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Less pipeline politics polarization now between B.C. and Alberta – Alaska Highway News

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In April 2019, right after the United Conservative Party (UCP) secured a majority mandate in Alberta’s election, the prospect of a unique conflict between provincial governments was palpable. Premier Jason Kenney began to ponder “turn off the taps” legislation due to the perceived B.C. government opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

A few weeks later, the federal government re-approved the pipeline expansion. In July 2020, all legal challenges to the proposed project effectively ended. Since then, we have had other developments. B.C. Premier John Horgan stands ready to assemble a majority government after last month’s election. Kenney, who has presided over a provincial administration that has consistently garnered subpar ratings for its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, still has two and a half years left in his majority mandate.

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With this “new normal” in mind, Research Co. and Glacier Media asked residents of British Columbia and Alberta about their views on the pipeline. We found that the two solitudes that seemed ready to bicker in 2019 are starting to share the same feelings on specific aspects of this project.

More than half of British Columbians (52%) agree with the federal government’s decision to re-approve the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion. This represents a four-point drop since we last reviewed the issue in December 2019, but nowhere near the almost even splits that dominated this question in years past.

 

Support for the project in British Columbia increases with age, from 44% among those aged 18 to 34, to 50% among those aged 35 to 54 and to 60% among those aged 55 and over.

 

Sizable proportions of residents of northern B.C. (70%) and southern B.C. (63%) favour the pipeline expansion, along with 51% of Metro Vancouverites and 50% of those in the Fraser Valley. On Vancouver Island, traditionally the the province’s most environmentally friendly area, opinions are more nuanced: 42% are in favour of the project, and 35% are against it.

While 74% of BC Liberal voters in the most recent provincial election are in favour of the pipeline expansion, support stands at 51% among BC NDP voters and just 38% among BC Green Party voters.

The push for action that would delay or cancel construction is stagnant. Two in five British Columbians (40%) think the provincial government should do anything necessary to ensure that the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion does not happen – unchanged since December 2019.

We see little movement as well on the proportion of British Columbians who think the pipeline will create hundreds of jobs for residents of the province (68%, unchanged) and on how many believe the expansion threatens the health and safety of British Columbians (44%, down one point).

Most British Columbians (54%, down five points) are disappointed with the way the federal government has handled the expansion, and 38% (down one point) foresee lower gas prices as a result of this project.

In Alberta, the numbers tilt heavily in favour of carrying on. Almost three in four Albertans (74%) agree with the federal government’s decision to re-approve the pipeline expansion, and just 15% are opposed.

 

There is little difference between residents of Edmonton, which is traditionally more centre-left minded than the rest of the province, and those in Calgary. In the two main urban centres, more than seven in 10 residents want to see the expansion through (72% in Edmonton and 71% in Calgary). Support is slightly higher in the remaining areas of the province (74%).

 

While 40% of British Columbians are willing to stop the project, only 22% of Albertans feel the same way. An even smaller proportion (17%) describe the expansion as a threat to the health and safety of Albertans, and practically four in five (79%) think it will create hundreds of jobs in the province.

The one aspect where the numbers are similar is Ottawa. Almost three in five Albertans (59%, five points higher than in British Columbia) are disappointed with how the federal government has handled the pipeline expansion.

The pipeline file has been extremely complex in British Columbia. On some issues, the views of the province are starting to align with what Albertans have long wanted – especially with a struggling economy. Opposition to the project has remained low this year due to a combination of factors: genuine concerns over job creation and a sense of resignation after the federal government’s direct intervention to keep the project afloat. •

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.

Results are based on an online study conducted from October 29 to October 31, 2020, among 800 adults in British Columbia, and an online study conducted from November 2 to November 4, 2020, among 700 adults in Alberta. The margin of error, which measures sample variability, is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points for British Columbia and plus or minus 3.4 percentage points for Alberta, 19 times out of 20.

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Families Have Been Torn Apart by Politics. What Happens to Them Now? – The New York Times

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Tho Nguyen’s parents, who immigrated from Vietnam, were always Republican. They are Catholic and oppose abortion. Four years ago they voted for Donald Trump.

But nothing prepared Ms. Nguyen, 25, a medical student in Kansas, for how much politics would divide her family over the next four years, as her parents became increasingly passionate about the president.

