Western MP pitches Conservative carbon price with a 24-pack of Pilsner

Conservative carbon price

Ron Liepert says these days, the phone calls and emails from people wanting to talk about his party's climate plan have slowed.

One month ago, the Conservative MP for Calgary Signal Hill was answering at least a dozen or more emails a day, and another half a dozen calls.

"There’s no question I’ve had a number of constituents, and I think I’m not talking out of turn when I say so probably have every other western Conservative MP — a number of constituents say, ‘Why the flip-flop?' Liepert told The Canadian Press.

"'(You) said no carbon tax, now there’s a carbon tax.'"

Explaining the Titanic-sized shift in the Conservative heartland particularly on a policy championed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose Liberals hold no seats in Saskatchewan and Alberta has been something those representing the region's resource-rich farmlands and cities have had to figure out.

Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta, along with Ontario, waged a years-long battle against the federal Liberal government's charging of a federal carbon price on consumer goods in provinces that do not already have one. It went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled in March that Ottawa's backstop was constitutional.

The Canadian Press contacted each of Saskatchewan's Conservative MPs and most of those in Alberta to discuss reception to the Conservative party's own carbon-pricing plan. The majority declined to comment, or didn't respond.

In fact, any mention of the climate policy — unveiled by Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole as a major plank in an eventual election platform — is absent from many of their social media.

For Liepert, a veteran of Alberta politics, it's obvious the party needs more wins in Ontario to form government and felt it was time to shed its anti-carbon price stance.

“If you start from that premise, that Canadians have grudgingly accepted a carbon tax, then how do we pivot away from having a position where we will cancel the carbon tax?”

Pitching the Conservatives' fuel price comes down to persuading people it's not a tax, he says. It's also what O'Toole, who ran as the "true blue" candidate in the party's leadership race, has rigorously maintained.

“Let me give you this analogy: When you go to the liquor store and you pick up a 24 case of Pilsner, there's a 10 cent per can levy attached to that, correct?," said Liepert, describing how he sells the plan.

"And they’ll all agree with that, and I say, ‘You don’t consider that a tax do you?' And they say, ‘Well no, because I get it back when I take my cans back.'

And I say, ‘Well bingo. Same thing with this.'"

Liepert says most people tend to "grudgingly agree," with his answer, but there are always those who will feel "a tax, is a tax is a tax."

Besides what to call it, Conservatives say what distinguishes their party's proposed carbon price from the Liberals' is when people pay it, their money will be sent to a savings account that is like a rewards card. They'll then be able to use the money in that fund to make government-approved environmentally friendly purchases.

O'Toole says people should imagine being able to use these carbon bucks to buy anything from a bike and transit pass to an electric vehicle and, according to one op-ed he penned, even locally grown produce.

"It's certainly a creative policy," said Michael Bernstein, executive director of Clean Prosperity, a group that has been advocating for the Tories to adopt carbon pricing since its 2019 election loss.

“It is very difficult to understand how it’s going to actually work."

Saskatchewan MP Cathay Wagantall also evokes the bottle levy to pitch the Conservatives' new carbon-pricing policy in her rural riding, a policy she didn't necessarily see coming.

“Everybody was somewhat surprised, sure, but at the same time, once I read through it, and I did take a great deal of time first just to get my own head around the whole plan, so that I could understand it," she said.

Wagantall feels assured provincial decisions around climate will be respected, which she says is something that caucus stressed. And like Liepert, she's had many talks with upset or confused constituents.

“I have the conversation around what the prime minister of the day is doing and it brings them to a realization that we’re in an environment where that is an expectation, it’s true, but what we are doing is very, very different.”

“The longer we talk, the more understanding they are and they simply want to have that conversation. I haven’t had a circumstance where I felt I wasn’t heard.”

But not all conversations appear to be as cordial.

During an exchange with a critic about the party's carbon price on Regina MP Michael Kram's Facebook page, user Amos Dowler wrote: "Even Premier (Scott) Moe agrees that O'Toole's plan is far better than the current plan. Maybe read it or get someone to read it to you."

A person answering the phone at Kram's constituency office said Dowler was Kram's chief of staff. His personal LinkedIn page also lists him in that role. An assistant for Kram declined to respond to his comments.

