Government must reinforce polluter pay principle following latest Redwater Energy ruling

Calgary, AB (April 25, 2017): In response to the Court of Appeal upholding last year’s Redwater Energy ruling, Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann is calling on the NDP government to ensure the ‘polluter pays’ principle is upheld.

“Now that the courts have clearly signaled an insolvent company’s assets cannot be used primarily for remediation of non-producing wells, it is up to the NDP government to ensure reclamation costs are borne by industry and not Alberta taxpayers,” says Swann.

While abandoned oil and gas wells are a rapidly growing problem, the government is also failing to enforce polluter pays on tailings ponds and oil sands mines.

In his July 2015 report, the Auditor General was highly critical of the Mine Financial Security Program (MFSP) for not ensuring that mines hold sufficient cleanup funds. While the Minister of Environment and Parks Shannon Phillips accepted the Auditor General’s recommendations, and promised a MFSP review, subsequent government action on the file has been lacking.

“The province seems to be expecting the federal government to swoop in and help cover the cleanup costs, which should be the industry’s responsibility,” says Swann. “Forward thinking and greater financial security is a must if we are going to ensure that energy producers aren’t saddling Alberta taxpayers with massive liabilities.”

Dr. Swann in Question Period on Gravel Extraction in Flood Plains – 20 April 2017

Gravel Extraction in Flood Plains

Dr. Swann: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. Well, as a Liberal you might expect me to be asking some questions about marijuana today, but instead of weed I want to talk about rocks and water. Like human lungs, alluvial aquifers around rivers and streams are essential for exchanging surface water and groundwater, but gravel extraction in our flood plains is threatening to choke out our vital water supply. To be blunt, Alberta has the largest scale gravel extraction in the country.

The Speaker: Hon. member, I think your time has lapsed.

Dr. Swann: Impossible. Impossible.

The Speaker: I’m sure that the minister . . . [interjection] Hon. member, I think you need to sit down. What a wonderful day in the neighbourhood. I’m not sure if there was a question in there. The Minister of Environment and Parks.

Ms Phillips: Well, thank you, Mr. Speaker. I share the hon. member’s concern about, of course, water quality and gravel extraction, as we all do. We all want to make sure that safe drinking water and riparian habitat are appropriately maintained in this province. That’s why, for example, we’ve invested in more river and stream monitoring as part of our consolidation of monitoring in the province, and we’re working with the Sand and Gravel Association and the municipalities on these matters of gravel extraction, ensuring they’re done in the best way possible.

Dr. Swann: Well, to the contrary, Mr. Speaker, it’s clear that there’s a potential for permanent environmental damage when we continue to allow gravel extraction in flood plains. I’ll be tabling photographs from all over Alberta later today. The Minister of Environment and Parks has taken action on science-based evidence in the Castle, so I’m sure that there’s a commitment to using science to make better decisions. Why is science enough to restrict industry activity in the Castle but not in flood plains? Why the double standard?

The Speaker: The hon. minister.

Ms Phillips: Well, thank you, Mr. Speaker, and thanks to the hon. member for the question. Certainly, our department along with Municipal Affairs is working with the Sand and Gravel Association and other stakeholders to ensure that sand and gravel and all aggregate extraction is done in ways that protect our air, land, and water. Certainly, the Sand and Gravel Association has been a good partner to us in that. In many cases we work on a case-by-case basis with the affected municipalities to make sure that we’re upholding the highest standards.

Dr. Swann: The fact is, Mr. Speaker, that the Sand and Gravel Association has a very cozy relationship with municipalities and Municipal Affairs, and they’re the ones financially benefiting from the developments on flood plains. Allowing them to police is like asking a pot user to guard the brownies. What’s needed is for the environment minister to remove the temptation and protect our water. When will you take real action and institute a total ban on gravel extraction in flood plains?

The Speaker: The hon. minister.

