This week, Albertans saw glimpses of the Trudeau government’s strategy for dealing with new Premier Danielle Smith and her devotion to getting tough with Ottawa, or at least Liberal Ottawa.
This early strategy is simply to show up, often with novelty-sized cheques in hand. While Smith won her rural byelection this week, the Liberals barnstormed the province to promote their fall economic statement.
Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne visited Edmonton to subsidize a hydrogen project; Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland spoke to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce; Seniors Minister Kamal Khera gave grants to seniors projects; and Calgary MP George Chahal announced support for high-speed internet.
The parry from the United Conservative Party premier seemed traditional: a public letter to the prime minister, reprising grievances about the carbon tax, the project assessment Bill C-69 and energy security. Smith’s promised next act, later this month, is the temperature-raiser: the untraditional (and constitutionally-questionable) Alberta Sovereignty Act.
But a funny thing’s happened over these last few years, as the UCP determined Jason Kenney’s anti-Ottawa act needed a more bellicose upgrade and installed Smith. Albertans have gotten less angry on federal issues, with a waning appetite for firewalls, fair deals and similar programs than at any point in the last four years.
At a boil? Medium-low heat, perhaps
It’s not that the findings from CBC News’ latest survey of Albertans shows an Ottawa love-in. Far from it, with 61 per cent of Albertans still believing the equalization program is unfair to Alberta, and 57 per cent feeling that other parts of Canada will get looked after before Alberta, no matter who’s in charge federally.
But after the years of pugilism from Smith and Kenney, along with a referendum about equalization, negative sentiments about those federal grants to worse-off provinces are lower than they were last year, or in 2020, or in the Notley government days of 2018. And this is the first time over that span fewer than 60 per cent of Albertans have felt other provinces were better taken care of, according to the poll of 1,200 Albertans by Janet Brown Opinion Research.
Pro-separatist sentiment is also down, which should please any federalist in Alberta, of any political stripe. Twenty per cent of respondents feel the province would be better off if they left Canada, down from 30 per cent when the same question was asked in April 2021.
Of course, no matter how Smith was accused of promoting separatism with her federal-law-defying Sovereignty Act by critics (including some people now in her cabinet), the premier has insisted that isn’t her game. The poll also shows that the policies she is keen on implementing aren’t much more popular than idealizing Alberta separation.
Smith campaigned on getting Albertans out of the Canada Pension Plan, but 60 per cent of Albertans oppose that idea and only 31 per cent agree with it. That’s down from 36 per cent in March 2020, when Kenney’s fair deal panel was busy reviving some of the old “firewall letter” ideas from a previous period of frustration with Ottawa Liberals.
Smith also plans to bring in an Alberta provincial police force and transition away from local RCMP detachments, showing more zeal for the idea than Kenney’s team had. That idea barely has the backing of one-quarter of Albertans, a lower number than a couple years ago.
The poll shows that a province-only pension scheme would especially stoke anxiety among Alberta seniors, a group the UCP cannot afford to agitate. Only 22 per cent of them support the idea of an Alberta Pension Plan.
Smith’s stance on policing is also offside with another key element of the UCP voter base — small-city and rural residents. People who live in those communities with RCMP detachments are as likely to disagree with the provincial police takeover as residents of Calgary and Edmonton, which already have their own police forces.
The poll didn’t ask about Smith’s Sovereignty Act; it’s hard to say exactly what it will do before Smith actually introduces this much-hyped legislation in late November. However, slightly less than half of Albertans (46 per cent) say that Alberta should work toward achieving more independence from the federal government — which means that at least there’s relatively better support for the broader aims of Smith’s federal agenda, even if it’s still a minority of people.
But these are all plays to enthuse her political base. The poll reveals sharp partisan divides. Eighty-two per cent of UCP supporters want more Alberta sovereignty, while 16 per cent of NDP supporters do. For a provincial pension, 57 per cent of UCP voters like it, compared to nine per cent of New Democrat voters. Ditching the RCMP wins over 48 per cent of those on Team Smith, and eight per cent on Team Notley
Even Smith’s campaign slogan “Alberta First,” has that same sort of divisiveness. Half of United Conservative supporters say they feel more attached to Alberta than Canada, while only nine per cent of NDP voters do. Albertans generally are most likely to have equal attachment to both the country and province.
The challenge for Smith, in picking the UCP sides of these polarizing debates, is that there are more Albertans who prefer the NDP. She’s nine percentage points behind Rachel Notley’s party.
It’s also clear that problems with Ottawa aren’t a primary concern for Albertans, ranking behind health care, inflation and even the headaches induced by the provincial government. There have been signs the new premier will focus on those higher public priorities.
