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Danielle Smith became United Conservative Party of Alberta leader on Oct. 6, and the province’s 19th premier five days later. In less than a month, she’s already shown that she’ll defend certain ideas and principles to help create a stronger, freer Alberta.

The most recent issue has been school mask mandates.

“The detrimental effects of masking on the mental health, development and education of children in classroom settings is well understood,” Smith said in an Oct. 29 statement, “and we must turn the page on what has been an extremely difficult time for children, along with their parents and teachers.”

Quite a few Albertans were pleased to hear the new Premier was opposed to any further masking mandates in the province’s K-12 education system. She also said legal steps would be taken in this matter. This follows a recent Court of King’s Bench decision that Alberta had acted “unreasonably” when then-Premier Jason Kenney lifted a school mask mandate last winter. Smith evidently wants to ensure her pledge doesn’t get challenged or overturned at a later date.

Does every Albertan agree that school mask mandates should be eliminated? Of course not, and a new round of attacks on Smith’s leadership has begun.

Not that she expected anything different.

As I’ve written in several publications, I’ve known Smith for over 25 years. She was working for the Fraser Institute when we first met, and I was running my nationally-distributed conservative commentary newspaper, From The Right. We both got involved in politics, radio/TV punditry and column writing at roughly the same time, as it happens.

Through it all, she’s used her intelligence, wit and political savvy to become a powerful voice in politics, radio and think tanks. She strongly supports private enterprise, free markets and economic liberty. She’s a libertarian, social moderate and policy wonk rolled up into one. She will always defend her friends and allies, but believes in building bridges with opponents and critics to ensure that intellectual discourse is preserved – and the lines of communication remain open.

Smith is also unafraid to stand up for Albertans. Case in point, her support for an Alberta sovereignty act.

This idea was originally conceived by the Free Alberta Strategy, a joint initiative between the Alberta Institute and former UCP MLA Rob Anderson. The policy proposal, which was jointly written by Anderson, University of Calgary Professor Barry Cooper, and lawyer Derek From on Sept. 28, 2021, depicted the sovereignty act as a “cornerstone” policy. More specifically, it would provide the Alberta legislature “with the authority to refuse enforcement of any specific Act of Parliament or federal court ruling that Alberta’s elected body deemed to be a federal intrusion into an area of provincial jurisdiction, or unfairly prejudicial to the interests of Albertans.”

Smith, in a July 20 tweet, noted that her version of the sovereignty act would “empower the Alberta Legislature to refuse enforcement of any specific Federal Government law or policy that violates Alberta’s provincial rights under s.92 of the Constitution or the Charter of Rights and Freedoms of Albertans.” Moreover, it would only be invoked after a “free vote” of all Alberta MLAs.

The act is controversial, and goes against Canada’s current constitutional framework. At the same time, it’s a sensible nod to having more economic freedom in Alberta – and more control over Alberta’s political destiny. My belief at the time was that other premiers could end up agreeing with Smith’s sovereignty act in principle, and join with her one day. There’s strength in political numbers, after all.

Saskatchewan’s Scott Moe may have done this in a light fashion with his recent white paper, Drawing the Line: Defending Saskatchewan’s Economic Autonomy. “A strong Saskatchewan means a strong Canada,” he said in a recent statement, “but we cannot allow continued federal intrusion into our exclusive constitutional right to develop our natural resources and grow our economy. We will defend and protect Saskatchewan jobs and our economic future.”

A spokesperson in Smith’s office would tell the Epoch Times on Oct. 27, “It’s great to see other provinces-like Saskatchewan, follow Alberta’s lead in defending provincial existing constitutional division of powers. It’s no secret this is a top priority for our government and we hope to continue to see other jurisdictions do the same.”

Could the same scenario happen with school mask mandates? It’s possible.

Scientific and medical studies may have produced different results on the use or non-use of school masks in classrooms, but the overall policy definitely had an effect on the mental health and well-being of school-aged children. A March 2022 poll conducted by POLITICO and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that 46 percent of respondents believed masking hurt their children’s social learning and interactions.” They also believed masking hurt their children’s “general schooling experience” (40 percent), mental/emotional health (39 percent) and education (33 percent).

Like it or not, Smith’s opposition to further mask mandates in Alberta has merit. Plenty of parents in other provinces would likely agree with her stance. So would some or all of our premiers. If the latter group decides this idea and principle needs to be defended, they may join her in this legal fight against school mask mandates to help create a stronger, freer Canada.