Ms Phillips: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and thanks to the hon. member for the question. We will certainly take his views under advisement as we speak to communities who have concerns about flood plains gravel and other aggregate extraction. We’re always looking for a productive conversation with the communities that are affected by these projects. Thank you.

Dr. Swann Member Statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day – 20 April 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Thursday, April 20, 2017.

Member Statement – Holocaust Remembrance Day

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. This coming Sunday marks Yom ha-Shoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, and today we stand in the Legislature to remember the millions of Jewish children, women, and men brutally murdered by the Nazi regime. We acknowledge that this is one day after we recognized the genocide of Holodomor, Stalin’s Ukrainian genocide. The only crime of this Jewish community was being what Adolf Hitler and his government hated and feared, being different. Because of their religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation they deviated from the Nazi ideal of a pure Aryan nation and so were exterminated.

The official name of Yom ha-Shoah translates to Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day, and while we remember humanity at its darkest and mourn those lost, we also acknowledge the incredible strength of the human spirit. Opposition to the Nazi regime took incredible courage, and obviously millions lost their lives in resisting. Nevertheless, resistance was widespread once ordinary men and women became heroes as they fought back in countless ways. Their bravery gave others a glimmer of hope, a candle in this darkness.

As the Holocaust fades into the past, we risk forgetting the consequences of not being vigilant against racism, hatred, genocide in all its forms and must be prepared to act when we see evidence anywhere, any time across our world. “Never again” is more than a hope; it’s a promise to act. When we say these words, we promise that we will to the best of our ability follow the example of those who stood up and resisted to fight to ensure that the horrors of the Holocaust are never repeated.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Statement on including teaching of consent in sex education curriculum

Edmonton, AB (April 18, 2017): Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann issued the following statement in support of including the teaching of consent in the sexual education curriculum:

“Alberta Liberals have advocated for a number of years to include the teaching of consent as part of the sexual education curriculum. I am proud to say that we adopted this position as formal party policy in 2014.

“That is why I am very pleased to see influential voices in the Catholic School Board showing leadership by publicly discussing this matter. In particular, I applaud Marilyn Bergstra for putting forward a motion today that would call on the Board to lobby the government to include important concepts such as safe sex and consent, as well as programming that would address a variety of sexual orientations, in the sexual education curriculum.

“Consent is a subject that sex education teachers need to start discussing with students as early and as often as possible. Teaching that yes means yes, no means no, and that permission must be sought, and given, before any sexual activity can occur is fundamental to the understanding of proper sexual, and, indeed, societal behaviour.

“As a graduate student in public health, Ms. Bergstra brings an important perspective to this debate. Her motion is aimed at equipping students with crucial, practical knowledge – not encouraging sexual activity. Concerns that providing students with such knowledge would promote promiscuity are, in my view, misguided.

“Therefore, I would encourage the Board to carefully consider approving this motion, and help to show leadership in this important area of the sexual education curriculum.”

Revenues from cannabis legalization should go to support mental health and addictions programs, drug treatment courts

Edmonton, AB (April 13, 2017): Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann says revenue from cannabis sales should be used to support mental health and addictions prevention and treatment programs, as well as initiatives such as the drug treatment courts.
Swann welcomes federal legislation on cannabis introduced in the House of Commons today, and calls on the province to ensure the revenue from the sale of cannabis is used appropriately.

“I congratulate the Liberal government on taking this important step to ensure children are protected and profits from the illicit sale of cannabis products are kept out of the pockets of criminals,” says Swann. “Now, it is up to NDP government to ensure these funds go to where they are needed most.”

Swann points out the province’s annual spending on mental health and addictions is well below the national average. He argues dedicating funds from cannabis taxation to prevention and treatment programs is consistent with the NDP’s practice of directing revenues from the carbon levy to reduce carbon pollution and encourage energy efficiency.

“The goal of any cannabis regulation should be to reduce the negative health impacts of drug abuse,” says Swann. “I can think of no better use of these funds than to expand prevention and treatment options.