And yet, in her byelection victory speech, Smith directed some of her most fiery rhetoric in Ottawa’s direction: “Under Trudeau, Confederation has devolved into a toxic, divisive parent-child relationship.” But Albertans don’t seem to find it that toxic.
As the province eagerly waits to see how corrosive or flat the Sovereignty Act winds up being, let’s conclude by chewing over another unasked question. Is the problem that Smith is attaching herself to ideas that are growing more unpopular, or do these ideas become less palatable when they’re attached to Smith?
The CBC News random survey of 1,200 Albertans was conducted using a hybrid method between Oct. 12 and 30, 2022, by Edmonton-based Trend Research under the direction of Janet Brown Opinion Research. The sample is representative of regional, age and gender factors. The margin of error is +/- 2.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. For subsets, the margin of error is larger.
The survey used a hybrid methodology that involved contacting survey respondents by telephone and giving them the option of completing the survey at that time, at another more convenient time, or receiving an email link and completing the survey online. Trend Research contacted people using a random list of numbers, consisting of half landlines and half cellphone numbers. Telephone numbers were dialed up to five times at five different times of day before another telephone number was added to the sample. The response rate among valid numbers (i.e. residential and personal) was 16.3 per cent.
Forecast: Coldest temperatures this winter coming to Eastern Canada – CTV News
The beginning of February is expected to bring Arctic-like temperatures across much of Eastern Canada, thanks to frigid air from the polar vortex.
“I think it will be a real punch in the face for easterners,” Environment Canada senior climatologist David Phillips told CTVNews.ca. “It’s going to be pretty short-lived and it’s going to be right across the east.”
The cold snap will descend on Eastern Canada between Thursday night and Friday, with temperatures becoming seasonable again on Sunday. In between, much of Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada can expect the coldest days yet this winter.
“We’ll see temperatures that are really, brutally cold,” Phillips said from Toronto. “It’s really a one-and-a-half-day wonder.”
According to Environment Canada, as the cold air tracks east, daytime highs will only reach -13 C in Toronto, -20 in Ottawa, -21 in Montreal and -23 in Quebec City on Friday, and -18 in Fredericton, -15 in Halifax, and -18 in Charlottetown on Saturday.
“It’ll be sunny and bright, because it’s Arctic air,” Philips said. “It’s very dry, and it will be crisp”
Overnight temperatures on Friday night could dip as low as -20 in Toronto, -31 in Ottawa, -30 in Montreal, -34 in Quebec City, -28 in Fredericton, -21 in Halifax, and -23 in Charlottetown – all more or less double what’s normal for this time of year.
“The last time it was that cold in Ottawa was 27 years ago,” Phillips explained. “You can go year after year after year and not see a temperature of -20 in Halifax.”
These temperatures do not factor in wind chill, which could make things feel even icier.
“It’s going to be very punishing,” Phillips said. “It’s clearly an Arctic invasion of frigid air.”
The short-lived and bitter winter blast is being blamed on a weakened polar vortex, which causes icy Arctic air to push south, leading to rapid and sharp temperature drops.
There is a silver lining for those who have been missing out on winter activities.
“The second half of winter, according to our models, seems certainly a little colder, more winter-like, than what we saw at the beginning of the winter,” Phillips said. “But everywhere in Canada, we’re now well the beyond the halfway point. There’s more winter behind us than ahead of us!”
While much of Western Canada has been shivering through the winter, it’s been a different story in the unseasonably mild east. Phillips says December and January in Ottawa, for example, were the third warmest on record in 150 years; and both Ottawa and Montreal have experienced no days below -20 this winter, when normally they would each have about 10. Ottawa’s Rideau Canal Skateway is also still closed when it typically opens in January. Warmer winter temperatures, however, have also brought abundant snow.
“If you’re in the east, it’s looking like winter, but it doesn’t feel like winter,” Phillips said. “But it’s going to feel like winter when the cold arrives.”
Canada province experiments with decriminalising hard drugs – BBC
Canada’s province of British Columbia is starting a first-in-the-nation trial decriminalising small amounts of hard drugs such as cocaine and heroin.
From Tuesday, adults can possess up to 2.5g of such drugs, as well as methamphetamine, fentanyl and morphine.
It follows a similar policy in the nearby US state of Oregon, which decriminalised hard drugs in 2020.
Ahead of the pilot’s launch, British Columbia and federal officials outlined the rules under the federally approved exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
While those substances will remain illegal, adults found in possession of a combined total of less than 2.5g of the drugs will not be arrested, charged or have their substances seized. Instead, they will be offered information on available health and social services.
