Liberal bill will shine a light on dark money influencing Alberta’s democracy

Alberta Liberal MLA David Swann has introduced Bill 214, An Act to Regulate Political Action Committees, which clearly defines political action committees (PACs) and regulates them in accordance with the same rules as other political entities.

“I am very proud of the proposals being put forward in Bill 214,” says Swann. “Alberta Liberals are, once again, leading the way on this very important issue by being an impetus for change.”

The bill is the culmination of months of strong advocacy by Alberta Liberal Leader David Khan, who first raised the issue in June. If passed, Bill 214 would make Alberta a national leader with the most comprehensive law in Canada governing PACs.

“We need to shine a light on the unregulated dark money that is corrupting our democracy,” says Khan. “Albertans deserve to know who has donated and who is donating to PACs, how much they are donating, and where this money is going afterwards. It’s the only way they can be confident that big money is not buying and selling our democracy.”

Swann sought input from the Chief Electoral Officer on some aspects he incorporated into Bill 214, such as: the definition of a PAC, anti-collusion provisions between PACs and the political entities they support, standardizing the election finance and disclosure rules to include PACs, and banning corporation, union, and out-of-province donations.

He also consulted with the government on the matter by sharing the intent of his bill and discussing various approaches to resolving the issue of dark money in Alberta politics.

“Now is the time for us to get serious about protecting the integrity of our democracy by closing legislative loopholes,” says Swann. “No matter the fate of Bill 214, I expect swift and meaningful action from the government and all Members of the Assembly to protect our democracy from those who are more concerned with winning than ensuring the voice of the people is heard and the public interest is served.”

Please click here for more detailed information on Bill 214.


David Swann statement on the approval of clearcutting in Kananaskis Country & Highwood Pass

Alberta Liberal MLA David Swann released the following statement in reaction to the government’s decision to allow clearcutting in the Kananaskis Country and Highwood Pass:

“I’m deeply disappointed by the NDP’s decision to allow clearcutting of vast swaths of trees in the Kananaskis Country and the iconic Highwood Pass.

“Rather than show the kind of environmental leadership Albertans expect from an NDP government, they have proven to be no better than the Conservatives before them by bulldozing over the valid concerns from the municipalities and residents who are directly affected.

“Clearcutting in these areas poses an enormous threat to endangered local wildlife and the watersheds that are the lifeblood of southern Alberta. The potential negative impact on recreation and tourism in the region, highlighted by the municipal councils of Okotoks, Turner Valley and Black Diamond, cannot be overstated.

“During Question Period, and in letters to the Minister’s office, I repeatedly called on the government to put a stop to this plan, review the contracts, and examine other sites, but it refused to listen.

“Now, thousands of trees will be clear-cut in one of Alberta’s true natural jewels, leaving the landscape scarred for generations to come.

“This is a bad decision and must be reversed. Stop the clearcutting of Kananaskis!”


David Swann response to the Q3 Opioid Report

Alberta Liberal MLA David Swann released the following statement in response to the Q3 Opioid and Substances of Misuse Report:

“With each passing quarterly report, it becomes painfully obvious that the NDP government does not have a handle on the opioid crisis. A nine per cent increase in fentanyl overdose deaths from last quarter is unacceptable, and a forty per cent yearly increase is nothing short of a disaster.

“Despite these troubling facts, the NDP fails to treat this with the urgency and importance it deserves, choosing, instead, to rely on a piecemeal, reactive response to this crisis.

“It has rejected my call for the reinstatement of a Chief Addictions and Mental Health Officer to manage this crisis and guide actions on the frontlines in favour of an advisory commission.

“It refuses to declare a state of emergency, which may not give any additional legal powers, but would be of immense symbolic value. Affected families and organizations – as well as all opposition caucuses – have advocated for this declaration, but their pleas have fallen on deaf ears.

“As Alberta approaches two overdose deaths per day, every report, and awareness event organized by groups such as Moms Stop the Harm and Changing the Face of Addiction remind us of the tragic impact of these preventable deaths and the trail of sorrow that follows in their wake.

“People are dying. I cannot emphasize enough that the decisions government makes are literally a matter of life and death. We need better leadership, more coordinated and comprehensive action, and we need it now!”


More action needed to drive down Alberta’s high-cost dental care

Alberta Liberal MLA David Swann says more action is needed to drive down unacceptably high-cost dental care.

“We need a strong mandate for change in order to drive down unacceptably high-cost dental care in Alberta,” says Swann. “Instead, the NDP seems content just to tweak the status quo.

“They made an easy decision, rather than showing the real leadership Albertans need from their government today.”

