Advocate for Persons with Disabilities must have independence from government

Edmonton, AB (May 19, 2017): Alberta Liberal Leader Dr. David Swann seeks to amend Bill 205 to establish the Advocate for Persons with Disabilities as an independent officer of the legislature.

“This bill is well-intentioned, but having an advocate report to the minister reduces the office’s independence and makes its budget subject to ministerial whim,” says Swann. “A truly independent officer will have a budget set by an all-party committee and report directly to the Assembly.”

Bill 205, Advocate for Persons with Disabilities Act, proposes the creation of an advocate’s office similar to the Health, Seniors, and Mental Health Patient Advocates, all of whom report to a minister and whose funding is determined by ministry officials.

In the past, this has led to the advocates being unable to fulfill their mandates due to lack of resources. For example, in the 2014-15 Annual Report, the Alberta Mental Health Advocate explicitly stated, “The past year posed challenges to fulfill our legislative mandate in a timely manner. This was largely due to the loss of a position and the subsequent reassignment of duties, along with the Government of Alberta’s restraint measures. It had a direct impact on the number of Albertans we served and the comprehensiveness of our investigations” (pg. 4).

Instead, Swann envisions the disabilities advocate having an expanded role similar to that of the Child and Youth Advocate. This move has the support of stakeholders such as Inclusion Alberta and Calgary’s Disability Action Hall, both of whom are also proposing the creation of an independent advocate.

Swann gave notice of his intention to amend the bill, and requested he be allowed to proceed first in the debate for procedural reasons. However, the NDP did not consent. Now in order for Swann to amend the bill, the Minister of Community and Social Services must withdraw his own pre-emptive amendment, which was moved prior to Swann’s proposal.

“I certainly hope that Minister Sabir and the NDP government do the right thing and consider establishing the Advocate for Persons with Disabilities as an independent officer of the legislature,” says Swann. “That is what Albertans I’ve talked to want and expect.”


Dr. Swann in Question Period on Logging in Kananaskis Country – 18 May 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Thursday, May 18, 2017

Logging in Kananaskis Country

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Madam Speaker. Kananaskis Country includes vital headwaters, prime outdoor recreation for Calgarians, an attraction for tourists from all over the world. That’s why a plan for large-scale clear-cut logging in the Highwood region is very concerning to residents from Black Diamond, Turner Valley, and High River. The allocation of trees was supposed to be over a five-year period, yet they’re planning to take it all this year, before the NDP government can amend logging plans or put in additional conservation measures. To the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry: are you aware this is happening, and what are you doing about it?

The Acting Speaker: The hon. Minister of Agriculture and Forestry.

Mr. Carlier: Thank you, Madam Speaker and to the member for the question. Our government remains committed to protecting and improving the things that make a difference in Albertans’ lives. That includes protection of land and water. We have good partnerships with our lumber industry right across the province to ensure that sustainable practices are maintained across the province and continue to be so. The partnership is working well. We’ll continue working with this those lumbering partners in the province, including in the area that the member is talking about, to ensure that those sustainable practices are maintained.

Dr. Swann: Madam Speaker, this clear-cut is part of the quota operated by Balcaen Consolidated Contracting, a company from B.C., and the timber will be processed in B.C. This means there are very few jobs for Albertans in this plan to clear-cut a significant part of Kananaskis Country. To make matters worse, it will reduce tourism and recreational economic opportunities, having a negative impact on livelihoods that are based on the region’s intact forest. What is the minister doing to protect jobs and support the economic diversification this provides to Alberta?

The Acting Speaker: The hon. Minister of Agriculture and Forestry.

Mr. Carlier: Thank you, Madam Speaker and to the member for the question. Up to 70 communities in the province and over 19,000 workers are in the lumber industry, so it’s a very important industry. We continue to support that industry both nationally and interna-tionally. We’re continually monitoring the harvest operation, whoever is doing that harvest operation, to ensure that sustainable practices are maintained and to meet those standards. Governments, communities, and industries must continue to work together to maintain those standards and ensure the sustainable management of Alberta’s important forestry resources.

Thank you, Madam Speaker.

Dr. Swann: Madam Speaker, the creeks in the forested slopes feeding the upper Highwood River also contain pure strain cutthroat trout, an endangered species in Alberta, and this activity threatens their further recovery. High River also depends on the forest for flood mitigation. Nonetheless, this operation is slated to start in August even as many concerned citizens are speaking up to protect the local economy, the watershed, and the wildlife. Again to the minister: will you put this logging on hold and order a proper impact assessment before proceeding with this plan?

