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Alberta’s Smith says she didn’t mean to trivialize with comment on unvaccinated

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Alberta Premier Danielle Smith says she didn’t mean to trivialize prejudice faced by minority communities when she suggested unvaccinated people have experienced the most discrimination she has ever seen in her lifetime.

Smith’s comment on her first day as premier drew criticism from across Canada — including British Columbia Premier John Horgan, who called it “laughable,” and at least one Jewish group who says it reached out to her office to express concern.

Smith said in a statement Wednesday that she intended to underline the mistreatment of individuals who chose not to be vaccinated.

“I want to be clear that I did not intend to trivialize in any way the discrimination faced by minority communities and other persecuted groups or create any false equivalencies to the terrible historical discrimination and persecution suffered by so many minority groups,” said the statement.

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Smith was sworn in Tuesday as Alberta’s new premier after the United Conservative Party elected her in a leadership race to replace Jason Kenney as leader and premier.

Later in the day, at her first news conference as premier, Smith said she would shake up the top tier of the health system within three months and amend provincial human rights law to protect those who choose not to get vaccinated for diseases including COVID-19.

“(The unvaccinated) have been the most discriminated-against group that I’ve ever witnessed in my lifetime,” said the 51-year-old.

“I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a situation in my lifetime where a person was fired from their job or not allowed to watch their kids play hockey or not allowed to go visit a loved one in long-term care or hospital, not allowed to get on a plane to either go across the country to see family or even travel across the border.”

Horgan, who is to step down as B.C.’s NDP premier later this year, responded to Smith’s comment Wednesday in an interview with C-FAX Radio in Victoria.

“It’s laughable, quite frankly,” Horgan when asked about Smith’s comment by radio host Al Ferraby.

Horgan said the global community has just gone through an unprecedented time with the COVID-19 pandemic — “nothing like this in over a hundred years going back to Spanish influenza.”

“On top of that, we have a toxic drug supply that is killing our friends and our neighbours. At the same time, we are running out of people to provide the services,” Horgan said.

“For the incoming premier to focus on a sliver of the population who chose not to get vaccinated when there are all these other challenges seems short-sighted to me. And I just disagree with her. I believe the vast majority of Canadians understood we had a collective responsibility.”

Alberta Health data shows more than 82 percent of the province’s total population has received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and nearly 78 percent of the population has two doses.

Duane Bratt, a political scientist at Mount Royal University in Calgary, said Smith’s comment would be laughable if she weren’t the premier.

“This shows what drove her campaign and who her supporters are,” he said.

Bratt said Smith’s comment is offensive because there has been a lot of discrimination in the past 50-plus years.

“We still had forced sterilization. We had residential schools up until the 1990s,” he said. “We didn’t have gay marriage until (2005).”

Bratt said race, religion, sexual orientation and disabilities are not choices.

“Those are things that you have and that’s why we don’t allow discrimination based on that,” he said. “Deciding not to be vaccinated is a choice that people make.”

Some local groups and mayors also expressed concerns about Smith’s comments.

“We have reached out to the premier’s office to express our concerns surrounding these comments and are keen on meeting with the premier to discuss antisemitism, discrimination in our community and others in Alberta, the need for mandatory Holocaust education, and the story of Alberta’s Jewish community,” wrote Jewish Edmonton.

Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said on Twitter that there’s a lot she could say.

“I choose to focus on demonstrating to this premier the work that our city continues to do around anti-racism, Indigenous relations, Holocaust remembrance, allyship with the LGBTQ2S+ community and equity-based awareness,” she wrote. “In other words, work that matters.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Oct. 12, 2022.

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Military was told to prepare to intervene in ‘Freedom Convoy’ protests: official

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The Defence Department‘s top official says he told the military to prepare to intervene as “Freedom Convoy” protests gridlocked downtown Ottawa and several border crossings with the U.S. earlier this year.

But Deputy Minister Bill Matthews says the plans were never seriously considered or presented to Defence Minister Anita Anand.

Matthews instead says the Liberal government was adamant the Armed Forces should be used only as a last resort, particularly as the shadow of the Oka Crisis in 1990 continued to loom large.

Matthews’s comments are contained in a summary of an interview conducted in August with lawyers for the public inquiry looking into the Liberal government’s decision to use the Emergencies Act to end the protests in February.

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The summary is among thousands of documents released by the Public Order Emergency Commission.

Matthews also says the military was prepared to fly police officers to different parts of the country, but that its tow trucks were too big ⁠— and too old ⁠— to be of any use in clearing vehicles from the protests.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 1, 2022.

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Nunavut reaches $10-a-day average for child care, years ahead of Canada-wide goal

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Families across Nunavut are now paying an average of $10 a day for child care under a Canada-wide plan, 15 months earlier than initially expected and three years ahead of the national goal.

The federal government has signed child-care agreements with every province and territory. It aims to increase the number of regulated child-care spaces across Canada and reduce fees by an average of 50 per cent by the end of 2022 and $10 a day by 2026.

In signing a $66-million agreement in January, Nunavut planned to reach the $10-a-day mark for licensed child care facilities by March 2024 and create 238 new spaces by the end of March 2026.

The territory has said the fee reduction would see families save up to $55 per day per child beginning Thursday. It added that 30 new spaces have been established so far and employees at licensed centres received retention bonuses this year.

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“Bringing fees for licensed child care down to $10 a day will create opportunities for families to improve their well-being and contribute to Nunavut’s economy,” Pamela Gross, Nunavut’s minister of education, said in a statement earlier this month.