Swann’s comments come in reaction to a government announcement unveiling revisions to the new fee guide that the Alberta Dental Association and College (ADAC) released to the public without ministerial input in August.

“Having a fee guide that more accurately reflects average prices and client expectations is good, but does little to resolve the problem of high, unregulated dental costs, including outrageous hygienist fees,” says Swann. “It will take a year or more to see if the guide will have any effect. Meanwhile, Albertans will still pay through the nose, since dentists can ultimately charge whatever they want.”

Swann points out there are many obstacles to overcome even with a new fee guide in place.

“Making an informed consumer decision is harder than both the ADAC and the government would have you believe,” says Swann. “Dentists should be required to discuss prices up front and publicly list their standard prices in comparison to the Fee Guide.

“If the government is serious about making dental health care affordable for the majority of Albertans, it needs to apply more pressure to lower costs, encourage open competition and ensure greater accountability for these high fees.”

Swann has been a vocal advocate for reducing dental fees in Alberta. He recently wrote to the Minister of Health to encourage her to take a stronger stand and press the ADAC to liberalize dental advertising rules, as well as consider separating the ADAC into separate entities.

Given the extreme demands on public dental services there is also clearly a need to increase public funding for services to children and low-income Albertans.

Swann’s letter and the Minister’s reply are available for viewing here on the Liberal Opposition website.


Dr. Swann Debates Bill 29 – An Act to Reduce Cannabis and Alcohol Impaired Driving (Second Reading) – 15 November 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Wednesday, November 15, 2017.

Bill 29 – An Act to Reduce Cannabis and Alcohol Impaired Driving (Second Reading)

Dr. Swann: Thank you very much, Madam Speaker. Like many others, I haven’t had a great opportunity to research this important bill yet. I think it’s one that we’re going to have some lengthy discussions about, with, hopefully, more and more of the evidence brought to bear on the whole question of the timing of substance use, the combination of alcohol and marijuana and other drugs and their impact on capacity to drive safely, the age at which we in Alberta are going to see legalized use of cannabis.

What I am aware of, mostly through medical journal articles and interviews that I’ve heard, especially around the whole use of opiates and the combination, often, of some of these opiates with marijuana and indeed the synergistic effects of alcohol and cannabis, is that they are real concerns.

Having said that, I think we’re all aware that we’re embarking on new territory in Canada, including Alberta. I am one of those who feel that it was important to move towards legalization of cannabis, that prohibition has not historically been effective, and that the criminalization of this drug has contributed to a lot of suffering, a lot of crime, and a lot of damaged individuals when, in fact, it’s a very mixed bag. Cannabis has some significant medical benefits, and it has some significant harms when it’s misused and when it’s started too early.

I guess I’m influenced to some extent by the recent Canadian Medical Association Journal reporting that there appears to be very limited support for legalizing cannabis use or for regular use of cannabis under the age of 25 in the medical literature. That’s partly because, especially in males, the frontal cortex development is slower than in females. It is the area of administrative control. It’s the area of judgment. It’s the area of second thought. There is evidence that under 25, especially in males, there is much more significant risk of cannabis use. So I think it’s an area that we’re going to have to hear more research on, I hope, and have more discussions about.

Certainly, 18 is the very minimum where one would consider legalizing this, and I would argue and will argue that we should be having a very serious conversation about moving that up beyond 18 simply because of the immature brain and the susceptibility of that brain to the harmful effects, in some cases psychiatric effects, certainly serious psychological impairment associated in younger people with regular use of cannabis. It’s an important discussion to have.

I think it’s timely that the government has brought this forward, and it’s important that we have some pretty solid evidence presented here in this bill to help us make rational decisions about how we’re going to monitor and enforce standards of safety on the roads, measurements and penalties associated with the use and abuse of these substances.

There’s no question in my mind that our culture has come to the point where we have to take responsibility for the array of substances that we’re all having access to that have the potential for addiction, have the potential for harm, have the potential for some benefits. It’s finding that balance and ensuring that we invest really well in the educational process, both for young people and for older folks, who maybe think they know something about cannabis, who think they know something about the combinations and impacts of the combination of alcohol and other substances. I’m here referring to some of the psychiatric meds – sedatives, hypnotics, painkillers – that are being consumed by people in conjunction with, for example, alcohol or cannabis. Tobacco: another one that’s increasingly being associated with cannabis, with the mixing of the two and some of the harmful effects there that may or may not be recognized.

We’re in a brave new world. We’ve got a lot of important risks and benefits associated with this new wave of tolerance, I guess, and permissive use of these substances, and it behooves us to take our time to hear the best of the evidence.