The Acting Speaker: The hon. Minister of Agriculture and Forestry.

Mr. Carlier: Thank you, Madam Speaker. All harvesting oper-ations are done in accordance with operating ground rules in the area. Companies have to work with the department to ensure that their harvesting plans meet those standards. The department then periodically goes out, making sure those standards are maintained. I have confidence that those are maintained. For example, the logging companies must maintain a tree buffer zone around creeks, et cetera, to ensure that we do protect all species, endangered or otherwise, in those harvested areas.

Thank you, Madam Speaker.


Dr. Swann Debates Bill 14 – An Act to Support Orphan Well Rehabilitation (Second Reading) – 17 May 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Wednesday, May 17, 2017.

Bill 14 – An Act to Support Orphan Well Rehabilitation (Second Reading)

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Madam Speaker. I’m pleased to rise and speak to Bill 14 in its second reading, An Act to Support Orphan Well Rehabilitation. Something that we see recurrently in the history of Alberta is this ongoing challenge of meeting those environmental concerns that have been left from bankrupt or otherwise dissolved organizations.

The attempt by the previous government to provide through the Orphan Well Association fairly modest annual payments based on the licensing liability association regulations clearly has not met the need. It points again to other major liabilities that we and our children are facing around the oil sands and the tailings ponds, which are many more billions of dollars of potential liability because we haven’t required appropriate bonding or set asides in the event of stranded assets or bankruptcies or abandonments by companies of these operations.

Cleary, this is going to take us into a more positive position in relation to these wells, and I’m pleased to see that the polluter pays principle will be front and centre in this. These will be loans. In fact, it appears – and this is my first reading of it, Madam Speaker – that there will be borrowing costs and interest associated with the loans. Very good news. I think we have to be consistent in our approach to the responsibilities of industry to meet their obligations under the act, and it would set a very dangerous precedent if it were anything but a loan.

The double benefit, of course, is that we have servicing compan-ies that are going to be employed, in some cases after some period of time of being unemployed. So this is a win-win for the economy, for sustaining some of the jobs in the province, and for getting some appropriate cleanup. A long way to go; $30 million isn’t going to go very far in the long list of potential abandonments as is needed.

While I fully support it, I guess there are lots of questions still to be considered. One of them would be whether or not the Alberta government is planning to make loans through other sources to this fund or if the federal fund is the sole fund that is going to be provided for these companies to do the reclamation and rehabil-itation work. If we are borrowing more money or putting more public liability at risk through loans, I think we would have to have a very serious discussion since there’s already quite a lot being put aside in terms of borrowing by this government, and I would be very concerned if it was going beyond that. But there may be some other opportunities for providing loans to companies which I haven’t considered but perhaps the government has.

So my only caveat is that we not put any more public dollars in Alberta in jeopardy through further loans and that unless we have some other means of – and I hope perhaps at some time in this next year we’ll see some real amendments to the orphan well fund, that we’ll look at issues around reclamation of the oil sands and the tailings ponds because we’ll be dealing with the same issues over the next 10 years at a much higher level with respect to abandon-ment or reclamation and remediation in the oil sands and the tailings ponds.

But this is a good start. I mean, to give the government credit, we are moving forward on some of the most thorny issues that this province has faced for the last 20 or 25 years. I can congratulate both the federal government and the provincial government on taking what are quite necessary steps in particular at this time.

Thank you, Madam Speaker.


Dr. Swann Debates Bill 12 – New Home Buyer Protection Amendment Act, 2017 (Committee of the Whole) – 17 May 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Wednesday, May 17, 2017.

Bill 12 – New Home Buyer Protection Amendment Act, 2017 (Committee of the Whole)

Dr. Swann: Dr. Swann: Thank you, Madam Chair. I have an amendment to suggest and will circulate that and await your approval.

The Chair: This will be known as amendment A3. Go ahead, hon. member.

Dr. Swann: Thanks, Madam Chair. This is an excellent bill that I think all Albertans will welcome. My amendment seeks to simply add a little more transparency around the background of specific builders and suggests that the public has a right to know a little more than is currently required of builders and their past history.

The New Home Buyer Protection Amendment Act, 2017, would be amended by striking out section 12 and substituting the following:

12 Section 9 is repealed, and the following is substituted:

Registry

9(1) The Registrar shall establish and maintain a registry that must include information on

(a) licences applied for, issued, renewed, suspended, cancelled or reinstated under this Act,

(b) authorizations applied for, issued, suspended or cancelled under this Act,

(c) exemptions applied for or issued under this Act,

(d) claims that have been made under a home warranty insurance contract or under Part 1 of this Act,

(e) legal proceedings against a residential builder for structural defects, defects in materials or labour or any deficiency related to the construction of a new home,

(f) new homes built or under construction by residential builders, including details of the home warranty insurance contracts covering the new homes,

(g) new homes built or under construction by owner builders, including details of the home warranty insurance contracts covering the new homes, if applicable,

(h) persons in respect of whom administrative penalties have been imposed or compliance orders have been issued under this Act,

(i) persons convicted of an offence under this Act, and

(j) any other prescribed information.