Smith’s first month as Alberta Premier has been intriguing. Who knows what the next month could bring?

Michael Taube, a long-time newspaper columnist and political commentator, was a speechwriter for former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

The 2022 Ontario provincial election is just around the corner. The major party leaders will have to come up with policy and campaign on issues that haven’t ever been relevant in other election cycles. This will be the first election since COVID-19 began.

The issue of Climate Change has proven to change our lives over the past four years. We’ve seen it in federal elections, in 2019 and 2021, if a party didn’t put forward a serious enough climate plan they didn’t win Government. That also is likely going to prove to be relevant in the 2022 Ontario provincial election. No party will be able to win Government if they don’t put forward a justifiable climate plan.

In 2018, there were some flaws in some of the parties’ climate plans, but ultimately voters decided. This time, climate policy will be even more important than it was in 2018. The various parties haven’t largely discussed their plans yet, and probably won’t do so until we’re in campaign mode. This may prove to be beneficial, some of the parties may be waiting a little while longer to see what voters would like to see in a party’s climate plan. The plans of the various parties will need to be bold, different, and unique. People are starting to live with the effects of climate change such as wildfires which are obviously displacing people from their homes, and causing other issues.

Although climate change will be a very relevant and pressing issue, there will be numerous other issues, that will be important. The Ontario Liberal Party, Ontario NDP, and Ontario Green Party, all underperformed what they were hoping to do in 2018, which was of course to form the Government. This means all the opposition parties, will need to probably change some of their ideas from the 2018 election campaign. The 2018 election campaign, was of course unprecedented, with the seat count won by the Liberal Party falling much below what they had hoped for. This election the Ontario NDP and Ontario Green Party, will need to campaign differently given that they now have to face the rise of the Ontario Liberal Party, once again. In order for that to happen, they will all need to put forward a serious and credible plan to get us out of COVID-19.

The three opposition parties have been talking throughout the pandemic about what they would’ve done differently. They will need to echo the things they’ve been saying over the past two years during the election campaign. The Ontario Liberal Party has a fresh slate of candidates in many ridings, candidates who are young, diverse, and ready to lead. However, that doesn’t mean the other parties don’t. The Ontario PC Party and the current Government, have also shown to take youth representation seriously. They’ve appointed the youngest Provincial Environment Minister.

The idea of youth representation will also be important, no leader will be able to win without showing and explaining their plans to youth across Ontario. The youth demographic is becoming bigger, every election cycle and that includes this time around. In order for parties to win over the support of youth, they need to do things like have a credible climate plan as well as a plan to exit COVID-19. The past two years have been tough on youth and their mental health and that’s why it’ll be important for the various party leaders to show that they care about the youth voting demographic.

Wyatt Sharpe is a 13 year old journalist and host of The Wyatt Sharpe Show. Wyatt resides in Clarington, Ontario.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

Taxpayers have good reason to be frustrated with Premier Doug Ford’s handing of Ontario’s finances.

The auditor general’s recent report shows just how cavalier the Ontario government has been in writing cheques from the taxpayer chequebook.

The government of Ontario’s emergency pandemic response put thousands of businesses on the brink of bankruptcy. Thousands of others were forced to shut down for good. So, the province stepped in to provide financial support.

However, the rushed nature of the government’s new aid programs risked a lack of due diligence. There was a clear danger that money would end up in the wrong places.

Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk’s recent annual report reveals massive waste.

Lysyk revealed two major problems with the government’s pandemic aid for businesses.

First, the Ford government gave $210 million to businesses that were ineligible to receive pandemic funds.

Second, the Ford government overcompensated some businesses to the tune of $714 million.

That means thousands of businesses across the province received more in pandemic aid than they would have made if COVID-19 had never hit our shores.

This wasn’t just a problem in the early days of the rollout of pandemic aid in early 2020. These big-spending programs went on for nearly two years.

According to Lysyk, the government never corrected course.

“We concluded that, on the whole, the ministries did not design effective and efficient systems and procedures to deliver cost-effective programs to only eligible recipients,” said Lysyk in her report.

Even more damning is that the government still doesn’t know whether pandemic aid went to the right businesses, or whether the support programs were even effective.

Lysyk stated the government “did not confirm that the programs it launched were effective in helping businesses in accordance with the defined objectives because it did not establish outcome-based measures for those programs.”

That’s like trying to cook a delicious holiday meal without using a recipe or tasting it before serving it the in-laws.

The government still does not know if pandemic aid programs have been effective nearly two years later.