It’s certainly increasingly being researched around North America. I heard a researcher recently at the University of Calgary speak about the fact that there is no safe level that she’s aware of of cannabis use in young people. She was referring to under the age of 25. She said that the evidence simply isn’t there yet that we know how to predict safe levels of cannabis in youth under the age of 25. That’s somebody who has spent her life researching primarily adolescent addictions and rehab programs for young people with mental health and addictions problems, including cannabis. She was very cautious in her recommendations at the nursing school about the earlier onset of cannabis use in young people.

While we’re debating the principle of the bill, I can fully support the direction we’re taking. I hope we can take the time to pull in some of the very latest evidence and that we will seriously look at the age of restriction and that this government might consider extending beyond the age of 18 because I think the evidence is not there for safe use at that age. Understandably, with the alcohol legal age being 18, it may in some ways send an inconsistent message, but until we know more about some of the negative impacts of cannabis on the young brain, I think it behooves us to really be careful and consider raising the age beyond 18 at this stage. We can always lower it later. It’ll be a lot tougher to raise it in the future.

I think erring on the side of caution would be my one recommendation, that we look at all the evidence and start to address the whole question of: what is the appropriate age, and what’s the evidence from around the world where they have had some different age legalization standards?

I look forward to the debate. I think it’s one of the most important bills that I’ve seen come before this Legislature, and it’s going to have long-term implications, as we’re all aware, since there’s nothing that has caused more suffering and death on our highways than alcohol and drugs. We’re now being asked to look very critically at this new dispensation under federal law that’s going to allow legal access to cannabis.

Thank you, Madam Speaker. I look forward to further debate.


Dr. Swann in Question Period on Methane Gas Monitoring – 15 November 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Methane Gas Monitoring

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. This province is full of hot air when it comes to the NDP pledge of a 45 per cent reduction in methane gas emissions by 2025. The Alberta Energy Regulator fails to reliably monitor the amount of leakage from Alberta’s 400,000 oil and gas sites, and industry is underreporting by between 60 and 360 per cent, according to independent studies. To the environment minister: how can Albertans trust that your government will meet the target when it has no credible measures?

The Speaker: The hon. Minister of Energy.
Ms McCuaig-Boyd: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. You know, when we discuss methane regulations, we’re proud to work alongside industry for a made-in-Alberta solution to plan to cut methane pollution by 45 per cent. We’ll soon be announcing next steps in our balanced plan, that will protect jobs while reducing pollution. We do know what’s at stake. It’s jobs, but it’s also the health of our children and our grandchildren, and we take that job very seriously.

Dr. Swann: It requires independent science, Mr. Speaker. Methane also leaks into groundwater. For example, Encana’s coal-bed methane exploration in Rosebud in 2006 was alleged to have contaminated drinking water, forcing expensive studies. It’s still before the courts. The NDP has missed another opportunity to prevent similar disasters with shale gas activity by failing to require baseline groundwater testing before industrial activity. To the Energy minister: when will you hold industry accountable by requiring baseline groundwater testing for all shale gas wells?

The Speaker: The hon. minister.

Ms McCuaig-Boyd: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. You know, we’re using facts, science, and innovation to develop a balanced plan, the approach that will create the best conditions for the oil and gas sector using innovation and implementing new technologies. These draft regulations that I mentioned will be available soon. There’s going to be plenty of time for feedback, and I invite all members opposite to be part of that feedback loop.

Dr. Swann: Without baseline testing, Mr. Speaker, nobody knows what’s going on under there.

As if the lack of monitoring of methane gas leakage in the atmosphere and groundwater is not enough, the NDP also eliminated the independent monitoring agency and relies solely on the Alberta Energy Regulator, which is entirely funded by industry. All of this makes NDP promises of better environmental stewardship ring a bit hollow. What is the government doing differently to ensure credible, independent monitoring of methane in our air and water?

The Speaker: The hon. minister.

Ms McCuaig-Boyd: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. As I mentioned earlier, we’re working alongside not just industry but environment groups and all kinds of groups involved with the oil and gas industry to develop a plan. But when our hon. colleague there mentions hot air, what we hear from the opposite side is not to get a made-in-Alberta plan. They want an Ottawa-imposed plan. They don’t want us to use science or innovation to tackle that. They want us to create uncertainty about Alberta’s industry so that we will get an imposed plan. On this side of the House we’re standing up for an Alberta-made plan, and we’re going to get that plan done.
The Speaker: Thank you, hon. minister.


David Swann statement on the Standing Committee’s discussion of PACs

Alberta Liberal MLA David Swann released the following statement regarding last night’s meeting of the Standing Committee on Legislative Offices with Chief Electoral Officer Glen Resler:

“I thank the Chief Electoral Officer for sharing his concerns with us regarding third parties and Political Action Committees (PACs) in Alberta.

