Virus re­sponse to be re­viewed

Au­di­tor gen­eral to ex­am­ine UCP’S ‘spend­ing and pro­gram out­comes’

Calgary Herald - - CITY+REGION - LISA JOHN­SON AND ASH­LEY JOANNOU ajoan­nou@post­

ED­MON­TON Au­di­tor gen­eral Doug Wylie con­firmed Wed­nes­day he will re­view the Al­berta gov­ern­ment’s re­sponse to COVID-19 as the leg­is­la­ture met for an emer­gency de­bate on the pan­demic.

In a state­ment, Wylie said he has re­ceived in­quiries from the pub­lic and MLAS and that his of­fice’s ex­am­i­na­tions will fo­cus on ac­count­abil­ity “for gov­ern­ment spend­ing and pro­gram out­comes, value for in­vest­ments made and on lessons learned by gov­ern­ment for re­spond­ing to sim­i­lar crises in fu­ture.”

“Like other au­di­tors gen­eral across the coun­try, we are pay­ing close at­ten­tion to the gov­ern­ment’s re­sponse to the pan­demic cri­sis,” Wylie said. “As it in­volves a sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ment by the gov­ern­ment of Al­berta, and has had a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on the lives of all Al­ber­tans, it is some­thing we will ex­am­ine.”

Ini­tial find­ings will be re­ported to the leg­isla­tive as­sem­bly in the fall.

Wylie’s news came as MLAS re­turned to the leg­is­la­ture.

Although much of the day was spent de­bat­ing the COVID-19 re­sponse, the UCP in­tro­duced Bill 7, the Re­spon­si­ble En­ergy Amend­ment Act. Trans­porta­tion Min­is­ter Ric Mciver said the bill would give the gov­ern­ment the author­ity to cap the amount of time it takes the Al­berta En­ergy Reg­u­la­tor (AER) to re­view ap­pli­ca­tions.

“This leg­is­la­tion will pro­vide greater clar­ity and sta­bil­ity to our in­vest­ment cli­mate, which in turn will help at­tract much-needed new in­vest­ment and fur­ther our prov­ince’s eco­nomic re­cov­ery ef­forts,” Mciver said.

NDP Leader Rachel Not­ley ques­tioned Premier Ja­son Ken­ney about the re­cent AER de­ci­sion to sus­pend a wide ar­ray of en­vi­ron­men­tal mon­i­tor­ing re­quire­ments due to COVID-19 con­cerns, sug­gest­ing it shows a “safety dou­ble stan­dard.”

Ken­ney re­it­er­ated that the reg­u­la­tor makes de­ci­sions in­de­pen­dently and said water mon­i­tor­ing is “com­pletely un­af­fected” by the changes an­nounced May 20. But ac­cord­ing to the AER, all ground­wa­ter sam­pling is tem­po­rar­ily sus­pended ex­cept for what is “nec­es­sary to protect hu­man health and eco­log­i­cal re­cep­tors.”

The gov­ern­ment moved Bill 1, an anti-protest bill, through sec­ond read­ing, with op­po­si­tion from the NDP.

In ques­tion pe­riod, Ken­ney said Al­berta does not in­tend to re­new the state of pub­lic health emer­gency, de­clared March 17, when it ex­pires on June 15. He said he will then re­lease the Fair Deal Panel re­port, which was due March 31.

“The gov­ern­ment re­mains sin­gle-mind­edly focused on the pub­lic health cri­sis and that twin eco­nomic cri­sis that we are fac­ing,” Ken­ney said. “As we be­gin to re­turn to a nor­mal pace of deal­ing with a broader range of is­sues in this place, we think it would be ab­so­lutely ap­pro­pri­ate and nec­es­sary to re­lease the re­port.”

The Fair Deal Panel was an­nounced in Novem­ber and looked at nine ideas, in­clud­ing hold­ing a referendum on equal­iza­tion, es­tab­lish­ing a pro­vin­cial po­lice force and with­draw­ing from the Canada Pen­sion Plan, to give the prov­ince more lever­age with the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

Dur­ing the emer­gency de­bate, Not­ley pushed Ken­ney on na­tional paid sick leave af­ter the pre­miers of Man­i­toba, Bri­tish Columbia and Yukon on Tues­day en­dorsed a fed­eral plan to ne­go­ti­ate with the prov­inces and ter­ri­to­ries on 10 days of paid sick leave a year as part of the coun­try’s pan­demic re­cov­ery.

Not­ley said it could be 12 to 18 months be­fore there is a vac­cine for COVID -19 and peo­ple who are work­ing lower-wage jobs “can­not af­ford to lose two weeks of work ev­ery time they get a cold.”

Ken­ney did not di­rectly an­swer the ques­tion, in­stead point­ing to the one-time emer­gency iso­la­tion sup­port fund­ing the prov­ince pro­vided at the be­gin­ning of the pan­demic and changes to the pro­vin­cial labour code that pre­vented peo­ple from be­ing fired if they had to stay home.

Labour and Im­mi­gra­tion Min­is­ter Ja­son Cop­ping said in ques­tion pe­riod the gov­ern­ment is as­sess­ing the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s pro­posal and will is­sue a re­sponse “in the com­ing weeks.”

Mean­while, Ken­ney said Fi­nance Min­is­ter Travis Toews will present an out­line of the prov­ince’s eco­nomic re­cov­ery strat­egy in June, fol­lowed by a com­pre­hen­sive fis­cal up­date in Au­gust and then a full bud­get in Fe­bru­ary 2021.

Of­fi­cials have said this year’s deficit is pro­jected to be $20 bil­lion.

Not­ley pointed out the leg­isla­tive as­sem­bly is not sched­uled to sit past July 23 and called for a way for MLAS to de­bate and dis­cuss the doc­u­ment. Ken­ney said they could present it in front of a com­mit­tee of the leg­is­la­ture or re­call the as­sem­bly for a limited pe­riod in Au­gust.

In ques­tion pe­riod, Health Min­is­ter Tyler Shan­dro said the UCP gov­ern­ment’s re­sponse to rec­om­men­da­tions from the Ernst and Young re­port re­leased Feb. 3 has been de­layed by the coro­n­avirus pan­demic and set a new dead­line of Aug. 13. The re­port had 57 rec­om­men­da­tions to save the gov­ern­ment $1.9 bil­lion per year in health costs, in­clud­ing sell­ing some longterm care homes and leas­ing space to pri­vate phar­ma­cies in health fa­cil­i­ties.

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