Liepert says he can't tell whether he risks losing voters, even as several emails a day land in his inbox from those voicing disgust with the Conservatives and teasing their support for the fledgling Maverick Party, led by former Tory MP Jay Hill.

It brands itself as offering "true western representation" by only running candidates in the Prairies and criticizes O'Toole for having a "phoney carbon levy."

But the Conservatives' primary foe remains a Liberal government that is ratcheting up its promises to reduce carbon emissions.

Trudeau has pledged to further cut Canada's emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases by up to 45 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. He has also committed the country to reach net-zero carbon pollution by 2050.

O'Toole's plan is designed to reach the country's current targets under the Paris Agreement of a 30 per cent reduction by 2030. He has dissed the Liberals' tougher goal.

His MPs also voted against the government's net-zero legislation, citing the possible influence "climate activists" on a net-zero advisory panel could have on the oil and gas industry.

But despite what progress has been made, O'Toole's attempt to straddle the climate fence may cost him with the new voters he's hoping to attract.

“Expectations of voters, although we’ll have to probe this in polling, are likely to continue to evolve as well in terms of what they expect from a credible plan," said Bernstein.

"There is a chance that O’Toole is out of step with that."


Canada's vaccine rollout operation won't miss a beat with new military leader: expert

Rollout won't miss a beat

The sudden departure of the senior military officer in charge of Canada's vaccine rollout is unlikely to slow down the high-profile operation, an expert in military affairs said Saturday.

Christian Leuprecht, a professor at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., said the unexpected reassignment Friday of Maj-Gen. Dany Fortin won't affect vaccine distribution because the military always has a second in command ready to get the job done.

"The mantra is, 'Failure is not an option,'" Leuprecht said in an interview Saturday.

"The mission has to go on. If you're fighting a war and your general gets taken out, you need someone who is able to step into the fray right away and keep running the operation. The entire machine is set up to keep on rolling."

Fortin's replacement was not revealed Friday and the Defence Department declined to comment on the case Saturday. The Public Health Agency of Canada did not respond to a request for comment.

In Manitoba, the province's deputy chief public health officer had little to say when asked about Fortin's abrupt exit.

"I haven't heard anything related to that," Dr. Jazz Atwal said Saturday during a news conference with provincial Health Minister Cliff Cullen.

The Department of National Defence has confirmed Fortin left his post with the Public Health Agency of Canada pending the results of a military investigation, though the nature of that probe was not revealed in a statement released Friday.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan issued a brief statement that night saying he was committed to building a culture of inclusion for the Canadian Armed Forces, and he also said he wants to make sure the military sheds "toxic and outdated values, practices and policies."

But the minister's statement did not provide any clarity regarding the reasons for Fortin's departure.

The Canadian military has faced increased scrutiny since February when allegations of sexual misconduct were levelled against the former chief of defence staff, retired general Jonathan Vance.

Military police are investigating allegations that Vance had a sexual relationship with an officer under his command and that he sent an off-colour email to a junior officer in 2012, before taking the military’s top job.

Vance has not responded to requests for comment from The Canadian Press, but Global News has reported he denies any wrongdoing. He stepped down as chief of the defence staff in January and has since retired from the military.

Meanwhile, Vance's replacement as chief of the defence staff, Admiral Art McDonald, stepped aside due to an unspecified allegation of misconduct. He, too, is facing a military police investigation.

Another top commander, Vice-Admiral Haydn Edmundson, is also being investigated by the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service following media reports detailing an allegation of sexual assault.

Brian Greenspan, a lawyer for Edmundson, said Friday his client denies the allegations.

Leuprecht said the military is suspending people "to maintain the integrity and the legitimacy of both the institution and the chain of command."

"Given how pervasive the problem appears to be, the approach they've had to implement ... is effectively to remove people with pay until such time as the matter has been fully investigated."

Having served in the military for almost 30 years, Fortin commanded NATO's training mission in Iraq and led Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan at the height of the fiercest fighting there.

Last November, Fortin was appointed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to oversee what he called the "greatest mobilization effort Canada has seen since the Second World War."

The military has since managed a global supply chain for national vaccine distribution, and has also helped with provincial management of long-term care homes.

Fortin was appointed to serve as vice-president of operations and logistics for the for the Public Health Agency of Canada.