“Addictions and mental illness often go hand in hand, so it makes sense to have this funding follow suit.”

Swann says the new legislation will also help to alleviate pressure on our overburdened justice system. He notes part of the funding from cannabis sales could go to expanding the drug treatment court system.

“Liberals believe treating drug addiction as a public health issue is far better than dealing with its consequences in the criminal justice system,” says Swann. “That is why we would also like to see an expansion of the drug treatment courts accompany the new cannabis regulations.”

Swann statement on proclamation of off-highway vehicle safety legislation

Edmonton, AB (April 13, 2017): Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann released the following statement in response to the Order in Council proclaiming Bill 36, An Act to Enhance Off-highway Vehicle Safety:

“Requiring off-highway vehicle operators to use helmets on public land is an important first step, especially since Alberta was the only province not to have such legislation. However, much more needs to be done to ensure the safe operation of these machines.

“Despite being powerful motor vehicles, Alberta has virtually no rules for OHVs use. There are no age restrictions, mandatory training, testing or licencing requirements for operating an OHV. Neither is there any explicit prohibition against consuming alcohol while operating these vehicles on private land in Alberta.

“The statistics are sobering. Each year in Alberta, there are nearly 6,000 off-highway vehicle-related emergency room visits, and an average of almost 20 Albertans are killed each year while operating them.

“Sadly, many of those are children. In 2015, more than 1,000 children under the age of 16 were injured while riding OHVs. Between the months of April and August last year, 44 children were seen in Alberta’s two pediatric emergency departments due to OHV-related injuries. 13 were injured seriously enough to require admission to hospital, and two of them died as a result of their injuries.

“During the debate, I proposed two amendments to the bill to include standards for safety training, including the proper use of helmets, to be completed prior to a person driving, operating, riding in or on or being towed by an off-highway vehicle. The NDP government chose to vote against them.

“Having a very personal connection to this issue – my nephew was killed while operating an OHV without a helmet – it is my earnest desire that no family experience such a terrible loss, which can easily be prevented by ensuring proper training and requiring the use of helmets while operating off-highway vehicles.”

Dr. Swann in Question Period on Opioid Use Prevention and Mitigation – 10 April 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Monday, April 10, 2017

Opioid Use Prevention and Mitigation

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. On Friday Alberta Health posted the first near quarter interim report on opioids, further detailing the devastating impact this epidemic is having. An issue as serious as this should have been accompanied by a greater public response. Instead, this government was busy making funding announcements. In the first six weeks of 2017 51 Albertans died from fentanyl-related overdoses, nearly twice as many as last year, yet this government still refuses to call this an emergency. To the associate minister: what will it take for you to call this an emergency?

The Speaker: The Associate Minister of Health.

Ms Payne: Thank you, Mr. Speaker and to the member for the question. The interim numbers that were released last week by the chief medical officer of health confirmed what we’ve heard clearly from front-line health care workers and community agencies, that synthetic opioids remain a deadly threat to Albertans living with substance use, their families, and first responders. That’s why we’re multiplying our efforts and will spend up to $56 million over the next year to help Albertans get the treatment that they need to reduce the harm of substance use and to raise public awareness.

Dr. Swann: This minister has repeatedly told us that the government has already got enough resources to deal with the crisis. However, Albertans with mental health and addiction illnesses are not getting the supports they need to recover. Access to treatment clinics outside of our two largest cities is a major issue. I don’t know of any clinics that are open evenings and weekends. We continue to see a piecemeal approach instead of a coherent strategy, one that involves government and nongovernment organizations, police, human services, and indigenous groups. To the minister: when will we see a comprehensive provincial opioid strategy aimed at getting ahead of this crisis?

The Speaker: The hon. associate minister.

Ms Payne: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Our response to the opioid crisis is being led by the chief medical officer of health, something that the member opposite has supported. We’re going to make sure that we have all of the tools available, but we believe fundamentally that this is a public health issue. What we will not do is subscribe to the discredited war-on-drugs approach that the Official Opposition supports. Certainly, access to opioid replacement therapy is a critical part of our government’s response, and part of the money allocated in Budget 2017 is to expand the overall capacity and geographic reach of our clinical systems.