Costs of living are high across Canada’s North, from housing and groceries to child care.

“I know child care is expensive in a lot of places. It just seems like it’s really insane up here,” said Madison Stride, who lives in Yellowknife, is mother to a toddler and is expecting her second child early next year.

The N.W.T. signed a $51-million agreement in December 2021 with plans to create 300 new child-care spaces and reach $10 a day by March 2026. The territory said fees have already decreased by an average of 50 per cent with families saving up to $530 a month per child.

“It’s definitely been great saving money,” Stride said. “I really am hoping they take it further.”

Stride said reducing fees to $10 a day would mean families could save for things such as emergencies, health costs that aren’t covered by benefits and post-secondary education.

“It’s one less thing to think about, to worry about,” she said.

But Stride, who is also on the board for Little Spruce Daycare Association, a non-profit working to develop a new daycares in the city, said the current drop in fees has also made finding child care more competitive.

“It was hard to find a licensed child-care spot before and now it’s darn-right impossible.”

Early-learning and child-care providers in the N.W.T. criticized the initial rollout of funding, saying it failed to prioritize staff shortages and the lack of spaces.

In October, the federal and territorial governments announced $4.6 million between 2022 and 2024 to enhance wages for the sector. It said about 300 educators would benefit with licensed programs receiving more than $12,700 per full-time equivalent position in the first year and $16,250 in the second.

The N.W.T. said it created 67 new child-care spaces during the last fiscal year.

Yukon’s early learning and child-care system has been recognized as a national leader. It began its own universal child-care program and lowered fees to an average of less than $10 a day before signing a more than $41-million agreement with the federal government in July 2021.

The territory said since its program began in April 2021, it has created 236 new child-care spaces. It also has one of the highest minimum wages for fully qualified early childhood educators in Canada at approximately $30 an hour.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 1, 2022.

— By Emily Blake in Yellowknife

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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A look at how $10-a-day child-care plans have been rolling out across Canada

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Families in Nunavut are now paying an average of $10 a day for child care, the first jurisdiction to achieve the goal under a Canada-wide plan.

The federal government has signed agreements with every province and territory, aiming to reduce child-care fees by an average of 50 per cent by the end of 2022 and to $10 a day by 2026.

Here is how the program is rolling out across the country.

Nunavut signed a $66-million agreement in January with plans to reach $10 a day by March 2024 and create 238 new spaces by the end of March 2026.

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But the territory is ahead of schedule, implementing $10-a-day as of Thursday. It has also created 30 new spaces.

Northwest Territories signed a $51-million agreement in December 2021 with plans to create 300 new child-care spaces and reach $10 a day by March 2026. The territory said fees have already decreased by an average of 50 per cent with families saving up to $530 a month per child.

It has also created 67 new spaces during the last fiscal year.

Yukon started its own universal child care program in April 2021 and reached the $10-a-day average before signing a nearly $42-million agreement in July 2021.

The territory aimed to create 110 new spaces within five years and said it has created 236 spaces since April 2021.

British Columbia was the first to sign on, inking a $3.2-billion deal in July 2021 with plans to create 30,000 new child-care spaces within five years and 40,000 within seven years.

B.C. started a $10-a-day program at select facilities in 2018 and plans to double those spaces to 12,500 this month. As of Nov. 1, there were more than 8,200.

The province said starting that Thursday, child-care fees will be 50 per cent less on average compared to 2019 at participating facilities due to expansion of the $10-a-day program and a fee-reduction initiative.

Alberta signed a nearly $3.8-billion deal in November 2021 with plans to create 42,500 spaces.

The province said as of September, it has created 9,500 spaces and, since January, child-care fees have dropped an average of 50 per cent.

Saskatchewan signed a nearly $1.1-billion deal with plans to create 28,000 new spaces.

As of Sept. 1, fees have been reduced an average of 70 per cent compared to March 2021 levels.

The province has created 3,402 new spaces, plus 1,166 child-care spaces in family and group family homes.

Manitoba signed a more than $1.2-billion deal in August 2021 with plans to create 23,000 new spaces by 2026 and 1,700 extended-hour spaces for evenings and weekends.

It aims to reach $10 a day by 2023.

Ontario was the last to sign on in March. It is to receive $10.2 billion over five years, plus $2.9 billion in 2026-27 with plans to create 86,000 new spaces.

The province said 33,000 new spaces have been created so far.

Quebec signed an agreement in August 2021 with the federal government committing to transfer nearly $6 billion over five years.

In 2021, parents with a subsidized, reduced contribution space paid $8.50 a day for childcare.

New Brunswick signed a $491-million deal in December 2021 to create 3,400 new spaces by the end of March 2026, including 500 by March 2023.

The province says fees were reduced by 50 per cent in June, and 401 spaces have been created since April 1.

Nova Scotia signed a $605-million agreement with plans to create 4,000 new spaces within two years and 9,500 by 2026.

By the end of this month, it said fees will be 50 per cent lower on average compared to 2019.

Prince Edward Island signed a $121.3-million deal with plans to create 452 spaces within two years and reach $10 a day by 2024. In January 2022, fees were reduced from $27 to $34 per day to an average of $25, then further dropped to $20 a day in October.

Newfoundland and Labrador signed a $347-million agreement to reduce fees from $25 a day in January 2021, to $15 a day in 2022, then $10 a day in 2023. It aims to create 5,895 spaces within five years.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 1, 2022.

— By Emily Blake in Yellowknife

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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