As Canada watched for further developments on the national immunization drive, COVID-19 infections continued to mount in some recent hot spots.

Ontario counted 2,584 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, coupled with 24 new deaths linked to the virus.

Quebec, meanwhile, added 760 new cases of COVID-19 to its tally and reported eight new deaths.

Farther east, New Brunswick recorded seven new cases of COVID-19, while Newfoundland and Labrador counted five and Prince Edward Island logged one.

Nova Scotia, which has been the Atlantic province hardest hit by the pandemic in recent weeks, reported 86 new cases of COVID-19.

It's the first time the province's daily case count has dipped below 100 since May 1.

Meanwhile, Manitoba counted 430 new cases of COVID-19 and four added deaths, while Saskatchewan recorded 196 new cases of the virus and one death and Alberta identified 1,195 new cases and three deaths.

Nunavut reported five new COVID-19 diagnoses.

Montreal library closes after hacking attack on daycare registration website

Library closes after hacking

A large library in Montreal will be closed until Tuesday morning in the wake of a hacking attack on Quebec's public daycare registration website.

Quebec's Treasury Board Secretariat issued a recommendation on Friday evening urging all government bodies using software developed by the same company as the daycare registration site to immediately suspend access if they store sensitive information.

The Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec says it has temporarily shut down some of its computer systems -- following the treasury board's recommendation, adding its main library in Montreal and some of its online services have been closed as a result.

The Treasury Board declined to provide a list of online government services that have been closed as a result of the recommendation.

The personal data of 5,000 parents and children was compromised in the hack, which was first reported on Tuesday.

The Treasury Board says the hack took place due to unspecified vulnerabilities in the software.

The website was developed by Montreal-based InMedia Technologies, according to a client list posted on its website.

The company did not immediately respond to request for comment on the situation.

Other InMedia clients include several cities in Canada and France, the Department of National Defence and UNESCO.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 15, 2021.


Family doctors say they can answer vaccine questions, after Trudeau recommends them

Doctors talk about vaccines

Several family doctors and physician associations across Canada say they welcome questions from anyone concerned about second doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca or any other COVID-19 vaccine.

Dr. Eben Strydom, a generalist in Melfort, Sask., said he's happy to answer the call recommended by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau if it means giving his patients confidence in the vaccines.

"This is our ticket out of the pandemic so it is critically important," Strydom said. "If it means you're going to take it or not, you should speak to your doctor."

Trudeau said this week his own doctor recommended he get a second dose of AstraZeneca when it's his turn, adding that he knows scientists are also studying the effectiveness of mixing and matching vaccines.

Health Canada, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization and provincial health officials make recommendations about how and when Canadians can get vaccinated, Trudeau added.

"I certainly encourage all Canadians to talk to their doctors."

More than two million Canadians got AstraZeneca for their first jab.

Since then, Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan said they would reserve remaining doses for second shots due to limited supply. Ontario paused its use over concerns about rare blood clots.

Keir Johnson, a spokesperson for Manitoba Doctors, said physicians are keeping up with the new evidence and shifting recommendations but it's understandable why the pauses and shifting eligibility could create concern for the public.

The association has a campaign encouraging anyone with concerns to speak with a doctor and in most cases members report that patients feel more confident after that conversation, Johnson said.

"Because physicians are a trusted voice, they're often able to reassure people to help them understand the current benefits and risks," he said.

That said, there has not been any deluge of new questions since Trudeau's recommendation, he added.

Dr. Noah Ivers, a family doctor at Women's College Hospital in Toronto, said the pandemic has prompted some doctors to engage with their patients in new ways.

He and some colleagues have started holding virtual town halls to address common questions. A town hall on COVID-19 vaccines attracted about 1,000 participants who could type in questions and upvote the most popular ones.

"It's gone so well, I started to wonder why we didn't do it before," he said.

On an individual basis, family doctors also have the benefit of knowing a patient's health history. If an individual has had a recent kidney transplant, for example, a physician may recommend a shorter gap between doses than for a totally healthy individual, he said.

Generally speaking, he said he tells his patients the same thing he tells his parents, whose first jab was AstraZeneca.

"We are in no rush to figure this out and we're waiting for information," Ivers said, adding the recommended gap between doses means there's plenty of time for more research on mixing of manufacturers and blood clot risks.