(2) A warranty provider, residential builder or owner builder must notify the Registrar when a claim is made under a home warranty insurance contract or Part 1 of this Act within 30 days after the claim is made.

(3) The Registrar shall establish and maintain an online registry accessible to the public that consists of the information in the registry, and may publicly disclose that information.

Madam Chair, it is clear that we want more public access to information. This is simply going to add to the access the public has to information about a particular builder, their history, any concerns that have been found to be warranted relating to improper or inadequate building standards, any previous actions to withhold approval to this particular builder. It will simply give public access to the information that now is not included on the current website, to allow the public themselves to make their own judgments about whether the past history of this builder is acceptable or not. I think it will simply add to the confidence that people will have in this important new legislation and give them access to more information that relates to specific builders and their past history.

Thank you, Madam Chair.

The Chair: The hon. Member for Banff-Cochrane.

Mr. Westhead: Thank you very much, Madam Chair. I’d like to thank the member for putting forward a thoughtful amendment. You know, we’ve just received this, so it might take some time for us to consider this. I would strongly encourage the member that if it’s available to him in the future, if we can have a little more notice so that we have a bit of time to understand the ramifications of the proposed amendment. I know that the member certainly brought this forward in good faith and is attempting to improve the bill.

I guess, as we’re considering this, I have some questions on whether or not the information that is being requested here could potentially be obtained elsewhere in the bill. I just want to make sure that this information isn’t redundant and hasn’t been captured elsewhere. You know, I’m just wondering. Reading through the section that is relevant here, it currently reads:

Section 9(1)(a) is repealed and the following is substituted:

(a) licences applied for, issued, renewed, suspended, cancelled or reinstated under this Act,

(a.1) authorizations applied for, issued, suspended or cancelled under this Act,

(a.2) exemptions applied for or issued under this Act.

The amendment contemplates adding quite a bit of additional information. You know, my question to the member is: does he feel that what’s currently in there is not accurately captured? What specifically is the reason for these additional items?

Dr. Swann: Well, indeed, this gives more information to the public. This may be knowledge that the ministry might have, but in the current bill legal proceedings that have been raised against a builder in the past aren’t necessarily included, past convictions. I think consumers have a right to know what’s gone on in the past, not just what’s happening in the current state of affairs. This would add more information, more data, more accountability to this particular bill. It’s a question, I guess, of just how much transparency is reasonable. For the homebuyer, I think, the more the better, and looking at a builder’s past history and previous convictions, to me, should be part and parcel of what is available to the consumer.

Thanks, Madam Chair.

Mr. Westhead: Thank you for the additional information. I suppose a question that came up for me in the explanation was: would this information be retroactive, or do you contemplate this being once the bill comes into force, that this would be information that’s kept moving forward from that point in time? Or would this be retrospectively looking at future convictions, future exemptions? The information you’re seeking: would it be retroactive, or would it be forward looking?

Dr. Swann: I think that, as indicated in the details of the amendment, this should include past convictions and should be part of the record indeed if there has been a violation and a conviction around inadequate building standards or misrepresentation of building quality.

Thanks, Madam Chair.

The Chair: Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills.

Mr. Cooper: Thank you, Madam Chair. I just have a couple of quick questions for my colleague from the Liberal caucus with respect to the registry and if he feels that some of the additional requirements in the registry will have any significant impact on costs. We’ve seen in the past other Liberal organizations with respect to registries and ballooning costs, and I’m just wondering if that is a possibility with the additional requirements in this registry.

Dr. Swann: Well, Madam Chair, reliable information does cost a little more. There’s no question that if you want more information and you want more reliable information and you want more disclosure, more accountability of inadequate builders, it’s going to cost a little more. It takes more time, more searching, more uploading of information. Presumably, we would better protect consumers.

Mr. Cooper: In all seriousness, though, have you given any consideration to what those costs might be with respect to the additional information? I know I was joking around about the gun registry there, but have you considered what the additional costs might be? Perhaps the government can provide some comment around whether or not they think that the additional associated costs to the builder would be able to cover the additional pieces of information that you are also trying to include in the registration.