In recent weeks, as the election drew nearer, Ms. Nguyen said she has had screaming fights with her parents — very unusual for her family. Her mother threatened to stop cooking if she and her sisters voted for Mr. Biden. She had to look up the word ‘brainwashed’ in Vietnamese. But when she used it to describe her parents, her father said it applied to her.

She said her parents did not believe Mr. Biden could have won, and it was hard to convince them otherwise, because that is not what they were hearing from Vietnamese sources on Facebook.

“In my dad’s mind, more than half of the votes for Biden were illegal,” said Ms. Nguyen, who lives with her parents and was spending Thanksgiving with them. “It’s just wild.”

The shock of Donald J. Trump’s election in 2016, just before the holiday season, tested many American families who had to confront — or avoid altogether — political disagreements over Thanksgiving dinners. Many Democrats said they were angry at family members who voted for him. Republicans rejected the notion that their votes were referendums on whether they were good people.

But four years later, for some families, those differences have mutated into something deeper — a divide over basic facts and visions for America’s future. That rift feels even harder to mend after the 2020 election, as Mr. Trump stoked conspiracy theories questioning the legitimacy of Mr. Biden’s win.

Credit…Travis Dove for The New York Times

In interviews during and after the election, Americans talked about the differences that had emerged in their families over politics and how they had changed over the past four years. Some had learned to live with them, and were trying hard to focus on the things they had in common. Others had not spoken since 2016.

Many were in a stressful, messy place in between — trying to manage with loved ones who saw the world differently than they did. Several asked that their last names not be published because they did not want to lose the diminished relationships they still had. In most cases relatives with whom there was conflict — and who may have offered different accounts of the disagreements — were not contacted.

Unlike 2016, when conflicts emerged over political choices, this time they centered on the result itself. Polls since the election have found that large majorities of those who voted for Trump do not believe the election was fair. Large shares also say mail-in ballots were manipulated in favor of Joe Biden. But the situation is fluid, and interviews with voters showed substantial variation among Republicans, many of whom have their own stories of family loss.

“I believe it was all on the up and up,” said William Hill, a lawyer in the Midwest, of the election. Mr. Hill voted for Mr. Trump, but said he believed that Mr. Biden “is not a bad guy. He’s not going to do something that’s going to harm the country. He’s just not.”

But the election result has not mended the rupture in his family. He said his sister, who lives in Seattle, blew up at him after he voted for Mr. Trump in 2016, and they haven’t spoken since. He said he has sent her and her wife a Christmas gift every year — a box of nuts from a local gourmet shop — but he has never heard back. The most recent news of her, he said, was a post on Facebook after the election agreeing with someone who said, “Why would we want to unify with those people?”

“It hurts,” said Mr. Hill, who is 50. He said his sister and her wife “are good people,” and it still baffles him that political differences could cost a relationship. “My daughter sees things completely differently than I do politically, but she still gives me a hug every night.”

The political divisions within families, while widespread, are far from universal. Dr. Joshua Coleman, a psychologist who specializes in estrangement, said that while he now has such cases in his practice, they are still a small share of the business, and, so far, mostly consist of millennials or other younger Americans pulling back from or cutting off their more conservative baby boomer parents.

That was the case in the Ackley family.

Danielle Ackley of North Carolina and her mother have always been different politically. But they agreed to disagree, even after Mr. Trump’s 2016 win, which Ms. Ackley said brought her son to tears.

Credit…Jeremy M. Lange for The New York Times

But during a visit last month, they got into a terrible argument over politics. Ms. Ackley, 37, said she got angry when she heard her mother criticize Mr. Biden’s character. Then it escalated. It ended with her telling her mother to leave.

“This is not even a political divide, it’s a reality divide,” said Ms. Ackley, who added that she felt even more distant after seeing her mother comment approvingly on a Facebook post questioning mail-in ballots.

For Debbie Ackley, who is 59, the experience was painful and a shock. She said she remembers staring down at her phone, trying not to cry.She left the next morning, hours earlier than she had planned, and was so upset on the drive that she worried she might crash.

She said she loved her daughter, and though she did not understand her anger, she knew it came from a good place.

“Danielle has got the biggest heart,” she said. “She’s very sensitive and very loving. She takes things to heart.”

She said she was frustrated by what she saw as a growing intolerance in the country.

“It’s scary that there’s very little tolerance and respect for other people’s views and opinions — that’s what makes me sad,” she said.

