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Conservative Calgary MP Bob Benzen says he will retire from politics on Dec. 31

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Conservative Alberta MP Bob Benzen has announced he’s retiring.

The representative for Calgary Heritage says in a statement that he plans to leave at the end of the year.

The member of Parliament says he looks forward to returning to private life and that it has been an honour to represent the riding for the past six years.

Benzen, who is 63, says he’s confident party leader Pierre Poilievre can win the next election and that now is the right time to “hand off the baton” as the Tories prepare.

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Earlier this year, Benzen called for Ontario MP Erin O’Toole to be removed as party leader, which the Conservative caucus voted to do in February.

Benzen was first elected in a byelection in April 2017 to replace former prime minister Stephen Harper, who stepped down after losing the 2015 election.

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Alberta deputy premier says sovereignty act not a power grab, eyes changes to bill

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Alberta deputy premier says sovereignty act not a power grab, eyes changes to bill

Alberta’s deputy premier says amendments may be needed to clear up confusion over a bill that grants Premier Danielle Smith and her cabinet unfettered power outside the legislature to rewrite laws and direct agencies to resist federal rules.

“We will consider amendment(s) to Bill 1 to clarify this to avoid confusion,” said Kaycee Madu in a series of Twitter posts on Wednesday and Thursday.

Madu said his reading of the bill indicates that cabinet does not have such power and all unilateral cabinet decisions would still have to go back to the legislature for approval.

“It then goes through the normal cabinet process and ultimately a bill will be tabled,” wrote Madu, who is a lawyer and Alberta’s former justice minister.

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However, the bill does not state that cabinet decisions made under the act would have to go back to the house.

Madu’s office did not return a request for comment or explanation about whether amendments are coming. Smith’s other deputy premier, Nathan Neudorf, has said he, too, believes legislative safeguards are in place but he hasn’t read the eight-page bill.

Justice Minister Tyler Shandro, who is helping Smith shepherd the bill through the house, told reporters he wasn’t aware of Madu’s comments. He said the United Conservative Party government is listening to reaction and concerns.

“We’re hearing the feedback on opportunities to make (the bill) more clear,” said Shandro. “No decisions have been made (on amendments).”

The bill, titled the Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act, was introduced Tuesday by Smith.

Smith has described it as a deliberately confrontational tool to reset the relationship with a federal government she accuses of interfering in constitutionally protected areas of provincial responsibility from energy development to health care.

Political scientists, the Opposition NDP and constitutional experts say the bill grants sweeping powers to cabinet that are normally reserved for extreme circumstances, like natural disasters, that require swift legislative action.

Those changes, they say, make it dangerous to democracy.

Under the bill, cabinet would decide when Ottawa is interfering in Alberta jurisdiction through a law, policy or program or through a looming federal initiative it believes may cause harm.

Cabinet would send a resolution to the legislative assembly spelling out the nature of the harm and the remedies to fix it.

If the legislature gives its approval, that is where its involvement ends and cabinet takes over.

The bill grants cabinet powers to unilaterally rewrite laws without sending them back to the legislature for debate or approval. Cabinet would be allowed to direct public agencies, including police, municipalities, school boards, post-secondary institutions and health regions to flout federal laws.

The bill gives cabinet wide latitude on how to interpret the resolution it receives from the assembly. It says cabinet “should” follow the direction of the house, but doesn’t mandate it. Instead, cabinet is told to exercise its new extraordinary powers however it deems “necessary or advisable.”

Smith and other members of her front bench are in lockstep on saying the bill stipulates direct legislative oversight over cabinet’s actions.

She repeated it in the house Thursday.

Smith also accused the Opposition NDP of “fear-mongering” that “somehow this act gives power to cabinet to unilaterally alter legislation behind closed doors, despite the fact that it does not.”

NDP Leader Rachel Notley responded, “We have heard from no less than seven different legal experts, public servants and constitutional lawyers, who confirm a simple truth: this bill gives the premier the so-called Henry VIII power to write laws behind closed doors with zero input from this assembly.”

Law professor Martin Olszynski, who has written extensively on Smith’s bill since she first proposed it in the spring, said it clearly gives cabinet unfettered power to rewrite laws. He asked why, if the bill respects the existing legislative process, as Madu contends, is it needed at all?