I do agree that having more information available to those that would like to seek it when making such an important decision is, obviously, an important goal to try to achieve. The legislation, hopefully, balances the amount of red tape associated with the bill, allowing industry to also act in a way that is helpful to industry, helpful to the consumer and to finding that balance. I don’t know if the government could respond with respect to the total costs and how this may affect that, or perhaps you’ve considered it. In addition to adding regulations to builders already, does it tilt the balance, or do you think the balance has been struck appropriately?

Dr. Swann: Well, fair question. I guess that what I would say is that this new bill is going to add costs to builders. It’s going to require them to upload more information about their past, especially about inadequacies in their past and violations in their past building practices. Once that is done, there would be no additional expense because the foundation has been set and they simply add each year any concerns that have been raised or found inadequate in their building.

I don’t see it being a significant increase – some increase but not a significant increase – in the initial requirements based on this new bill. The bill itself is going to require significant new information, a new website, new reporting practices and standards. Yes, it’s going to cost more but not significantly more than is currently being asked for.

The Chair: Edmonton-McClung.

Mr. Dach: Thank you, Madam Chair. I just want to rise as well and make a comment, a couple of questions to the hon. member who’s proposing the amendment because it does give me some concern. I’m just wondering if he has given consideration to the consequences of some of the measures that he’s proposing, particularly in terms of gathering some of the information that he’s proposing be registered. Some of that is readily available and could be verified quite easily. What I believe the hon. member is asking builders to do is self-report certain information that might incriminate them and that they would rather not see reported.

I don’t think we can leave it up to the legislation to force builders to self-report. I think there would have to be a means of actually verifying this information; therefore, there would have to be some kind of oversight watchdog that would collect information on legal proceedings that were under way or had taken place. I’m not sure how this information would be gathered. There is certainly a huge cost to that, to raking in all this information about new-home builders. To rely upon them to self-report I think would be naive at best.

I’m concerned that this amendment doesn’t really consider the ramifications of how difficult it will be to actually gather the information that the amendment proposes be registered. Therefore, I have these significant concerns about it. Perhaps the hon. member might comment on this aspect of requiring self-reporting to self-incriminate oneself and also the difficulty of gathering the information that would come from disparate sources and would require oversight, which would need a significant amount of staff, in my view, and be quite logistically difficult.

Dr. Swann: Well, thanks for those comments. No question that there are going to be additional costs to confirm reporting. That’s also the case with the present bill. You’re relying on builders to self-report into this registry as it is. The question is: do we have a reasonable and robust oversight body within the ministry to ensure that what’s being reported is accurate? That goes without question. Will it involve additional searches through the law courts, perhaps, and the registered convictions? I think that’s the price of accountability and transparency, and it’s what consumers expect of a government, that they not only provide information to the public but verify that the information that’s being put up there from whatever source is reliable and reasonable.

The Chair: The hon. Member for Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill.

Ms McPherson: Thank you, Madam Chair. This proposed amendment refers to section 9. Now, currently this section reads in part:

9(1) The Registrar shall establish and maintain a registry that must include information on

(a) authorizations and exemptions issued or applied for under this Act.

What’s proposed in Bill 12 is that section 9(1)(a) be repealed and the following substituted:

(a) licences applied for, issued, renewed, suspended, cancelled or reinstated under this Act,

(a.1) authorizations applied for, issued, suspended or cancelled under this Act,

(a.2) exemptions applied for or issued under this Act.

Now, as I understand the amendment, we have quite a number of changes. This amendment proposes:

9(1) The Registrar shall establish and maintain a registry that must include information on

(a) licences applied for, issued, renewed, suspended, cancelled or reinstated under this Act,

(b) authorizations applied for, issued, suspended or cancelled under this Act,

(c) exemptions applied for or issued under this Act,

(d) claims that have been made under a home warranty insurance contract or under Part 1 of this Act,

(e) legal proceedings against a residential builder for structural defects, defects in materials or labour or any deficiency related to the construction of a new home,

(f) new homes built or under construction by residential builders, including details of the home warranty insurance contracts covering the new homes,

(g) new homes built or under construction by owner builders, including details of the home warranty insurance contracts covering the new homes, if applicable,

(h) persons in respect of whom administrative penalties have been imposed or compliance orders have been issued under this Act,

(i) persons convicted of an offence under this Act, and

(j) any other prescribed information.

So with that particular part it seems to me that the idea is to create, essentially, a Carfax for houses. I’m wondering if the member who introduced the amendment can explain how much consultation has gone into the development of this list with the stakeholders.