As for the election, she said she has no doubt that there was fraud in the mail-in ballots, but whether it was enough to change the outcome, “I really don’t know.”

In the most extreme cases, what began as a manageable political disagreement in 2016 morphed into something much darker, as people watched family members who voted for Mr. Trump become absorbed by conspiracy theories that the president himself was spreading.

Christine, a real estate agent in Massachusetts, remembers her mother’s excitement at Mr. Trump’s win in 2016. They were on a family vacation, and no one else was happy about it, but the difference didn’t seem to matter very much.

But over the past year, she said she has seen her mother, a 75-year-old waitress, change from an enthusiastic gardener and antiques shopper to someone so obsessed with the QAnon conspiracy theory that she said she could no longer get through to her. Her mother was spending her free time staring at her iPad, and this spring, bought a necklace with a Q on it.

“I feel like I’ve been in mourning for someone who is still alive, and that’s a bizarre thing,” said Christine, 34, who shares a last name with her mother and asked that it not be used in order to protect their privacy. “The person she used to be is not here anymore. I miss her so much.”

She said this was the first Thanksgiving of her life that she would not be spending with her mother, who had been one of her closest confidants and lives 10 miles away.

Credit…Victor J. Blue for The New York Times

For many, the key to preventing estrangement is not talking about politics in the first place. That is how Michelle, a health care worker in Arizona, has tried to manage the situation in her family. She said her sister voted for Mr. Trump, but they agreed long ago never to discuss it, and are best friends who talk every day.

“We’re both like, nope, we’re not going to do it,” she said. “I value her as my sister, we are really close.”

But she cried as she described having to block her father, a retired manager for a manufacturing firm, from her email this fall, because of what she said was a constant stream of conspiracy-laden messages that he would not stop sending even after she had asked. She asked that her last name not be used because she feared further damage to her relationship with him.

“I’m just sad,” she said, crying softly. “Just because, you know, he’s my dad, and he’s always helped me if I’ve ever needed it. He’s always been there for me.”

Still, she planned to see him on Thanksgiving, outside and masked.

A number of older voters said they grew up around family and friends who didn’t always agree with them politically, but those distinctions mattered less to a person’s identity then. They didn’t pick fights over them, because politics was not who you were.

“I really just don’t see alienating my family over this,” said Joe Wallace, 75, a retired pipe fitter in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania who voted for Joe Biden. He said that he was baffled by his sisters’ strong support for Mr. Trump, but that he never talked about it with them. “It’s not worth it.”

Will relationships heal now that Mr. Trump is no longer president? Nearly everyone interviewed for this article who had experienced a falling out said they did not think so — at least not immediately. Estelle Moore, a retired flight attendant in East Stroudsburg, Pa., said it was as if we had seen things in each other that we weren’t supposed to. But now that we had, we could not un-see them.

“It’s like frying chicken,” said Ms. Moore, 64, sitting in a lawn chair outside her small brick house. “Once you put it into that hot grease, it becomes something different.”

The Ackleys aren’t giving up. A week after the election, Danielle Ackley sent her mother a message. She had spent days composing it, sitting on her lunch break at the plant nursery where she works. Her mother wrote back that they had many things to talk about. Politics did not have to one of them.

Debbie Ackley said it reminded her of the time she took her young son to the circus and encountered her daughter, then a high schooler, protesting the treatment of the elephants.

“That’s my daughter,” she said. “I’m so proud of her. I’m so proud of the person she has become.”

Sona Patel contributed reporting.

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Here's a cheat sheet for Thanksgiving's inevitable politics talk – CNN