Of course, not everyone has access to a family doctor. The Liberals' own 2019 platform promised to make sure every Canadian has access to a family doctor or primary health-care team, noting nearly five million Canadians don't have access.

Ivers said vaccine hesitancy is another reason why governments should be making access to a family doctor a priority.

"I think this is one in a million reasons why you really need to get connected to a primary care professional," he said.

"It's time to write a letter to your MP and MPP about how important primary care is," he said.

Dr. Matthew Chow, president of Doctors of BC, said like Ivers, other doctors are finding new ways to interact and share information widely with their patients.

The South Asian COVID Task Force — a volunteer organization made up of physicians, researchers and others — has chapters across the country. They are sharing culturally appropriate communications about COVID-19 in multiple South Asian languages, he said.

Doctors understand the pandemic has been tough on the public in many ways and keeping track of shifting evidence is one of them, he said.

However, family doctors are evidence-based practitioners who take their information and best guidance from federal authorities such as Health Canada and the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, who in turn are monitoring international evidence, he said.

"We can be confident those recommendations will be safe," he said.

Canadians divided on sending Team Canada athletes to the Tokyo Olympic Games: poll

Should athletes go to Japan?

A new poll by Leger and the Association of Canadian Studies suggests the country is divided over plans to send athletes from Canada to the upcoming Olympic Games in Tokyo as Japan grapples with climbing COVID-19 cases.

Forty-two per cent of those surveyed said they don't think Canadian athletes should compete in the Tokyo Games — delayed by a year due to the pandemic — while 39 per cent said Team Canada should attend.

When asked if they think competing in the games will be safe, 46 per cent of people said no, 35 per cent said yes and 19 per cent were not sure.

This torn perspective of Canadians could help give government officials, who will make the final call on whether athletes indeed take part in the Games, a way out, says Leger executive vice-president Christian Bourque.

"Canadians are so divided, certainly not convinced it's safe for athletes, so it's as if they're saying, 'If we decided to go, OK, and if we decide not to go, fine,'" Bourque said.

He added that he was surprised by these results.

"Usually it's something that Canadians like to celebrate, whether it's Summer or Winter Olympics, just to see the Maple Leaf out there competing, it always gets huge ratings on TV, so I would have assumed that there would be more of a willingness to say, 'Let's start enjoying ourselves again, including the Olympics,'" he said.

"But it seems again Canadians are prudent, careful, measured in how they answered the survey."

The survey questioned 1,529 Canadians and 1,003 Americans online between May 7 and May 9. It cannot be assigned a margin of error because internet-based polls are not considered random samples.

If governments are concerned about Canadians being upset about athletes jumping the queue for their COVID-19 vaccines, they need not be.

More than six in 10 respondents said they believe Canadian athletes should be prioritized for vaccines in Canada.

Athletes aren't required to be vaccinated to participate in the Games, however Pfizer and BioNTech announced earlier this month they would be donating COVID-19 doses to inoculate athletes and officials preparing for the Tokyo Games.

The Canadian Olympic Committee has said it believes it will have access to these donated vaccine doses as part of an International Olympic Committee initiative.

Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault was not available for an interview Friday, but his spokeswoman, Camille Gagne-Raynauld, said federal officials are closely monitoring the status of the pandemic and its effect on the Tokyo Games.

The government is working closely with its sport partners and with the support of the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo, Gagne-Raynauld said.

"The priority remains the health and safety of our athletes, coaches and support staff."

The results from the poll of U.S. residents suggest our neighbours to the south are far more comfortable with the idea of sending their athletes to Japan for the Games, which open July 23.

A 55 per cent majority indicated they want American athletes to attend the games compared to only 20 per cent who said they should not, and more than half of U.S. respondents said they think it will be safe to compete.

Bourque said this isn't surprising, because Americans overall have been far less favourable toward imposed public health closures and restrictions over the last year according to his firm's polling.

"They've always had very much more of a laissez-faire attitude toward everything pandemic-related, compared to Canadians. In their case, a majority are saying, 'Yes, we should go and yes, it's safe.'"

A state of emergency in Tokyo and Osaka was extended earlier this week to more parts of the country as sports and health officials around the world continue to monitor the evolving situation on the ground.