Dr. Swann: Well, thank you very much for the question. I’ve had no consultation on this. This is based on, I guess, common-sense requirements that seem applicable to all consumers who would want to know, ideally, how much has gone on in the background of a particular builder and as comprehensive a list as is possible to gather so that buyers can be aware, buyers can know as much as possible about the background of a builder and ensure that they’re getting what they think they’re buying.

….

The Chair: Any further speakers to amendment A3? Seeing none, are you ready for the question?

[Motion on amendment A3 lost]


OP-ED Alberta can learn important lessons from British Columbia’s opioid response

Alberta can learn important lessons from British Columbia’s opioid response.
Opinion/Editorial by Dr. David Swann, MLA Calgary-Mountain View, Alberta Liberal Leader

By any objective measure, the opiate crisis has affected British Columbia far more severely than Alberta. Both legal and illegal opiate use is more prevalent, and it was the first province to see this unprecedented number of deaths due to overdoses of fentanyl and other opiates.

B.C.’s response has been robust. The declaration of a public health state of emergency led to resources being mobilized across government departments and between all stakeholders in a co-ordinated plan. Their Provincial Health Officer reports monthly on the efforts to combat the crisis, and the province has embraced early harm reduction measures such as naloxone kits and supervised injection sites. Despite these efforts, and an investment of $100 million to combat the crisis, the death toll still continues to grow at a rate of nearly four people per day.

Alberta’s situation has not yet reached the same extremes, but we have yet to see a comprehensive strategy that involves all the major stakeholders, including physicians, government departments and non-government organizations. Alberta Health attempts to report deaths and drug overdoses every three months; yet, the final total of opioid-related deaths in 2016 is still unknown. Nonetheless, mortality rates from fentanyl and other opiates still continue to rise in Alberta, approaching two per day.

Naloxone kits are undoubtedly saving lives, but we are not tracking how many, which is an important metric for gauging our progress. Wait times for replacement therapy outside Edmonton and Calgary continue to be too long. There is a troubling lack of information that could help us get an accurate picture of the extent of the problem and the effectiveness of our solutions. The recently announced $6 million from the federal government is a welcome boost, but the province needs to be able to direct those funds in the right areas to make sure they are used effectively.

Similar to B.C., this crisis requires strong, focused leadership. This includes a mental health and addictions experts who can develop and implement a coherent and coordinated plan that makes proper use all of the tools at the government’s disposal and overcomes the silos that have inhibited Alberta’s response. I have proposed to reinstate the chief addiction and mental health officer to spearhead Alberta’s opioid response. So far, the government has refused, and also says declaring a state of emergency is unnecessary.

There is still much to do to address this terrible, preventable tragedy, but doing less than our neighbours to the west is not the answer. If we hope to get ahead of this crisis, Alberta needs to learn from British Columbia’s opioid response, and build upon it, and get ahead of this crisis. The lives of our parents, children, brothers and sisters depend on us getting this right.


Dr. Swann Debates Bill 11 – Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Amendment Act, 2017 (Committee of the Whole) – 16 May 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Tuesday, May 16, 2017.

Bill 11 – Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Amendment Act, 2017 (Committee of the Whole)

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Madam Chair. I have a suggested amend-ment for Bill 11, the Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Amendment Act, 2017, which I’ll circulate.

The Chair: This will be known as amendment A2. Go ahead, hon. member.

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Madam Chair. My amendment is that Bill 11, the Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Amendment Act, 2017, be amended in section 39 by striking out the proposed section 52 and substituting the following:

Proceedings of Commissioner subject to review

52(1) Subject to subsection (2), no decision, report or proceeding of the Commissioner is invalid for want of form.

(2) A decision of the Commissioner may be questioned or reviewed by way of an application for judicial review seeking an order in the nature of certiorari or mandamus if the application is filed with the Court of Queen’s Bench and served on the Commissioner no later than 30 days after the date of the decision, report, proceeding or reasons, whichever is latest.

(3) The Court may, in respect of an application under subsection (2),

(a) determine the issues to be resolved on the application,

(b) limit the contents of the return from the Commissioner to those materials necessary for the disposition of those issues, and

(c) give directions to protect the confidentiality of the matters referred to in Part 4.1.

The intent of this amendment, Madam Chair, should be clear. Under the current writing of the bill there’s no appeals process. This, I think, would give all of us some sense that no one is inviolate. There should be access to some kind of an appeals process based on circumstances, contingencies, specific facts of the con-cerns, and that any officer of the government should be subject to a second review. Currently there’s no ability to appeal in the bill as it’s written.