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Let’s face it: There is a lot of lingering bad blood between family members and friends after four years of President Donald Trump. When we should be turning the page after a hard-fought political contest, some 68% of Republicans roughly a fifth of all Americans — seem to have bought into the baseless lie that the election was “rigged.” Now, Thanksgiving itself has been turned into a culture war battle cry against the backdrop of an escalating pandemic.
Good people can, of course, disagree about politics. But refusing to recognize the results of a not particularly close democratic election is well beyond politics as usual in America. In some conversations with friends and family, finding common ground rooted in shared facts requires the civic equivalent of landing a triple axel at the Olympics. After all, how do you reason someone out of something that they weren’t reasoned into?
For the sake of your loved ones and society, I’d hope that most of you are choosing to follow CDC guidelines and spend the holiday at home with few, if any, extended family members. But even that’s no guarantee of a politics-free holiday — and family Zooms can also degenerate quickly. So, as a cheat sheet to counter deeply held disinformation, here are some baseline facts that could come in handy:
Joe Biden won the election with more than 80 million votes — the most ever. His 306 electoral vote total is the same number that Donald Trump declared a “landslide” four years ago, when he lost the popular vote by a then-unprecedented nearly 2.9 million votes. This time, he lost the popular vote by more than 6 million.
As for conspiracy theories about stolen votes, national, state and private election officials, including Trump administration security staffers, stated that the “election was the most secure in American history” with “no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.”
When it comes to evidence, the Trump legal team has lost or withdrawn from at least 30 court cases since the election, with one Republican federal judge in Pennsylvania dismissing the campaign’s claims stating: “(T)his Court has been presented with strained legal arguments without merit and speculative accusations, unpled in the operative complaint and unsupported by evidence.” If that sounds harsh, consider that eight of Trump’s biggest lies have been verified when submitted to investigation by Republicans in Congress or the Trump Justice Department.
But facts only go so far with folks who believe that Trump — who’s been caught in more than 20,000 “false or misleading claims,” according to the Washington Post — is the only person telling the truth. Polarization and conflict increase groupthink. What we’re dealing with in some cases is a belief system that is beyond reason — and what are you supposed to do with that in conversation? It’s hard to just nod along when the subject is QAnon.
In search for answers, I spoke to Steve Hassan, a leading cult-deprogrammer and author of “The Cult of Trump.” Before you get up in arms, I’m not saying that Trump supporters are members of a cult — but Hassan does have some insights from his work that could be useful in finding a way to reason together when arguments seem beyond reason.
As a young honors student, Hassan fell under the sway of the Moonies, formally called the Unification Church that many critics liken to a cult, and was convinced to fast during Watergate because God wanted Richard Nixon to remain President. Hassan counsels that his work is not focused on “people who are just stone-cold pragmatists” about Trump but “people who are actually true believers.” Among those folks, “what doesn’t work is a direct attack on the leader, the doctrine, or the group … that digs people’s heels in.”
Extreme political polarization amounts to indoctrination, but Hassan believes that “the cure to unethical influence is ethical influence” — and that involves a process of listening to a person respectfully and gently reminding them of once deep-seated values and principles, drawing out implicit parallels where indoctrination has obscured objective truth.
In Hassan’s practice, this process takes days — there is not a single conversation quick fix. For the purposes of this exercise, let’s use members of Trump’s legal team as examples.
Rudy Giuliani used to say that “to be locked into partisan politics doesn’t permit you to think clearly.” He used to condemn Pat Buchanan’s paleo-conservative populism as dangerous, which is the closest analogue to what Donald Trump advances in the political arena. And as a one-time legendary US attorney, he deeply believes in the law as a search for the truth. Discussing those principles — with respect and separate from the current controversies — might help depolarize the conversation.
In the case of Trump lawyer Jenna Ellis, who is very vocal about her Christian faith, a conversation about the Sermon on the Mount might eventually cause her to reflect on whether accusing Republican pollster Frank Luntz of having a “micro-penis” is what Jesus would have done. Or you could work toward asking her what she meant when she called Trump an “idiot” in 2016 and slammed his base for not caring about “facts or logic.”
A key point of depolarizing conversations is to help folks feel heard while finding common ground. The goal is not to achieve an instant conversion but instead to begin communication that breaks down the walls that keep people in separate realities buffeted by “alternative facts.”
“If I had one bullhorn,” says Hassan, “I’d say to everybody, ‘Reach out to your loved ones who believe in Trump, your friends and family members, and stop calling them names and stop trying to win arguments, and remember the good old days and even agree not to talk politics for a while until you rekindle the warmth in your relationship.'”
That’s good advice for any Thanksgiving, consistent with the civic purposes of the holiday as proclaimed by President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War: “(T)o heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.”

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Secret recordings reveal political directives, tension over Alberta's pandemic response – CBC.ca

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On the morning of June 4, a team of Alberta civil servants gathered — as it had nearly every day since the COVID-19 pandemic began — to co-ordinate the province’s response to the crisis.

A few minutes into the meeting in a boardroom in downtown Edmonton, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw weighed in.

