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Danielle Smith’s lobbying record holds clues to her governing agenda, observers say

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EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Danielle Smith promised to focus on the concerns of everyday people after winning a seat in the legislature Tuesday, but observers say other clues to her agenda can be found in her record as a lobbyist for one of the province’s most powerful business groups.

“I find this extremely useful as an indicator of what she’s going to do,” said Laurie Adkin, a political scientist at the University of Alberta.

“These are her people. These are the people she worked for.”

Smith first registered as a lobbyist in June 2019 for the Alberta Enterprise Group, a Calgary-based association of 100 companies of which she was also president. It represents a broad swath of the provincial economy with members ranging from oilsands giant Syncrude to the Oilers Entertainment Group, the company behind the Edmonton Oilers NHL team. It also includes firms from health care, transportation, construction, energy, law and finance.

It refers to itself as “Alberta’s most influential business organization.”

Smith last renewed her lobbying status for the group in January. Ten months later, she was premier.

“They now have their president as premier,” said Adkin. “Whose premier is she?”

In response to a question about how Smith’s lobbying record might suggest her legislative priorities, Rebecca Polak, the premier’s press secretary, wrote in an email: “Premier Smith has always operated in accordance with the Lobbyists Act and the Conflicts of Interest Act.”

The registry lists more than a dozen pages of issues Smith lobbied the government on during her years with the business group.

They include a “free enterprise approach to delivering public services such as health spending accounts and vouchers in child care.”

Smith, a former advocate of bogus COVID-19 cures such as Ivermectin, met with then-health minister Tyler Shandro — now Alberta’s justice minister — to discuss “the College of Physicians and Surgeons interference with doctors’ ability to prescribe medications based on best available medical research.”

She and Shandro also discussed “a new accountability model for delivering health care that would split the roles of purchaser, provider and performance oversight.”

Smith advocated a government-run “concierge” service for large development projects. She argued for a “streamlined model” to assess rural property taxes on roads and pipelines for the oilpatch. Smith lobbied for charter schools.

She held repeated meetings on the so-called RStar program, which would give energy companies an up to $5-billion break on their royalties if they met their legal obligations and cleaned up their abandoned wells. That proposal is now being considered by Alberta Energy.

Many items on her list have already been enacted under former premier Jason Kenney, such as the 50 per cent cut in the corporate tax rate.

The list is consistent with the agenda Smith has pursued her entire public career, said Lori Williams, a political scientist from Calgary’s Mount Royal University.

“It’s more or less a confirmation of what we’ve already seen,” she said.

But Williams said if Smith’s legislative agenda follows her lobbying efforts, she may alienate Albertans.

“In some respects, Jason Kenney misread Alberta as being more conservative than it actually is. Danielle Smith seems to have tacked even further to the right.”

Smith’s lobbying work immediately preceding the resumption of her political career “raises lots of questions,” Williams said.

“We often hear conservatives discussing special interest groups and their undemocratic influence on government. There could be questions raised whether Danielle Smith represents all Albertans or will allow disproportionate influence to an interest group.”

New Democrat Opposition deputy leader Sarah Hoffman said Smith’s lobbying record isn’t in sync with what Albertans care about.

“Most Albertans want to have a public health system where if they get diagnosed with something scary that they have access to quality treatment as soon as possible, not based on how much money they’ve got in their bank account,” she said. “I think most Albertans are concerned about the cost of living, want things to be more affordable for them.

“These are top of mind for most people, not wanting to push a voucher system.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 10, 2022.

— Follow Bob Weber on Twitter at @row1960

 

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

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Tenants offered accommodations and support after surprise mass eviction

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WINNIPEG – Some tenants of an apartment building moved back in Monday, more than a week after they say they were forced out on a few hours’ notice by a new landlord who put some of their belongings on the front lawn.

“(I’ll) start over, I guess,” said Devony Hudson, who picked up a new set of keys Monday morning as police officers, a private security firm and Manitoba government workers kept an eye on the three-storey brick building, built more than a century ago.

Some of the building’s windows were broken or boarded up. A notice on the front door from the Winnipeg Fire Department said the fire alarm and sprinkler system were out of service.

Hudson said a caretaker came to her door two weekends ago, told her she had to leave immediately and offered her a few hundred dollars. Shortly after, her belongings were outside.

“I just went for a walk, just for like 10 minutes, came back and it was … all on the front lawn.”

Hudson has been spending the last few days in a nearby house that does not have working electricity.

In another suite, Kyle Lemke got a knock on the door. He said he was told the locks were being changed, and a man he had never met who said he was the owner told him he had to leave within 24 hours and offered some money.

“I threw out so much stuff,” Lemke recalled while standing outside a hotel where he has been staying.

“I had maybe four garbage bags and a laundry bag, but I wasn’t able to take everything,” said Lemke, who walks with a limp after almost losing a leg months ago to necrotizing fasciitis.

Lemke said he was told everyone had to leave because of an order from the city over fire hazards, but the city never gave an evacuation order.

Attempts by The Canadian Press to reach the building’s owner were unsuccessful.

The Manitoba government moved last week to support the tenants.

The provincial minister for housing, Bernadette Smith, said the actions the tenants described are illegal and an investigation is underway.