This is simply an attempt to ensure that if an error has been made or there are extenuating circumstances, an individual may be able to have recourse to an appeal.

Thank you, Madam Chair.

….

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Madam Chair. I don’t actually remember discussing this at the committee, but I, too, have lost time and memory around the details of the discussions. What I can say is that the appellant could be the individual who has blown the whistle and feels not appropriately addressed by the commissioner, or it could be a lawyer on behalf of that individual, or indeed, I suppose, it could be the employer who for whatever reason decides that the decision was not appropriate. It’s trying to create a fair playing field for both sides to resolve where there is still dispute.

….

The Chair: Any other speakers to amendment A2? Seeing none, are you ready for the question?

[Motion on amendment A2 lost]


Dr. Swann in Question Period on Pure North S’Energy Foundation – 16 May 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Pure North S’Energy Foundation

Dr. Swann: Mr. Speaker, the former PC government gave a $10 million grant to Pure North for a vitamin/mineral supplement program against the advice of medical officials who expressed concerns over its effectiveness and potential health risks. The NDP last year gave another $4.2 million to the same group for a nurse practitioner program led in a primary care clinic. Fourteen million dollars represents a significant investment in a group that third-party reviewers said should not receive funding. The Minister of Health claimed to have no knowledge of her ministry’s concerns before approving the grant, but an AHS briefing note suggests otherwise. To the minister: given the concerns . . .

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

Ms Hoffman: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker and to the member for the question. On what he does say about the $10 million for the wellness program, I have to agree. That’s one of the reasons why my department gave me advice not to extend the funding that was granted under the former government. Twice they gave me that advice; twice I acted on their very important advice. When it came to nurse practitioner demonstration projects, I think all members of this House – I hope all members of this House – would agree how valuable nurse practitioners are, particularly in working with vulnerable populations, and there are a number of different nurse practitioner demonstration projects currently under way just to prove that thing, Mr. Speaker.

Dr. Swann: CBC news reported that former AHS official Carl Amrhein reportedly has a history of participating in and lobbying for Pure North. This raises serious concerns about a potential conflict of interest in the awarding of both these grants. Albertans deserve to know what role he played and whether or not his involvement biased the approval process. I’ve asked the Auditor General to investigate, but perhaps the minister could set the record straight. Were you aware of your deputy and his conflict of interest, and if so, when?

The Speaker: The hon. Minister of Health.

Ms Hoffman: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker and again to the member for the question. It’s my understanding that Dr. Amrhein made his disclosure to the Ethics Commissioner. If the Ethics Commissioner wishes to look into this further, we certainly welcome that, and it’s my understanding that there were also questions today brought forward to the Auditor General. Again, if the Auditor General chooses to pursue that, we welcome that. The nurse practitioner project has very rigorous oversight, and we welcome that to any of the other decisions that were made under the former government, of course, as well.

Dr. Swann: It doesn’t sound like the minister wants to answer the question. In Public Accounts today I asked the assistant deputy minister if he was concerned that the latest $4.2 million grant to Pure North for a nurse practitioner led clinic program would be used to further the supplements of vitamins and minerals. He denied any connection to Pure North, which clearly views this as an extension of their program. Can the minister assure us that no megavitamins are being handed out by this clinic and table their contract?

The Speaker: The hon. minister.

Ms Hoffman: Thank you very much. Just to clarify, the disclosure was made to the Ethics Commissioner. I don’t recall any discus-sions that spoke to that specific matter with regard to the previous question. With regard to the nurse practitioner grant agreement, which this question relates to, the agreement very clearly spells out that Pure North must obtain written permission to use any of the information outside of the agreement, which has not been granted. If any organization does not follow the grant agreement, Pure North or any other, their funding could be discontinued. Clinicians are beholden to their colleges as well as to those who are granting this funding. We, of course, work in partnership with the colleges, but these are for nurse practitioners, RNs, LPNs, and health care aides.


Dr. Swann Debates Bill 205 – Advocate for Persons with Disabilities Act, 2017 (Second Reading) – 15 May 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Monday, May 15, 2017.

Bill 205 – Advocate for Persons with Disabilities Act, 2017 (Second Reading)

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Madam Speaker. I’m very pleased to stand and speak in support of this important new role, that’s obviously been much needed for many years given the history of some of the complaints and concerns not only with respect to PDD but AISH as well. With PDD, in particular, there’s been lots of demand for change, access to supports, recognition of the role of family and community, and this would certainly give greater voice, greater attention, greater influence and understanding of what’s working and what’s not working in the system by someone so directly involved with these most vulnerable folks. It obviously gives the advocate the power to represent the interests and rights of people with disabilities and to advocate for change where it’s needed, not least in individual cases where people are not getting their needs met, where families are not feeling properly listened to and responded to.