“I was particularly interested in Mr. Resler’s comments on the exemption of the non-commercial transmission of political views on the Internet in the definition of ‘political advertising.’ In his words: ‘You can have a corporation spending several hundred thousand dollars on a lavish campaign on the Internet and they’d be exempt from reporting.’ Given the increased prominence of the internet in elections today, this is a sizable loophole.

“It is clear that, by failing to address the lack of regulations surrounding PACs in its first attempt at electoral finance reform, the NDP intentionally or unintentionally left the back door wide open for dark money to subvert our democracy. Therefore, it is incumbent on them to help close it as quickly as possible.

“I was also heartened to hear Mr. Resler’s comments echoed those of Alberta Liberals, who have been the strongest – and only – voice warning of the dangers of dark money influencing our elections since our Leader David Khan first raised the issue this past June.

“Building upon the leadership he has shown, I am proud to sponsor Bill 214, which is the first and only attempt in Canada to define what a PAC is, expand election finance restriction beyond advertising, and make them subject to the same rules as everyone else.

“Finally, I share the concerns that some UCP Members raised in the committee about the NDP’s sudden interest in this issue just prior to the by-election in Calgary-Lougheed, but for completely different reasons.

“If it follows the same pattern as the municipal election in Calgary, we may soon witness the massive, devastating impact that wealthy, unaccountable and unregistered PACs such as the Alberta Advantage Fund, Progress Alberta, and Alberta Together, all of which have been allegedly linked to the UCP, NDP, and Alberta Party, can have on a provincial election campaign.

“That is why I am calling on all Members of the Legislative Assembly to take action as soon as possible to limit these effects by unanimously supporting my bill before more damage is done to our democracy.”


Swann to question Chief Electoral Officer on PACs

Alberta Liberal MLA David Swann will attend tonight’s Standing Committee on Legislative Offices to review the 2016-17 Report of the Chief Electoral Officer and ask about Political Action Committees (PACs).

“I share the concerns of the Chief Electoral Officer about the potential for money to be funnelled through PACs to avoid spending limits and create an uneven playing field,” says Swann. “As the officer charged with safeguarding our democracy, Mr. Resler is an invaluable resource in determining how we can limit the ability of these groups to circumvent the rules and manipulate our elections.”

Since Liberal Leader David Khan first raised the issue in June 2017, the Alberta Liberals have been the only voice calling for action on PACs.

“We need to shine a light on the unregulated dark money that is corrupting our democracy,” says Khan. “Albertans deserve to know who has donated and who is donating to PACs, how much they are donating, and where this money is going afterwards. It’s the only way they can be confident that big money is not buying and selling our democracy.”

Swann will also be seeking input from the Chief Electoral Officer on some aspects he plans to incorporate into his Bill 214, such as: defining what a PAC is, expand restrictions on third-party activities beyond the limited category of advertising, and subjecting PACs to the same election finance rules as every other corporation, union, and individual.

The Standing Committee on Legislative Offices will meet from 6:30 to 8:30 PM in the Rocky Mountain Room, 2nd floor of the Edmonton Federal Building.

A backgrounder on Political Action Committees can be found here.


Minister must step in to save Edmonton’s only public fertility clinic

EDMONTON, AB (November 3, 2017): Alberta Liberal MLA David Swann has released the following statement on the Edmonton Regional Fertility and Women’s Endocrine Clinic at the Royal Alexandra Hospital:

“Yesterday, I was immediately concerned when we were contacted by email raising concerns about the closure of the Edmonton Regional Fertility and Women’s Endocrine Clinic at the Royal Alexandra Hospital.

“My staff reached out to AHS communications and to the Minister of Health, but did not receive a reply. However, later that evening, a document surfaced on Twitter appearing to confirm this rumour.

“Today, I join with affected patients and the Friends of Medicare in expressing my displeasure with this decision, and I am calling on Minister of Health Sarah Hoffman to step up for public health care and step in to save this clinic.

“According to the federal government, roughly 16 per cent, or 1 in 6, of couples in Canada experience infertility. This number has doubled since the 1980s. In Alberta, the cost associated with fertility treatments are completely borne by patients.

“That is why, prior to the 2015 provincial election, Alberta Liberals identified infertility funding as a major policy priority and recognized that funding of fertility treatments such as Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) and In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) was necessary to ensure families who require treatment have reasonable and fair access to treatment.

“The decision to close this public fertility clinic is unfair and puts unreasonable additional demands on Albertans who simply want the chance to have a family by natural birth.

“Not only does the Minister need to save this clinic, but the NDP must do more to help Albertans facing infertility in the public health care system, instead of offloading them onto the private sector.”