Every taxpayer dollar that goes to the wrong place will be put on our children and grandchildren’s massive government debt credit card tab.

If support programs were ineffective, or money was going to the wrong places, the government abdicated responsibility by failing to meaningfully evaluate its ongoing pandemic response.

The Ford government was not alone. Auditors general across the country will likely issue similar reports.

But Ford came into office in 2018 promising Ontarians that he would carefully watch every penny of taxpayer money and ensure that money would be spent wisely.

His reputation is on the line.

To correct course, the government needs to immediately review ongoing pandemic programs to ensure that Ontario taxpayers are getting value for money.

Lysyk recommends the Treasury Board Secretariat retrace the government’s steps and account for all of its pandemic spending to get a better sense of where the money went and whether it was effective.

In addition, the government should launch an internal inquiry into exactly what went wrong with the government’s pandemic response to make sure Ontario is ready to confront future crises.

Even before the pandemic reached Ontario, Ford’s standing as a champion for taxpayers was on shaky ground. The government’s lack of due diligence in its pandemic response is another blow. Now Ford needs to get the province’s spending under control.

Jay Goldberg is the Ontario Director at the Canadian Taxpayers Federation

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

If you won’t get vaccinated to save your own life or your granny’s, or even for a chance to win $1 million or a vacation, is $100 gift card enough to get you to fulfill your civic duty?

For a more and more entrenched segment of Alberta’s populace the answer is probably not. Resisting immunization has become a misguided commitment to some libertarian ideal for a surprising number of people.

But Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is still willing to give a $100 incentive a try as Covid cases, hospitalizations and deaths mount in the province with the lowest vaccination rate in the country.

The unvaccinated can score the gift card for getting first or second shots. Close to 30 per cent of the population has yet to get both needles despite all the imprecations from politicians, doctors and public servants.

Kenney has been increasingly panicked in his pleas. On his return last week from an extended vacation, during which he probably wished the pandemic would just evaporate, he sincerely asked his fellow Albertans to “for the love of God” get the shot.

The $100 bribe has ticked off responsible adults who have had the jab and left even the most moderate Albertans wondering how the government has gone so far off the rails.

To be fair, the government hasn’t put all its eggs in the gift card basket. A province wide indoor mask mandate and curfew was announced at the same time as the incentive.

But even that wasn’t without controversy.

The political flack that rained down over the past year prompted the government to exempt churches and gyms from the indoor mask rules. And you can’t mess with rodeos in Alberta, so rodeos are exempted from a 10 p.m. liquor serving curfew.

The frenzied effort to pander to the right wing base must present quite a challenge to UCP policy writers and comms professionals.

The UCP’s ineffectual efforts have gone too far for some of its members. Peter Guthrie, the MLA for Airdrie Cochrane, tweeted out a letter expressing concern that the government’s tone during its recent press conference was too accusatory in discussing those who haven’t been vaccinated.

If the need to push up vaccination numbers is the key, why hasn’t Alberta created a vaccine passport and the support for commercial, entertainment and institutional venues to require it?

Kenney vowed to not impose a passport from the beginning. A passport won’t fly with the right wing of his party so it’s a no-go zone.

And so the carrot approach of gift cards and million dollar lotteries trumps the stick of requiring two jabs to participate in a normal life.

The government’s playbook for these “incentives” comes from the U.S. Certainly Alberta has often been described as the most American of provinces, so it’s no surprise that Kenney looks south of the border.

The million lottery for the vaccinated announced at the beginning of the summer came from Ohio.

First doses ticked up after the lottery announcement in Alberta but then plateaued.

“There really was not any kind of indication that the lottery made a huge difference,” Dr. Stephanie Smith, an infectious diseases specialist at the University of Alberta Hospital, told a CBC reporter.

The gift card idea came from Colorado, where a jab is worth a gift card to Walmart or Chipotle or a discount on entry to a state park.

So how is Colorado doing? On Sept. 8th the Denver Post reported Covid cases are at their highest level since mid January.

The UCP’s ineffective response to Covid, driven by its mania to appease the right wing, is allowing the NDP opposition to score points in the centre. A recent Leger poll shows more than 75 per cent of Albertans favour a vaccine passport system for venues like bars, restaurants, festivals and gyms.

The gift card bribe just angered the 70 per cent of the population who have heeded the call to get the shot.

Keeping the committed anti-vaxxers happy is eroding whatever moderate support the UCP  still retains.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

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The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.