Programs and policies, obviously, in some cases need to be changed, but certainly their basic rights and their well-being have to be at the forefront and need strong advocacy. There’s no question that the measure of a civilization, the measure of a society is how well we take care of those folks. We have advocates for health, for seniors, for mental health. We have an advocate for children in care. This is another vulnerable population that clearly needs to have some independent leadership and advocacy.

To be sure, I need to comment on not only the role but the resources given to this person. If it’s anything like the resources given to the mental health advocate, it’s a shame because the mental health advocate has been able to do almost nothing in the last few years because of receiving the same resources they have for the last 25 years. In name we have a mental health advocate, but the mental health advocate has been hamstrung by a lack of resources and ability to formally investigate complaints about the mental health system and in some cases the abuse of people’s rights as persons. Whatever we do, let this not be a token, as I feel the mental health advocate has become in this province.

The Health Advocate: also very limited resources except to refer these people to different bodies, including the college of physicians, the college of nursing, various colleges that are supposed to oversee the quality of care, the quality of response to health issues. The Seniors Advocate: similarly. If we’re going to provide these advocates’ offices, let them be properly resourced, evaluated, and properly increased as the population increases. It’s a travesty that in 25 years we see the mental health advocate, for example, still dealing with two staff when the population has increased phenomenally and the number of mental health issues has increased exponentially in the last 25 years. Let’s ensure that we get value for money and ensure that the people who are in this position have the resources to do their job.

I also, I guess, have to wonder how much this is an effort to address the Auditor General’s stinging criticism of AISH in the past, and rightly so. It looks like an important initiative that is going to address the criticisms of the Auditor General, and I sincerely hope it will be. Again, it depends on finding the right person and staffing appropriately and finding the resources to do this. I think it’s an important initiative. It sends the right message to people with a disability and their families. Let’s just make sure that it’s done with the generosity and the research and the capacity that is needed for this large population.

Thank you.

 


Dr. Swann in Question Period on Child Protective Services on First Nations – 10 May 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Child Protective Services on First Nations

Dr. Swann: Yesterday the wounds from Serenity’s tragic death were reopened as we learned that six more children remain in the same home where her life was cut short. Our first reaction is to assume that the other children in the home might be in danger as well; however, the government says that there’s no evidence of abuse or neglect that would cause them to intervene, and clearly there are difficult jurisdictional issues here involving a federal on-reserve family. That is good to hear, that reassurance from the minister, but Albertans cannot understand why we wouldn’t err on the side of caution. To the minister: as a provincial authority what evidence do you base your decision on?

The Speaker: The hon. minister.

Ms Larivee: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and thank you to the member for the question. Absolutely, the safety of Alberta’s children is the key priority of Children’s Services, so when there is any evidence or complaint or indication of concern, that is followed up with a thorough assessment as to the safety and well-being of Alberta’s children. I will continue to state very clearly that when there is specific evidence of abuse of a child, that child is apprehended and then is supported by the courts. We continue to monitor the situation to ensure the safety and well-being . . .

The Speaker: Thank you, hon. minister.

Dr. Swann: Well, let me put it very succinctly, Mr. Speaker. First Nations children on reserve land are under the authority of the delegated First Nations authorities. Who is ultimately responsible for the safety of reserve children, the DFNAs or you?

The Speaker: The hon. minister.

Ms Larivee: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. We work very closely with the delegated First Nations authorities to ensure the safety and well-being of children on Alberta’s First Nations. It’s no secret that conditions for children on First Nations in this province are far below what they are for children who live off-reserve. That’s very unacceptable, and there are many issues that need to be resolved, that have been complicated and have existed for a very long time. We’re very committed to working with our First Nations to make sure that First Nations children have access to the kind of care and support that all children deserve, but their safety . . .

The Speaker: Thank you, hon. minister.

Dr. Swann: Mr. Speaker, the Premier rightly identified Serenity’s death as a reason to establish the Ministerial Panel on Child Intervention to fix what the Premier called systemic problems. The system supposed to be watching out for Serenity clearly failed; however, we must not allow the jurisdictional issues to fail these children again. Finally, to the minister: if you come to believe that these six children are not safe but are outside your jurisdiction, what is your role to ensure their safety?

The Speaker: The hon. minister.

Ms Larivee: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I’d like to reassure the member that the safety of those children absolutely is my responsibility through Children’s Services. Absolutely, if there is evidence that those children are not safe, that those children are being abused, then we’ll utilize the power that the law has granted to us to apprehend those children.