Anti-Games sentiments have been gaining ground in Japan, where only about two per cent of the population has been vaccinated.

On Friday, a petition calling for the Olympics to be cancelled "to protect our lives" with more than 350,000 signatures was submitted to Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike. The petition says money spent on the Games would be better used on people in financial need because of the pandemic.

On Thursday, Japan reported 6,800 new coronavirus cases, increasing its total to 665,547 with 11,255 deaths.

Meanwhile, the Leger and Association for Canadian Studies survey also looked at Canadians' travel plans for the summer and for the remainder of the year. The results suggest a majority of Canadians plan to stay put and are not ready to get back on airplanes or travel to the U.S. any time soon.

These results mirror those from surveys of Canadians' travel plans conducted last year, Bourque said — which he equated to a kind of "Groundhog Day."

Real or hoax? Quebec scholars probe mystery letter allegedly from Titanic passenger

Is Titanic letter real?

Researchers from Université du Québec à Rimouski are trying to solve the mystery about whether a letter in a bottle washed up in New Brunswick in 2017 is from a young victim of the Titanic.

The letter was purportedly written by Mathilde Lefevbre, a 12-year-old schoolgirl from northern France who was a passenger in third class and among the poorer people on the ill-fated passenger liner.

It is dated April 13, 1912, the day before the ship sank.

The letter, written in French, reads: “I am throwing this bottle into the sea in the middle of the Atlantic. We are due to arrive in New York in a few days. If anyone finds it, tell the Lefebvre family in Liévin," referring to a commune in northern France.

A New Brunswick family discovered the bottle in June 2017 on a beach in Hopewell Rocks, in the Bay of Fundy, more than 105 years after the letter's alleged date. They asked academics to investigate whether the document is original.

Manon Savard, an archeologist and geographer from UQAR, said chemical analysis of the glass bottle and radio carbon dating on the cork and bits of paper used to seal the bottle yielded dates that were consistent with the early 20th century.

“If we would have had a very recent date, we could tell that it was a hoax,” Savard said in a recent interview. “An ancient date doesn’t rule this out, but it’s consistent as well.”

Academics also know that Mathilde Lefebvre, who was just shy of her 13th birthday, was a passenger on the ship and perished along with her mother and three siblings. The family is among 1,500 people who died when the Titanic sank.

Her story is well known among Titanic sleuths and experts — Lefebvre was even part of a French museum exhibit dedicated to the children who died during the vessel's journey from England to New York City.

Lefebvre, her mother and three siblings were en route to the United States to reunite with family; her father, Franck Lefebvre, was a miner working in Iowa. He would be deported in August 1912 after it was discovered he was living in North America illegally.

Researchers did not test the paper on which the letter is written because they didn't want to damage it. They also note the letter's contents don't contain any information that isn't publicly available about the young girl.

But researchers said they have doubts about the handwriting.

Historian Maxime Gohier noted the fine script on the document and said the letter wasn't written in a fashion consistent with how kids were taught in France in the early 20th century. He also said the writing was advanced for someone that age.

“It would be a bit unusual for a girl of 13 to be that professional in writing,” Gohier said in a recent interview, adding that it is possible someone else on board the boat could have written the letter for her.

Nicolas Beaudry, a historian and archeologist at the university, said researchers could be dealing with a very old hoax — or a modern deception that uses older materials.

“Throwing bottles into the ocean was common in the late 19th and early 20th century as it is now,” Beaudry said in a recent interview. Messages in bottles, he added, were often published even if the press had doubts about their authenticity because it was thought not doing so would be denying the last wish of a lost soul.

“A hoax is very possible, whether it’s a 100-year-old hoax or a recent hoax,” Beaudry said. “But so far we haven’t caught a prankster red-handed.”

There's also the question of how the bottle ended up in New Brunswick after being dropped into the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

Savard said a colleague who is an oceanographer looked at sea currents from the period and along with Norwegian academics, created computer simulations that indicated the vast majority of objects from the Titanic ended up on European shores.

“It’s not impossible that objects would end up on the North American shore, but the probability is quite low," Savard said.

The letter has since been returned to the family that found it.