Federal minister of mental health and addictions Carolyn Bennett on Monday called the move “a monumental shift in drug policy that favours fostering trusting and supportive relationships in health and social services over further criminalisation”.
Some 10,000 residents have died from drug overdoses since British Columbia declared drugs to be a public health emergency in 2016, officials said.
“Decriminalising people who use drugs breaks down the fear and shame associated with substance use and ensures they feel safer reaching out for life-saving supports,” said Jennifer Whiteside, the British Columbia minister for mental health and addictions.
Thousands of police officers in the province have been offered training on the rule change, including those in Vancouver, the largest city in the province.
The programme will run from 31 January 2023 until 31 January 2026, unless it is revoked by the federal government.
Some experts have questioned the 2.5g limit, saying that it is not enough to account for the habits of many addicts.
There are some exemptions to the scheme.
The sale of drugs remains illegal. It is also illegal to possess drugs on the grounds of schools, childcare facilities and airports.
Canada legalised the use of recreational cannabis for adults nationwide in 2018.
But the four drugs now allowed in small quantities remain prohibited, meaning there are no plans to sell them in stores, unlike marijuana. Trafficking them across borders also remains illegal.
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Health Canada reviewing safety of controversial breastfeeding drug – CBC.ca
Health Canada has launched a safety review of the psychological withdrawal symptoms associated with stopping or reducing use of a drug commonly prescribed to help women breastfeed.
The agency confirmed the review in an email to CBC News.
“A safety review is currently under way for domperidone and drug withdrawal symptoms after stopping or reducing the dose of domperidone used to stimulate lactation,” the statement said.
Domperidone is approved in Canada to treat gastrointestinal disorders. Health Canada has never authorized its use as a lactation aid, but it is widely prescribed off-label for this purpose.
The Health Canada review follows a CBC News investigation into severe psychological effects that can occur when some women stop taking the drug. Women who spoke to CBC described anxiety, lack of sleep and thoughts of self-harm severe enough that in some cases they became incapable of caring for their children or returning to work. One woman described multiple attempts to take her own life.
CBC’s investigation also found domperidone is prescribed by some doctors to stimulate lactation at doses three to five times higher than what is recommended by both Health Canada and the drug manufacturer. Because this is not an approved use or dosage anywhere in the world, there are no large-scale clinical trials that shed any light on how often these side effects occur.
This makes it challenging for regulators like Health Canada to evaluate the safety of a drug for an off-label purpose, said Mina Tadrous, an assistant professor at the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of Toronto who specializes in drug safety.
“The company may not have intended it for that, so the original clinical trials were not designed for that. And so it means that they have to look at different mechanisms to be able to evaluate the safety of these drugs,” he said.
That can include looking at data from other countries with larger populations, according to Tadrous.
Case studies document concerns
There are, however, case studies documenting the withdrawal effects, including three published in November 2022 in the peer-reviewed journal Breastfeeding Medicine. Domperidone blocks dopamine receptors in the brain, which stimulates the release of prolactin. This causes lactation, the authors note, but can also cause domperidone to act as an antipsychotic. The authors also noted withdrawal symptoms are typically less severe when women taper off the drug slowly.
The most recent case studies are from the United States, where domperidone is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration for any purpose. CBC’s investigation found some American women get the drug from doctors in Canada.
Health Canada will review “all relevant domestic and foreign case reports,” the statement said.
Reviews can result in Health Canada requesting more information, studies or monitoring by the manufacturer. They can also result in warnings to patients and health care providers, changes to how a drug is labelled or, if necessary, the withdrawal of a drug from the market “if the benefits no longer outweigh the risks of the product,” according to the statement released by the department.
“The decision to take action, including issuing a warning, is not based solely on the number of case reports, but on a comprehensive assessment of the information contained in these case reports,” Health Canada’s statement said.
“Should new safety risks be confirmed, Health Canada will take appropriate action and continue to keep Canadians informed.”
WATCH | Women report alarming withrawal effects after taking domperidone as a lactation aid:
The distinction between quantity and quality of reports is important, Tadrous said, because large numbers of reports, especially from non-clinicians, may only indicate people believe there’s a connection between a drug and a reaction.
“That’s the lesson we’ve learned with vaccines, for example, where these adverse event systems are flooded,” he said.
“And so if you base something just on the number of reports without doing a thorough investigation and a different type of study design that reduces bias … you might reach a false conclusion.”
Health Canada has conducted multiple safety reviews of domperidone, most recently in 2021. Previous reviews confirmed the risk of serious abnormal heart rhythms and sudden cardiac death related to domperidone use. These reviews resulted in Health Canada introducing a maximum daily dose recommendation of 30 mg and restricting its use in patients with certain cardiac conditions or taking other drugs.
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