“On its face, this is absurd,” Olszynski, with the University of Calgary, said in an interview.

Constitutional law professor Eric Adams at the University of Alberta agreed that what Madu said doesn’t square with the text of the bill.

“I can’t see anything in Section 4 (of the bill) that says the cabinet is required to table an amendment and subject it to the normal legislative process,” said Adams.

“Section 4 would seem to say the opposite.

“I’m confused by the government’s suggestions otherwise.”

Smith has delivered a mixed message on how the bill would ultimately be used.

On Tuesday, her office sent documentation to reporters saying the government hopes to use it in the spring, but that same day she told a news conference it’s a last-resort bill and she hopes to never use it.

Indigenous leaders have criticized the bill as heavy-handed and divisive. Business groups, including the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, warn that its legal uncertainty is not good for business and investment.

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

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Stop Passing Off Politics as Evidenced-Based Medicine

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As political campaigns have increasingly targeted medical practice issues, there have been a spate of articles and op-eds about the apparent corruption of medicine by politics. The American Medical Association believes it is a significant problem, because it has proposed a solution to keep politics out of medicine. Nevertheless, it seems as though doctors and other healthcare workers have been steamrolled by the political system into surrendering their autonomy and medical decision-making.

I was reminded of this grim reality when Mehmet Oz, MD, said that a woman’s right to an abortion was between herself, her doctor, and her local politicians. It’s bad enough that physicians’ political views and party affiliations affect their treatment decisions, but do we really need politicians meddling in the doctor-patient relationship?

It’s no surprise that medical professionals have been guided by their own political ideology to either combat elected officials or join them — depending on the issue. And therein lies the real problem. We have abandoned science and scientific reasoning to further our personal agendas on “the issues,” leading the medical profession into an internecine war and causing further divisiveness among physicians and the practice guidelines and standards promulgated by them.

For example, Florida has effectively banned physicians from aiding in the “transition” of transgender youth in Florida, creating considerable animus and essentially taking the matter out of the hands of practicing physicians. The Florida Board of Medicine plans to codify into law its own uniquely derived standards for the treatment of gender dysphoria.

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It doesn’t matter that Florida’s standards deviate widely from those of a half-dozen medical societies and organizations. The point is, other than providing comments to the Florida Board of Medicine, practicing physicians will have no real input into the final version of the treatment standards. Instead, those who serve on the Florida Board of Medicine will call the shots — and we can’t ignore the fact that all physicians who are board members are appointed by the governor.

Make no mistake, it is not uncommon to become ideologically blind to science when working for powerful people and even weaker sources of influence. Physicians believed pharmaceutical salespeople did not affect their choice of therapy, but studies proved them wrong.

Do No Harm, a non-profit organization, is a key proponent of Florida’s ban on gender-assisted therapy. In a letter to the Florida Board of Medicine, Stanley Goldfarb, MD, founder and chairman of Do No Harm, accuses the medical establishment of refusing “to side with science.” But whose version of science are we talking about: those in the medical profession who cite favorable outcomes following gender transition therapy, or those who point to its possible harmful and irreversible effects?

The debate reminds me of how two (or more) scientific societies can review the extant medical literature and relevant scientific studies, yet propose vastly different practice guidelines, as was the case with Lyme disease a decade ago. The Attorney General of Connecticut had to intervene to help align the discordant guidelines so that patients could be properly treated. Once again, because of our internal struggles to understand science, its limitations, and applications to medical practice, autonomy and self-determination were stripped from us.

The founder of Do No Harm was troubled by the impact of racial reckoning on medical practice, specifically, he was concerned about claims that systemic racism is responsible for disparities in health outcomes. The issues identified by Do No Harm on their website and in the news are perhaps the most vexing in medical education and practice today: affirmative action admission policies; mandatory anti-racism training; and divisive and possibly race-based discriminatory practices at universities and medical schools that violate academic freedom.

My hope is that we can discuss these (and other) topics without politicians in the exam room. I want to engage in passionate (not over-heated) discussions about social determinants of health, the injection of identity politics into medical research and education, and the validity of implicit bias and whether it contributes to microaggressions. I want to hear more from workers on both sides of the aisle who voiced reasoned opposition to what they perceived as contradictory and unjust COVID-19 policies and later faced recrimination.