Researchers contacted distant relatives of the 13-year-old residing in Aix-en-Provence, in the south of France, and media in that country caught wind. The Quebec academics decided to publicize their work to see if doing so would attract someone who had a sample of Lefebvre's writing to help authenticate the letter.

“That’s one of the reasons we went public, we ourselves are throwing a bottle into the sea,” Beaudry said.

“If somewhere, a sample of her handwriting exists in an attic, in a basement, in the archive of a school in northern France, it’s obviously very unlikely, just as unlikely for a bottle to end up on North American shores, but who knows.”

Beaudry said it's a fascinating object, adding that researchers may never confirm whether the document is from Lefebvre's hand.

“It’s an interesting reminder of a very moving piece of history, of the fate of Mathilde and her relatives," Beaudry said.

“It’s a rare voice from a child, a female, a French speaker, in a mythical tragedy whose narrative has been built basically around the male Anglo-Saxon heroes of the first class.”

'It was a going concern': Remaining bar and hotel in Alberta coal ghost town for sale

Alberta ghost town for sale

Built during the First World War, it survived the Great Depression, the Second World War and the closure of coal mines in the 1950s. Now the historic Last Chance Saloon in the ghost town of Wayne in southern Alberta is up for sale.

There are a century's worth of memories in the three-storey wooden hotel, including photos of the community in its heyday, mining equipment and three bullet holes — framed on one wall of the bar — dating back to the 1970s when a trigger-happy bartender wanted to encourage some patrons to pay their tab.

The hotel, about 15 kilometres southeast of Drumheller, Alta., was built by the Rosedeer Coal Co. to house its workers and opened in 1913. The saloon was added a few years later so employees being paid in company scrip could buy a meal or a beer.

"It originally was built for the coal miners when Wayne was starting to boom with 2,500 residents in the early 1920s. Now we're down to 29 residents and this is one of the few remaining structures from that time," explains current owner Dave Arsenault, who has to sell the hotel as part of a divorce settlement.

"It was a going concern. There was more than one hotel out here. There were 12 coal mines and it was a bustling place. Of course, there's almost nothing left but there's lots of photos around depicting what it was like in the day.

"That's really the charm of this place."

The last working mine in the area, Sovereign Coal, closed in 1957.

A University of Calgary history professor says many people don't realize how big an effect the coal industry had in early 20th-century Alberta.

Georg Colpitts says the Drumheller area was one of the "ground centrals of early coal-mining" in the province. Many early explorers to Western Canada not only looked at the agricultural potential, but considered the vast amounts of coal that could be used to support the British Empire.

"Wherever these individuals found large coal deposits it was factored into the thinking of London investors, to the colonial office. Coal was in the backdrop of a lot of the thinking of empiring."

Colpitts said not only did the area have coal deposits, CN decided to develop a railhead.

"Those were the two magic combinations to tap Drumheller into the international demand and supply of coal. It became the lifeblood of that valley and continued to be so up until about the '70s."

The hotel is listed for $925,000. Arsenault says there's already been some interest from prospective buyers.

"It's unfortunate because I think the timing is great for a nice rebound in the hospitality game, but I guess that's a selling feature, too," he says.

"As far as I'm concerned, we're conducting business as usual. We've got weddings booked. We've got some groups coming in, lots of recurring old friends that have called and made reservations. Camping is open this year."

WayneStock, a three-day annual music festival with acts on three stages in and around the saloon, posted a record attendance of about 2,000 in 2019, but has been cancelled since due to the pandemic.

Some think the third floor of the hotel, which is locked up and used only for storage, is haunted. The hotel was featured in Season 3 of the Canadian ghost-hunting TV show, "The Other Side.''

It has also hit the big screen.

The 1983 movie "Running Brave," starring Robby Benson, was filmed in part at the hotel as well as the 2000 martial arts western comedy "Shanghai Noon" which starred Jackie Chan, Owen Wilson and Lucy Liu.

Alberta leadership responsible for protests against public health orders: expert

Expert blames leadership

A criminologist says a recent court order that allows Alberta RCMP to arrest organizers of anti-lockdown rallies can limit or prevent future gatherings but does little to educate people who don't believe in the COVID-19 pandemic.

The injunction issued May 6 allows police, for the first time, to arrest or remove anyone who is organizing, promoting or attending protests that challenge public health restrictions.