The cabinet committee, to which she and the group reported, was pressuring her to broadly expand serology testing, which is used to detect the presence of COVID-19 antibodies in the blood.

The problem was that the tests had limited large-scale clinical value and Hinshaw believed it would overestimate the virus’s presence in the population. 

“Honestly, after the battle that we had about molecular testing, I don’t have a lot of fight left in me,” Hinshaw said during that meeting. The province had introduced rapid molecular testing kits at the start of the pandemic to help testing in rural and remote communities. The recordings reveal some tensions about that decision. 

“I think we need to draw on our experience from the molecular testing battle that we ultimately lost, after a bloody and excruciating campaign, and think about, how do we limit the worst possible implications of this without wearing ourselves down?,” Hinshaw said. 

A few weeks later, Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Hinshaw announced the province would pour $10 million into targeted serology testing, the first in Canada to do so.

The level of political direction — and, at times, interference — in Alberta’s pandemic response is revealed in 20 audio recordings of the daily planning meetings of the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) obtained by CBC News, as well as in meeting minutes and interviews with staff directly involved in pandemic planning.

Taken together, they reveal how Premier Jason Kenney, Shandro and other cabinet ministers often micromanaged the actions of already overwhelmed civil servants; sometimes overruled their expert advice; and pushed an early relaunch strategy that seemed more focused on the economy and avoiding the appearance of curtailing Albertans’ freedoms than enforcing compliance to safeguard public health.

“What is there suggests to me that the pandemic response is in tatters,” said Ubaka Ogbogu, an associate law professor at the University of Alberta who specializes in public health law and policy. 

Premier Jason Kenney declared a second state of public health emergency on Tuesday. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

“The story tells me that the chief medical officer of health doesn’t have control of the pandemic response [and] tells me that decisions are being made by persons who shouldn’t be making decisions,” said Ogbogu, who was given access by CBC News to transcripts of specific incidents from the recordings.

“It tells me that the atmosphere in which decisions are being made is combative, it is not collaborative and that they are not working towards a common goal — they are working at cross-purposes.” 

Ogbogu has been a staunch critic of the UCP government. In July, he publicly resigned from the Health Quality Council of Alberta, citing the potential for political interference in its work due to amendments to the Health Statutes Amendment Act.

Shandro did not respond to an interview request.

In a brief emailed statement that did not address specific issues raised by CBC News, a spokesperson for Kenney said it is the job of elected officials to make these sorts of decisions and he said there was no political interference.

Hinshaw also did not respond to an interview request.

But at the daily pandemic briefing Wednesday, as the province announced its 500th death, Hinshaw reiterated her belief that her job is to provide “a range of policy options to government officials outlining what I believe is the recommended approach and the strengths and weaknesses of any alternatives. 

 “The final decisions are made by the cabinet,” she said, adding that she has “always felt respected and listened to and that my recommendations have been respectfully considered by policy makers while making their decisions.”

Secret recordings reveal tension

The recordings provide a rare window into the relationship between the non-partisan civil servants working for the Emergency Operation Centre and political officials.

The EOC team, comprised of civil servants from Alberta Health and some seconded from other ministries, has been responsible for planning logistics and producing guidelines and recommendations for every aspect of Alberta’s pandemic response. 

The recordings also provide context for the recent public debate about the extent of Hinshaw’s authority to act independent of government. 

Even if Hinshaw had the authority to make unilateral decisions, the recordings confirm what she has repeatedly stated publicly: she believes her role is to advise, provide recommendations and implement decisions made by the politicians.

At the group’s meeting on June 8, the day before Kenney publicly announced Alberta’s move to Stage 2 of its economic relaunch plan, Hinshaw relayed the direction she was receiving from the Emergency Management Cabinet Committee (EMCC). That committee included Kenney, Shandro and nine other cabinet ministers.

“What the EMCC has been moving towards, I feel, is to say, ‘We need to be leading Albertans where they want to go, not forcing them where they don’t want to go,'” Hinshaw told the group.

The recordings confirm what Hinshaw has repeatedly stated publicly: she believes her role is to advise, provide recommendations and implement decisions made by the politicians. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Hinshaw said she didn’t know if the approach would work, but they were being asked to move away from punitive measures to simply telling people how to stay safe.

More of a “permissive model?” someone asked. Hinshaw agreed.