Dr. Swann: Mr. Speaker, it’s clearly beyond the current chief medical officer.

Following the flood that ravaged southern Alberta in 2013, the previous government established the office of the chief addictions and mental health officer to provide psychological and social help to the flood victims. Later he began to focus on harm reduction issues, including fentanyl and opioids. Instead of supporting this expanded scope for the chief addictions and mental health officer, the minister eliminated the position. My question is now to the Health minister. In hindsight, this may have been a mistake. When will we see the reappointment of the chief addictions and mental health officer to lead this government’s response?

The Speaker: The associate minister.

Ms Payne: Thank you, Mr. Speaker and to the member for the question. As I noted earlier, our response to the crisis is being led by the chief medical officer of health, who’s working very closely with experts in the field to ensure that our plan is heading in the right direction. What we are doing is that we have expanded the reach and scope of our naloxone kit program, which has expanded to more than a thousand registered sites across our province, without a prescription and at no cost to Albertans. We are expanding access to opioid dependency treatments across our province, making use of telehealth and other services to ensure . . .

The Speaker: Thank you, Associate Minister.

Dr. Swann Member Statement on The Battle of Vimy Ridge – 10 April 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Monday, April 10, 2017.

Member Statement – Battle of Vimy Ridge

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. On this day a hundred years ago a great battle of triumph and tragedy was raging on Vimy Ridge. I’m honoured today to rise in this democratically elected Assembly to be able to speak freely about these brave men and women, about the survivors, their families, and pay tribute to the fallen. Indeed, this is one of the gifts these courageous warriors gave to all of us, not just freedom from oppression and tyranny but the freedom to exercise our rights of self-determination and recognition of our inalienable human rights.

The price they paid was high: an entire generation lost. Vimy Ridge remains the single bloodiest battle Canadians fought, with about 3,600 lives being laid down in the fields in France. It was a defining moment, both in terms of the Great War as well as the birthing of this great nation, Canada. It fills us with pride to remember the victory that was wrought on Vimy Ridge. It also reminds us of the preciousness of life, the duty of public service, and the eternal vigilance required to protect our rights and freedoms and the rule of law.

Finally, I’d be amiss if I did not speak about the unspeakable horror of war and the need for each of us to work always and everywhere to create the conditions for peace. The average age of Canadian soldiers in World War I was 26; the oldest, 80; the youngest reported, 10 years old. What they were to experience in those fields was unimaginable for these young minds. While many lives were lost at Vimy, many more were forever changed. Those who did not die had been surrounded by death and terror on a daily basis: unrelenting physical, emotional, and spiritual trauma.

When they returned home, they were enthusiastically welcomed by a truly grateful nation. But how could anyone who had not been there and experienced the devastation begin to understand the effect it would have on the survivors and their families? This was a time when knowledge of mental health and particularly the lasting impacts of trauma was in its infancy. To be a man often meant then and still means maintaining a bravado of strength, refusing to ask for help, and suffering in silence. Many if not all of those returning from the battlefield agonized under the torment of posttraumatic illness. Too often this led to mental illness, alcoholism, drug abuse, and family violence. Although the guns had gone quiet, there was still a war raging in their minds, reverberating through intimate family members, and a different peace that remained to be won.

Our understanding of this disorder has come a long way since, but there are many hills we have yet to climb together. More needs to be done to support our brave servicemen, women, and families who faced and are facing today the devastations of war. We need to end the stigma and make it clear that admitting mental illness does not make us weak. In fact, it takes great strength and bravery. Bravery comes in many forms.