"It becomes personally costly for people to attend these kinds of events and, while that may not change their minds, it will impact people's ability to engage in this kind of activity," said Stanislav Vysotsky, an associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of the Fraser Valley in Abbotsford, B.C.

But the order doesn't do enough to explain to people the consequences of their actions, he said.

"There is this need to balance individual rights with public health responsibility, and making sure that our individual actions are not causing harm to others. This is where this becomes a tricky issue."

Rallies and protests against lockdowns, masks, other COVID-19 restrictions and vaccines have been occurring regularly in Alberta.

Vysotsky and others say anti-lockdown rallies are happening in larger numbers in the province compared with the rest of Canada and are attended by conspiracy theorists.

Earlier this week, three people were ticketed and a separate order was issued against the owner of a cafe and gas station in Mirror, Alta., who organized an anti-lockdown protest last weekend. Health authorities said Christopher Scott's business was not following public health measures and had shut it down a few days earlier.

About 400 people showed up in the rain and without masks. They cheered and clapped for Scott as he stood on stage and encouraged the crowd to challenge the seriousness of the pandemic.

Scott is before the courts for contravening the injunction and Alberta's chief medical health officer, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, is to be cross-examined during a hearing.

The weekend before, when the province set a new record for infections, up to 1,500 people attended a maskless "No More Lockdowns'' rodeo in central Alberta. The two organizers of that event are to appear in court Monday.

Three pastors also have trial dates after holding services that officials say ignored capacity limits, distancing and masking. The pastors have argued they have the right to gather and worship under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Alberta RCMP spokesman Fraser Logan said the new court order makes it easier for police to enforce regulations.

"Everyone has this feeling that maybe they don't want to follow the public health restrictions as an individual. Outside of grumbling about it, you may not actually do anything about it," Logan said.

"But if you have these individuals communicating to people to contravene the Public Health Act, that is something that, at the end of the day, we have to address."

Kelly Sundberg, an associate professor of economics, justice, and policy studies at Calgary's Mount Royal University, said mixed messaging by Premier Jason Kenney is responsible for a lot of the anger Albertans are feeling.

Sundberg points to the time when Kenney compared COVID-19 to just another flu. As well, the public doesn't trust a government whose politicians tell people to follow health orders then secretly go on vacations to out of country, he added.

"When you have politicians who believe the conspiracy, who don't listen to health authorities, don't listen to others in government, this is where we're starting to see toxic politics having a direct impact on human life, on public safety, and health," Sundberg said.

"Wearing a mask has become a political statement."

Vysotsky and Sundberg suggested the government can slow down COVID-19 infection rates — among the highest in North America — by speaking directly to community leaders.

"Alberta's government needs to build some sort of dialogue with people who can be influential in the communities that are being drawn to these rallies, and can influence people to think differently about the pandemic and about their role in the pandemic," said Vysotsky.

"The vast majority of people who attend these rallies are people who want the right thing but have just bee npersuaded after listening to some charismatic charlatan," Sundberg added.

Logan said investigators in Alberta are aware of upcoming anti-mask and anti-lockdown rallies and police continue to communicate with protest organizers.

Maj-Gen. Dany Fortin leaves vaccine rollout post pending military investigation

Fortin leaves vaccine rollout

The military officer in charge of Canada's vaccine rollout has left his assignment with the Public Health Agency of Canada pending the results of an investigation.

The Department of National Defence announced in an news release Friday evening that Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin is off the high-profile job.

There was no information released about the nature of the investigation.

The release says acting chief of the defence staff, Lt.-Gen. Wayne Eyre, will be reviewing next steps with Fortin.

The department says it will have no further comment.

Last November, Fortin was appointed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to oversee what he called the "greatest mobilization effort Canada has seen since the Second World War."

Fortin has served in the military for almost 30 years. He commanded NATO's training mission in Iraq and led Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan at the height of the fiercest fighting there.

It’s the latest blow for the military, which is currently dealing with the fallout from a sexual impropriety allegation levelled against the former chief of defence staff, retired general Jonathan Vance.

Military police are investigating allegations that Vance had a sexual relationship with an officer under his command and that he sent an off-colour email to a junior officer in 2012, before taking the military’s top job.

Vance has not responded to requests for comment, but Global News, which first reported the allegations, says that he has denied any inappropriate conduct.