“I feel like we are starting to lose social licence for the restrictive model, and I think we are being asked to then move into the permissive model,” she said. “And worst-case scenario, we will need to come back and [be] restrictive.”

Soaring COVID-19 rates in Alberta

As a second wave of COVID-19 pummels the province, an increasing number of public-health experts say Alberta long ago reached that worst-case scenario.

The province has passed the grim milestone of more than 1,500 new cases reported in a day. To date, 500 people have died. Intensive care units across Alberta are overwhelmed, with COVID-19 patients spilling into other units as beds grow scarce.

On Tuesday, after weeks of pleading from doctors, academics and members of the public for a province-wide lockdown, Kenney declared another state of public health emergency. 

However, he pointedly refused to impose a lockdown, saying his government wouldn’t bow to “ideological pressure” that he said would cripple the economy. Instead, he announced targeted restrictions, including a ban on indoor social gatherings. 

WATCH | Premier Jason Kenney announces new pandemic restrictions:

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney bypassed a renewed lockdown as part of new COVID-19 restrictions, despite having more COVID-19 cases per capita than Ontario. Restaurants and retail can stay open with reduced capacity, though indoor private gatherings are banned and the school year has been altered again. 2:36

Kenney repeated many of the comments he made on Nov. 6.

Even as Alberta’s case count grew so high that the province could not sustain its contact tracing system, Kenney rejected calls for more stringent measures and downplayed the deaths related to COVID-19.

“What you describe as a lockdown, first of all, constitutes a massive invasion of the exercise of people’s fundamental rights and a massive impact on not only their personal liberties but their ability to put food on the table to sustain themselves financially,” Kenney said.

Kenney said it was projected, back in April, that COVID-19 would be the 11th-most common cause of death in the province. 

“And so currently, this represents a tiny proportion of the deaths in our province.”

High evidence threshold for restrictions

A source with direct knowledge of the daily planning meetings said the premier wants evidence-based thresholds for mandatory restrictions that are effectively impossible to meet, especially in an ever-changing pandemic.

As of Wednesday, no thresholds have been designated publicly. 

The source said Kenney’s attitude was that he wasn’t going to close down anything that affected the economy unless he was provided with specific evidence about how it would curtail the spread of COVID-19. 

“This is like nothing we have ever seen before. So [it is] very, very difficult to get specific evidence to implement specific restrictions,” said the source who, like the others interviewed by CBC News, spoke on condition of confidentiality for fear of losing their job.

Another planning meeting source said “there is kind of an understanding that we put our best public health advice forward and that Kenney is really more concerned about the economy and he doesn’t want it shut down again.”

The recordings suggest a desire by Health Minister Tyler Shandro to exert control over enforcement of public health orders. (CBC)

CBC News also interviewed a source close to Hinshaw who said she has indicated that, eight months into the pandemic, politicians are still often demanding a level of evidence that is effectively impossible to provide before they will act on restrictive recommendations.

The source said Hinshaw suggested politicians “have tended to basically go with the minimal acceptable recommendation from public health, because I actually think if they went below — if they pushed too far — that she probably would step down.” 

Ogbogu said it is clear politicians, who are not experts in pandemic response, are not focusing on what matters most to public health.

“The focus needs to be on the disease, on how you stop it,” he said. “Not the economy. Nothing is more important.”

‘I may have gotten in trouble with the minister’s office’: Hinshaw

The government has often used Hinshaw as a shield to deflect criticism of its pandemic strategy, suggesting she is directing the response. The government has at times appeared to recast any criticism of the strategy as a personal attack on her.

At her public COVID-19 updates, Hinshaw has refused to stray from government talking points or offer anything more than a hint of where her opinions may diverge.

Behind the scenes, however, there were clearly times when Hinshaw disagreed with the political direction — although it was also evident the politicians had the final say.

In April, for instance, the government introduced asymptomatic testing in some parts of the province, and later expanded it. 

Hinshaw told a May 22 meeting she had unintentionally started a conversation with Kenney in which she expressed concern about the value of large-scale asymptomatic testing as opposed to strategic testing.  

Kenney in turn asked for a slide presentation that would detail the pros and cons of each approach. 

“I didn’t intend to have that conversation, so I may have gotten in trouble with the [health] minister’s office today about that,” Hinshaw said at that meeting.

