say that in the medical profession one of the gaps, I think, in our training for physicians is to ask every woman, especially women that come into emergency rooms, if they feel safe at home. There’s kind of a reluctance, it seems, to go there, and it would open up the door in a lot of cases for women who are reluctant to speak or who feel in danger but are unwilling to actually share the true cause of their bruise or their injury or their indication of threat. That’s an important initiative that’s gone through emergency rooms across Alberta. I hope it’s being followed. Even our EMS colleagues could probably be helping by raising that question if it is unclear how an injury occurred and simply asking the woman or the man, if he’s been abused, whether he or she feels safe at home.

The other issue that I will be raising later in the Legislature is whether this bill actually covers harassment. It doesn’t appear to cover workplace harassment, and I hope I’ll be bringing forward an amendment at some point to ask that that be included. I’m thinking obviously, or perhaps not obviously, of the Calgary Police Service concerns around women in the workplace and harassment. Many of them could not make their appeal to the Human Rights Commission because they were longer than two years since the incident. In fact, it’s my understanding that none of them were within the two-year statute of limitations. So I would like to make sure that this bill covers harassment in the workplace.

Thank you, Madam Speaker.