Let us earnestly, then, work in this House and in our communities to preserve the peace through respectful discourse, reducing inequality, and justice for all, remembering the peace that was purchased at such a high price.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. [Standing ovation]

David Swann statement on interim opioid report, increased fentanyl deaths

Edmonton, AB (April 7, 2017): Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann released the following statement in response to the release of the interim Opioid and Substances of Misuse first quarter report:

“It is very troubling that the number of Albertans who have died has doubled over the same period last year, especially since these deaths are preventable.

“It is clear that we are not getting ahead of this crisis. In fact, we are starting to see the same trends witnessed in British Columbia, but without our government taking similar emergency measures.

“While I welcome the addition of $6 million in federal funds to help Alberta’s opioid-crisis response, as well as the NDP’s willingness to enhance treatment options in the critical stages of opioid abuse, I believe new, focused leadership is required.

“This includes the reinstatement of the Provincial Mental Health and Addiction Officer, along with a comprehensive and coordinated strategy involving other governmental and non-governmental agencies.

“For example, regulatory bodies such as the College of Physician and Surgeons of Alberta need to ensure their guidelines are being followed in order to prevent further opioid addictions resulting from abuse of prescriptions.

“We need increased public education efforts and timelier access to harm reduction, including opiate replacement therapy and safe injection sites. We also need to expand the availability of these resources outside of our two largest cities. Lethbridge, for instance, has a four month wait list – this is unacceptable.

“Once again, I urge this government to declare a state of emergency. Let’s do everything in our power to get ahead of these deaths so that more lives are not lost with each new quarterly report.”


Dr. Swann Debates Bill 1 – An Act to Reduce School Fees (Committee of the Whole) – 6 April 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Wednesday, April 6, 2017.

Bill 2 – An Act to Reduce School Fees (Committee of the Whole)

The Deputy Chair: Are there any comments, questions, or amendments to be offered with respect to this bill? The hon. Member for Calgary-Mountain View.

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Madam Chair. I have an amendment that I’ll circulate, and I will proceed when I hear from you.

The Deputy Chair: I just need the original, Member, and then you can go ahead.

Dr. Swann: My amendment reads as follows. I move that Bill 1, An Act to Reduce School Fees, be amended by striking out section 4.

Let me start by saying that I support the intent of the bill and what the bill does to make life more affordable for parents, guardians, and students in school. In fact, the Alberta Liberals believe the government should go even further by eliminating school fees altogether. However, I recognize that the government has chosen to take a step in that direction by reducing school fees.

I’d like also to point out that the government needs to find a more sustainable way to continue to reduce school fees other than, quote, finding efficiencies. There needs to be a funding plan that will continue to reduce fees over the long term, especially as our population grows and our education system becomes more costly. I expect the government may have an idea about where it wants to find these funds, and I will speak more about that in a moment.

When Bill 1 was announced, a government news release indicated: “If the bill is passed, Alberta parents will no longer have to pay school fees for instructional supplies or materials or for eligible students taking the bus to their designated schools.” This was great news and well received by many if not all Albertans. But when people started to take a closer look, it turned out that the term “Alberta parents” did not mean that all parents will no longer have to pay school fees. In particular, those who have students in charter schools can expect to get a different treatment altogether. Why is that?

Well, let’s take a look at what a charter school is. According to the government of Alberta’s Charter Schools Handbook:

A charter school is a public school that provides a basic education in a different or enhanced way to improve student learning.

. . . In general, charter schools complement the educational services provided in the local public system. They represent an opportunity for successful educational practices to be recognized and adopted by other public schools for the benefit of more Albertans. Although types of charter schools vary . . . they do have the following common characteristics.

Access – Charter schools cannot deny access [to any particular individual or group] . . .

Choice – A charter school will provide enhanced or innovative delivery of public education to students. This means that parents and students have increased opportunity to choose an education that best serves [their child’s] needs.

Curriculum – The curriculum delivered by charter schools will be structured around a basic education as defined by Alberta Education and described in the Programs of Study. Generally, education programs must meet the conditions outlined in section 39 of the School Act. This allows students to transfer to or from any public school with a minimum of disruption and to obtain a high school diploma . . .