Dr. Swann Debates Bill 11 – Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Amendment Act, 2017 (Second Reading) – 09 May 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Tuesday, May 9, 2017.

Bill 11 – Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Amendment Act, 2017 (Second Reading)

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Mr. Speaker and to the member for ceding the floor.

Bill 11, Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Amendment Act, 2017: progress, real progress. I was part of the committee and applaud the chair and the work that was done on this. A pity that we couldn’t get on to do some of the other important work with respect to the Election Act and conflicts of interest, but this is truly a step forward from the earlier version of the whistle-blower protection act. It authorizes the Public Interest Commis-sioner, for example, to investigate allegations of wrongdoing submitted anonymously or by people that are not considered employees under the act; private citizens, for example. That’s progress.

Whistle-blowers can report wrongdoings directly to the Public Interest Commissioner, which they couldn’t do before, always a weakness of the previous bill under the PC government. Whistle-blowers are protected from reprisals from the moment they tell their supervisor about an issue.

Workers who are fired, have their duties changed, or experience reprisals as a result of whistle-blowing have access to restitution through the Labour Relations Board. The Labour Relations Board decides on restitution for workers who experience reprisals, with an enforceable decision in the same manner as a court order. Prescribed service providers such as care in seniors’ homes that have a business relationship with the government are now covered under this act, as are physicians, who have an alternate reimburse-ment program, which was not the case in the past.

The term “gross mismanagement” now includes a wider variety of wrongdoings, including bullying and abuse in the workplace as well as mismanagement. So progress.

The Public Interest Commissioner’s office will be required to report more information each year, telling what types of wrongdoings and summarizing the findings, penalties, and specific recommendations to public entities. Section 19 adds a section, 18.1, which grants the Public Interest Commissioner greater access to information than in the past, much like the powers of the Auditor General. More progress.

The Public Interest Commissioner determines whether a public interest outweighs potential harm to an individual, and the Public Interest Commissioner and his or her staff are not compelled to give evidence during judicial proceedings.

Finally, the Public Interest Commissioner is now allowed 20 days to determine whether to investigate a complaint, giving the Public Interest Commissioner more capacity and time and resources to make appropriate decisions and not short-circuit anything that’s needed.

The Liberal caucus position is, of course, that the most glaring deficiency is that the PCs wrote the legislation in such a way that it only applies to wrongdoings that occurred after the act came into force. Clearly, that allowed a get-out-of-jail-free card for any potential wrongdoings that occurred prior to June 2013, when the act was first brought in. Certainly, it went against the spirit of the legislation, and we’re pleased to see that this is now going to be much more vigorous and timely.

Section 19(2) authorizes, again, the Public Interest Commissioner to either not investigate a disclosure or discontinue an investigation if more than two years have passed since the date the wrongdoing was discovered. Again, this is arbitrary and could lead to legitimate investigations of wrongdoing being abandoned or not even getting off the ground. So that’s a shortcoming of this particular bill, limiting it to two years.

Pursuant to section 38(1) the Public Interest Commissioner is appointed by “the Lieutenant Governor in Council, on the recommendation of the Legislative Assembly.” As always, there is a risk that government could unduly influence the choice, and that continues to be a concern.

Finally, section 52 is problematic in stating:

No proceeding of the Commissioner is invalid for want of form and, except on the ground of lack of jurisdiction, no proceeding or decision of the Commissioner [can] be challenged, reviewed, quashed or called into question [by a] court.

In other words, the Public Interest Commissioner has the absolute final word, and that’s a concern with respect to accountability of the Public Interest Commissioner.

Having said that, I think the progress made on this bill and the improvements in protecting whistle-blowers are significant, and I’m very much supportive of what we finally came to. In my view, our existing whistle-blower legislation was deficient in not allowing proceedings or decisions of the Public Interest Commissioner to be challenged, reviewed, or quashed and with the commissioner being given the absolute final word, with no accountability. I would reiterate that if there was any amendment, that would be an area that we would be considering.

Bill 11 does address the deficiency in part by very specifically allowing a decision of the commissioner concerning a reprisal to be reviewed by the courts. This is a welcome improvement. But why are we stopping there? If we’re going to allow the courts to decide whether addressing a reprisal against a whistle-blower can be reviewed, why wouldn’t we allow the courts to review the commissioner’s decision? It doesn’t seem to be consistent.

Apart from those concerns, caveats, I very much support this important bill. It’s bringing us into line with much of the rest of the country, Madam Speaker. I believe we will be supporting it as is.

Thanks, Madam Speaker.