I strive to be tolerant of individuals who hold opposing views rather than participate in walk-outs, threaten violence, or snub colleagues by calling them “woke” and other derogatory terms. “It just tells us how terrible our culture is becoming, that we can’t have an honest scientific debate about the things we disagree on,” remarked Georges Benjamin, MD, executive director of the American Public Health Association (APHA). Benjamin recently made that statement after public health expert Leana Wen, MD, was forced to cancel her panel discussion at the APHA annual meeting due to credible threats against her life — and she’s not alone.

Doctors, not politicians, need to pave the way for crucial civil discourse and the resolution of controversial issues that impact healthcare and our patients’ ability to receive it — issues ranging from reproductive health to mental health to environmental health. We should reject predetermined political frameworks for interpreting evidence to explain differences in outcomes. It’s time we learned to differentiate politics from science and quash political initiatives attempting to pass as evidenced-based medical principles.

Arthur Lazarus, MD, MBA, is a member of the Physician Leadership Journal editorial board and an adjunct professor of psychiatry at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University in Philadelphia.

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Jason Kenney quits Alberta politics with critical letter on state of democracy

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Former Alberta premier Jason Kenney stepped down as the Member of the Legislative Assembly for Calgary-Lougheed late Tuesday afternoon.

“Thank you to my constituents for the honour of representing them in Parliament and the Legislature over the past 25 years,” Kenney said in a tweet also containing a statement.

The resignation came two hours after the throne speech for the Fall session was read inside the legislature, which Kenney was not present for.

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Kenney said he is proud of the work done while he was the leader but with a new government in place under Premier Danielle Smith — who replaced him as leader of the UCP in October — and a provincial election coming in May 2023, now is the best time for him to step aside as MLA.

“This decision brings to an end over 25 years of elected service to Albertans and Canadians,” he said.

“I would like to thank especially the people of south Calgary for their support over nine elections to Parliament and the legislature, beginning in 1997. Thank you as well to the countless volunteers, staff members and public servants who have supported me throughout the past two and a half decades of public service.”

Kenney said in the future he hopes to continue contributing to democratic life but chose to close his resignation letter with a scathing reflection of the state of politics.

“Whatever our flaws or imperfections, Canada and I believe Alberta are in many ways the envy of the world. This is not an accident of history.”

Kenney went on to provide the following statement:

“We are the inheritors of great institutions built around abiding principles which were generated by a particular historical context. Our Westminster parliamentary democracy, part of our constitutional monarchy, is the guardian of a unique tradition of ordered liberty and the rule of law, all of which is centred on a belief in the inviolable dignity of the human person and an obligation to promote the common good. How these principles are applied to any particular issue is a matter of prudent judgment.

“But I am concerned that our democratic life is veering away from ordinary prudential debate towards a polarization that undermines our bedrock institution and principles.

“From the far left we see efforts to cancel our history, delegitimize our historically grounded institutions and customs and divide society dangerously along identity lines. And from the far right we see a vengeful anger and toxic cynicism which often seeks to tear things down, rather than build up and improve our imperfect institutions.”

“As I close 25 years of public service, I do so with gratitude for those who built this magnificent land of opportunity through their wisdom and sacrifice. And I’m hopeful that we will move past this time of polarization to renew our common life together in this amazing land of limitless opportunity.”

Kenney announced his intention to step down as the leader of the United Conservative Party on May after he received 51.4 percent support in his leadership review vote.

Earlier Tuesday, Smith was sworn in as the new member for Brooks-Medicine Hat after winning a byelection for the seat earlier this month.

It was her first time back on the floor of the legislature chamber since the spring of 2015.

At that time, Smith was with the Progressive Conservatives, having led a mass floor-crossing of her Wildrose Party months earlier. She failed to win a nomination for the PCs in 2015 and returned to journalism as a radio talk show host for six years.

Kenney remained a backbencher UCP legislature member until his resignation. It’s not yet known when a byelection will be held in Calgary-Lougheed.

Kenney joins a long list of Alberta conservative leaders sidelined following middling votes in leadership reviews.

Former Progressive Conservative premier Ralph Klein left after getting 55 percent of the vote in 2006. Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford received 77 percent in their reviews but stepped down from the top job when the party pushed back.

— With files from The Canadian Press

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