Funding – Charter schools are eligible for the same provincial funding per student as any other public school . . .

Tuition Fees – Charter schools shall not charge tuition fees. However, they may charge parents for fees for instructional supplies or materials, as may all schools in the public education system.

It seems pretty clear to me, Madam Chair, from the government’s own description that charter schools are, in fact, public schools. Again I ask: why the special treatment? Why are they not receiving a reduction in school fees?

I received a letter from the Association of Alberta Public Charter Schools in which they write:

As full-fledged members of the public school community, we find the decision to exclude us from Bill 1 An Act to Reduce School Fees quite concerning.

. . . This is an excerpt from this letter:

“In publications and the Minister’s letter to parents . . .

And this is from the government side.

. . . we read, ‘Our government understands that times are tough for Alberta families and is working to make education more affordable. We believe that all students deserve access to a quality education in an Alberta school, and we are committed to reducing financial barriers such as school fees.’

Given this laudable and strong statement of support for Alberta families during tough times, we [in the charter school community] believe it may have been an oversight not to include those families who choose a public charter school for their child(ren)’s learning environment.”

Now, here is where I would disagree. I don’t believe this is an oversight at all. The association is likely being diplomatic in their language to the minister. It’s quite clear to me that the government is intentionally singling out charter schools for different treatment. My question is: why? Why is it not being transparent about its intentions? It appears to me the government wants to draw a line in the sand with regard to funding. On one side are the public schools; on the other are private schools. Clearly, in this bill the government is lumping charter schools together with private schools.

Now, if anyone was curious about the motivations, they would need look no further than Public Interest Alberta’s media release of February 23, 2017, in which they with 13 other organizations said, “[We] urge the provincial government to phase out the public funding of private schools . . . over three years and reallocate the money to fulfill its education-related campaign promises.” I think this is exactly the scenario the government is setting up with this bill, and if it is, they should be honest about it and not do it covertly through regulations. They should come right out with it and tell charter schools, their students, and parents that the government is going to reduce fees for everyone else, gradually raise fees for charter schools so that parents can get accustomed to paying more, and then slowly defund charter schools.

To be clear, Alberta Liberals believe public funds should go to support public education. Furthermore, we believe accredited private schools either need to be incorporated into the public system and be subject to all the same requirements or not receive public funding.

But charter schools are not private schools; they are public schools. In fact, many of these charter schools serve marginalized, low-income, and less abled students. They’re providing an essential support for some of the most vulnerable people in the province. For example, Almadina School Society serves the lowest income families in Calgary. The Boyle Street Education Centre in Edmonton is the same. The Centre for Academic and Personal Excellence Institute serves special needs in Medicine Hat. These charter schools and others like them play a valuable role in society and Alberta education. They are not cherry-picking students. They are filling a need, a need that has been recognized and accepted by the government.

Limited resources. If the government has acknowledged that – and they have – then limited resources should surely be directed to the lowest socioeconomic status schools, whether charter or other public. If we’re going to cherry-pick, let’s cherry-pick those who are most vulnerable financially. This is a move to help families with affordability and access to education. Do not discriminate against those who are most vulnerable. It’s against your principles. Do they not deserve the same treatment, especially given their vulnerability, many of them? Do the parents of their students not deserve the same reduction? When people see noncharter public schools not getting breaks, what does that do to enrolment?

The minister appears to be establishing one set of rules for those with school boards and a completely different set of rules for the charter schools. The Association of Alberta Public Charter Schools doesn’t think this is right, and I don’t believe that the government is being transparent on this matter. If the government wants to eliminate funding for charter schools, say so. Otherwise, the government should treat them like all other public schools and include them in the reduction of school fees.

This is why I’m proposing an amendment to strike out that section of Bill 1 and leave the original wording in the School Act. This would keep charter schools together with public schools, and any changes to the fees they can charge would be applied consistently across all public schools and to all parents, as was promised when the bill was announced.

Thank you, Madam Chair.