The residential tenancies branch issued orders to the landlord, had the locks changed and made arrangements for the tenants to start returning. The province offered tenants emergency accommodations and per diems for food.

But some tenants were not able to be tracked down.

Marion Willis, who runs an outreach program that helps people find housing and other services, said some tenants had previously been in encampments and had nowhere to go when they were told to leave.

“We have tried to find people. There’s people in encampments, there’s people that are couch-surfing in other buildings. There’s people that are just sleeping out on the street,” said Willis, executive director of St. Boniface Street Links.

Some tenants may be reluctant to return for fear that they may simply face a more formal eviction process and end up homeless again.

Lemke said he has no interest in going back, and had a new apartment lined up. He’d like to see someone held accountable.

“I would like to see justice,” he said.

“You can’t just do that to people.”

The provincial government said Monday at least two tenants had returned over the weekend and a probe of the landlord’s actions was ongoing.

“In this situation, the (residential tenancies branch) has a number of options available, but is still working through the investigation,” said a written statement from the government’s central communications office.

“Depending on the outcome of the investigations, these measures could include the imposition of further orders, administrative fines and prosecution for contraventions under the legislation.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 22, 2024.



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Manitoba First Nation says members lack health care due to nursing shortage

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WINNIPEG – Members of a northern First Nation looking to get prescriptions refilled, blood work done or access to other basic health-care services are often being turned away because of a nursing shortage in the community.

The nursing station in Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation has been open only for medical emergencies for nearly a year because the community has just two nurses to treat its 3,500 citizens.

“We cannot continue with the current state of affairs,” Chief Angela Levasseur said at a press conference on Monday.

“Our people have a right to health care. They have the right to be able to attend the nursing station and be seen by a nurse.

“It is inhumane and an affront to our dignity.”

Levasseur has heard reports of nurses working around the clock while running on two to three hours of sleep. On occasion, a third nurse has been brought in to help alleviate some of the pressure.

The reduction of services has resulted in patients, including infants, elders and people with chronic health conditions, being denied critical medical care, said Levasseur. Many of these patients are being directed to go to the hospital in Thompson, about 90 kilometres away.

Residents without a vehicle are forced to rely on an overburdened medical transportation service or go without help.

“The failure to address this crisis is literally a threat to many people’s lives,” said Levasseur.

The community has sent proposals to the federal government to advocate for an increase in funding to hire more nurses and address the wage gap between what it offers nurses and what private agencies provide.

“It’s really disheartening,” said Lynda Wright, the community’s health director. “It’s really difficult to try and help people when you lack the resources and the funding … it’s difficult seeing your people suffer when the access to care is not there.”

Levasseur is renewing calls to provide funding for an additional three nurses for the Nation.

The office of Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Government data shows that nursing stations in remote First Nations communities in Manitoba were facing a 67 per cent operational vacancy in the last fiscal year.

A document tabled in the House of Commons earlier this year says that over the 2023-24 fiscal year, all Indigenous Services Canada-operated nursing stations in Manitoba have run at a reduced capacity due to staffing shortages.

Pimicikamak Cree Nation has felt the staffing crunch, resulting in the community declaring a state of emergency earlier this year.

The community is supposed to have 13 or 14 nurses available, but most days there are about half of that for the roughly 8,000 who live on-reserve.

“We continue to cry out for help to make sure we can provide health services and medical services for our people,” said Chief David Monias, who was on hand for Monday’s press conference.

Levasseur said the community’s situation has left everyone at their “breaking point.”

“What we’re most worried about with this crisis situation being ignored is that the two or three nurses that we have on a day-to-day basis are going to walk out.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 22, 2024.

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.



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Cyprus displays jewelry, early Christian icons and Bronze Age antiquities once looted from island

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NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Cyprus on Monday put on display artifacts — some of them thousands of years old — that were returned after a Turkish art dealer looted them from the ethnically divided island nation decades ago.

Aydin Dikmen took the artifacts from the country’s breakaway north in the years after Cyprus’ split in 1974, when Turkey invaded following a coup mounted by supporters of union with Greece. The antiquities were kept in Germany after authorities there seized them in 1997, and protracted legal battles secured their repatriation in three batches, the last one this year.

Addressing the unveiling ceremony at Cyprus’ archaeological museum, President Nikos Christodoulides said the destruction of a country’s cultural heritage as evidenced in recent conflicts becomes a “deliberate campaign of cultural and religious cleansing that aims to eliminate identity.”

Among the 60 most recently returned artifacts put on display include jewelry from the Chalcolithic Period between 3500-1500 B.C. and Bronze Age bird-shaped idols.

Antiquities that Dikmen also looted but were returned years ago include 1,500-year-old mosaics of Saints Luke, Mark, Matthew and James. They are among the few examples of early Christian works to survive the Iconoclastic period in the 8th and 9th centuries when most such works were destroyed.

Cyprus’ authorities and the country’s Orthodox Church for decades have been hunting for the island’s looted antiquities and centuries-old relics from as many as 500 churches in open auctions and on the black market.

The museum’s antiquities curator, Eftychia Zachariou, told the ceremony that Cyprus in recent years has benefited from a shift in thinking among authorities in many countries who now opt to repatriate antiquities of dubious provenance.

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

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