Shortly after reports of the Vance allegations, his replacement as chief of the defence staff, Admiral Art McDonald, stepped aside due to an unspecified allegation of misconduct. He, too, is now under military police investigation.

And another top commander, Vice-Admiral Haydn Edmundson, the officer responsible for human resources, is on leave while being investigated by the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service.

Edmundson has not responded to requests for comment.

There is nothing in Friday's news release that suggests the investigation against Fortin deals with sexual allegations.

Guilbeault says Bill C-10 won't breach free speech, citing Justice Department study

Doubling down on Bill C-10

Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault is doubling down on his controversial new broadcasting bill at a parliamentary committee hearing, citing a Justice Department analysis to reiterate the legislation would not affect free speech online.

A charter impact statement from Justice officials this week found that the would-be law, known as Bill C-10, would not encroach on social-media users' freedom of expression.

Work of the heritage committee has been stalled since Liberal MPs on the panel moved to cut a section of the legislation that expressly excluded user-generated content from regulation.

That move quickly stirred angry protests and media commentary, with critics arguing that the change may infringe on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Guilbeault has said the protests against the bill are unwarranted and threaten to delay Bill C-10, which he says intends to give the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission power to regulate some activities of large social media platforms when they act like broadcasters.

The minister says the legislation has strong support from Canadian cultural industries that want big platforms to showcase Canadian content and pay a share of their revenue to fund programming, as conventional broadcasters do.

Experts call on Canada to use COVAX doses of AstraZeneca or give them back

Use them or give them back

Some health experts are questioning Canada's decision to accept thousands of doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine from a global vaccine-sharing alliance, only to have them sit in freezers in an Ontario warehouse.

More than 655,000 doses of AstraZeneca, which most provinces have now decided against using first doses, arrived in Canada through the COVAX initiative Thursday.

It is the time vaccines have been delivered to Canada without immediately being distributed to provinces and territories, because Ottawa isn't yet clear who wants them.

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, who is managing vaccine logistics for the federal government, said Thursday the Public Health Agency of Canada is waiting for provinces to put in their orders for those doses before sending them out.

But most provinces have now decided to stop giving AstraZeneca as a first dose and are still mulling whether to give it as second dose or offer to get their second dose using either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines.

Dr. Irfan Dhalla, an internal medicine specialist in Toronto, says it is unconscionable to sit on those doses and the choice must be made immediately to use them or send them to countries that will.

Feds offer roadmap to provinces for easing COVID-19 restrictions

Roadmap back to normal

Health Minister Patty Hajdu announced Friday that the federal government’s roadmap sees 75% of Canadians receive one vaccine dose and 20% receiving two doses by the summer for restrictions to ease “based on public health situations in your area.”

“You'll need to continue to follow the local public health advice and keep up with individual measures like physical distancing and wearing a mask indoors but you can look forward to small outdoor gatherings with family and friends,” she said during a media briefing.

Hajdu said even more restrictions could be lifted by the fall if 75% of Canadians are fully vaccinated by that point.

Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, said the fall could mean more people returning to offices, more post-secondary students returning to campuses and more people gathering together for multi-household holiday celebrations.

“Having an aspirational target is really a good thing for everyone to aim for,” Tam said when asked about the high threshold set by the federal government for easing restrictions.

Hajdu said the federal government’s roadmap will only serve as guidelines for the provinces and territories to refer to.

More than 50% of Canada’s eligible population has received at least one vaccine dose as of this week.

While vaccine deliveries are expected to ramp up in the coming weeks and months, experts caution that vaccination levels are unlikely to continue at their present pace owing to the fact those eager to get their jabs have already done so. There are also concerns that some Canadians may also forgo or forget to get their second dose in the coming months.

B.C. health officials are expected to unveil their own plans for easing restrictions amid the mass vaccination campaign following this month’s long weekend.

Meanwhile, Procurement Minister Anita Anand revealed on Friday that Pfizer Inc. (NYSE:PFE) has agreed to move up some of its shipments in anticipation of disruptions brought on by the upcoming Victoria Day long weekend.

Pfizer, which has been the most prolific provider of vaccines for Canada, was due to deliver about two million doses to the country next week.

Instead, it will deliver 3.4 million doses.

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