The presentation, she said, would include “how expensive it is to test people when we don’t actually get a lot of value, to go forward with a testing strategy that we can stand behind. So we will see if the minister’s office will allow us to put that [presentation] forward,” Hinshaw said. 

The premier, she said, had asked for the presentation for June 2.

But she cautioned the team, “Not to get all of our hopes up or anything.”

A week later, Hinshaw publicly announced the province had opened up asymptomatic testing to any Albertan who wanted it. At a news conference, she said that given the impending Stage 2 relaunch, it was an “opportune time” to expand testing.

‘They don’t want us to enforce anything’

The recordings suggest a desire by Health Minister Shandro to exert control over enforcement of public health orders.

Alberta Health Services (AHS), the province’s health authority, is responsible for enforcing public health orders. It is supposed to operate at arm’s length from government.

On June 9, the same day Kenney announced the Stage 2 economic relaunch, Hinshaw told the EOC meeting Shandro’s office wanted to be informed how AHS would consult with “us” before taking any action on COVID-19 public orders.

Alberta Health lawyers, working with the EOC, were responsible for writing the Stage 2 relaunch order that would outline restrictions on businesses and the public.

Hinshaw said she needed to verify with Shandro’s office, but she thought “they don’t want us to enforce anything. [They] just want us to educate, and no enforcement.”

But the group’s chief legal advisor was adamant.

“Under no circumstance will AHS check with the political minister’s office before undertaking an enforcement action under the Public Health Act,” he said

Hinshaw said Shandro’s office wanted AHS to check with her first, so she could report back to his office. 

The legal advisor challenged that, saying AHS was supposed to check with Hinshaw and a colleague “with respect to prosecutions, not enforcement generally.

“So what is going on?” he asked.

Shandro’s office was “mad that AHS has enforced things like no shaving in barber shops,” Hinshaw responded. 

Hinshaw said all local medical officers of health and environmental health officers were already expected to tell her and the team about any impending orders or prosecutions. 

But a week later, a senior health official told the meeting AHS was “struggling about what they should be doing” regarding enforcement. 

The official said AHS had been told: “Don’t turn a blind eye but don’t issue any orders.

“And then come to us, and if push comes to shove, I think it will be up to the ministry to figure out if we are going to do something.”

Ubaka Ogbogu, an associate law professor at the University of Alberta who specializes in public health law and policy, said ‘the atmosphere in which [COVID-19] decisions are being made is combative, it is not collaborative and [politicians and health officials] are not working towards a common goal.’  (CBC)

In mid-September, CBC News reported that AHS had received more than 29,000 complaints about COVID-19 public health order violations since the beginning of April.

A total of 62 enforcement orders, including closure orders, were issued in that period. As recently as last week, AHS has said that “every effort” is made to work with the public before issuing an enforcement order. 

‘Uphill battle’

In private conversations as recently as this month, Hinshaw has characterized her interactions with Kenney and cabinet as difficult, said a source close to her.

“I would say that she has used the phrase ‘uphill battle,'” they said.

The source said Hinshaw has been understanding of the reasons for the difficulty, “which I think we both see as being rooted in a completely different weighting of the risks of the disease and the risks of, for example, public-health restrictions.”

Hinshaw, however, “did allude to some of the meetings as being very distressing.”

But the source said Hinshaw worries about what could happen if she leaves her role.

“She sees her position, optimally, as trying to do the best she can from inside. And that if she wasn’t there, there would be a risk that things would be worse in terms of who else might end up taking that position and what their viewpoint was on the best direction.”

Ogbogu, the health law expert, said that while Hinshaw may be well-meaning, her willingness to allow politicians to subvert her authority is ultimately undermining the fight against COVID-19.

If the government is not following scientific advice, if it is not interested in measures that will effectively control a pandemic that is killing Albertans, then Hinshaw “owes us the responsibility of coming out and saying, ‘They are not letting me do my job,'” Ogbogu said.

“And if that comes at a risk of her job, that is the nature of public service.”

At the planning meeting on June 4, a civil servant told the team there was concern the province wasn’t giving businesses much time to adjust to shifting COVID-19 guidance. 

“I’ve been advocating everywhere I can to move it up, and they moved it back,” Hinshaw replied.

“So you can see I have a lot of influence,” she said sarcastically. “But I will keep trying.”

If you have information about this story, or for another story, please contact us in confidence at cbcinvestigates@cbc.ca.

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