Good morning. It’s James Keller in Calgary.
The federal government has set high expectations for the Speech from the Throne later this month.
The Liberals have promised an ambitious plan for the economy that will be designed to “build back better” after the COVID-19 pandemic. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland have signalled more deficit-financed spending to stimulate growth.
Ms. Freeland has said the economy that emerges after the current fiscal crisis must be “green” and “equitable.”
All of this has left Albertans wondering how the province, and its resource-based economy, will fit into this new economy. The province has been struggling long before the pandemic, after oil prices crashed six years ago, and glimmers of hope of a possible recovery in the new year have been snuffed out.
It now has the second-highest unemployment rate among the provinces, a projected deficit that ballooned to more than $20-billion, and no clear path to dig out of that deepening hole.
Which is all to say that anxiety is high, as some in the province worry the hints about the Throne Speech are code for new laws, regulations and policies that will hamstring the Canadian oil industry.
Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan stepped into that angst earlier this month with a tweet that said Alberta is about hydrogen, batteries, carbon-capture technology and geothermal energy. He was responding to an opinion piece about Alberta being part of a low-carbon economy
That prompted Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage to respond with a tweet of her own that said this was all true – but that “Alberta is also oil and gas.”
Our Alberta columnist, Kelly Cryderman, writes this week about what the episode says about how the federal government’s desire to reimagine Canada’s economy is a recipe for increasing tensions between the province and Ottawa.
Alberta’s United Conservative Party government, and Premier Jason Kenney, came to power last year on a campaign that promised to go to war with the federal government over these very issues. The temperature has cooled somewhat since then, but that fight is never far below the surface.
Kelly writes: “Messaging that oil isn’t that big a deal for the country’s export-focused economy is counterproductive, and doesn’t give any confidence that the federal Liberals will be able to balance the environment and the economy, or better reach out to Alberta, as they have long promised.”
This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here. This is a new project and we’ll be experimenting as we go, so let us know what you think.
AROUND THE WEST
RACISM ALLEGATIONS: The Royal British Columbia Museum and Archives has hired a third-party investigator and brought in a diversity-inclusion consultant after a prominent Indigenous staff member resigned, citing racism and a toxic workplace. Lucy Bell, who is Haida and was head of the First Nations Department and Repatriation Program, stepped down in July. In a farewell speech to her colleagues that month, she called for a zero-tolerance policy for racism at the Victoria-based museum, and called out staff and executives, citing examples of racist behaviour she has received and witnessed.
Board chair Dan Muzyka, who watched a livestream of Ms. Bell’s speech from his home, says he was disappointed and saddened by what she said and that it was the first he had heard of the allegations. He says he mobilized the board immediately. The speech was on a Friday; plans were in the works by Monday.
DEBATE OVER DEFUNDING THE POLICE: Alberta’s Justice Minister is warning the mayors of Edmonton and Calgary not to cut law-enforcement budgets, suggesting provincial funding could be in jeopardy if they pursue such a strategy. Kaycee Madu, who became Canada’s first Black justice minister last month, acknowledged there are legitimate complaints about police violence, racism and oversight. But he said those problems cannot be fixed by bending to calls to cut police funding.
Edmonton recently reduced a planned increase to its police budget by $11-million, diverting that money to areas such as crime prevention and housing that could reduce demand on the police department. In Calgary, city council held hearings on systemic racism over the summer and on Thursday heard from the city’s police chief, who agreed that some of the police budget should be reallocated to agencies that would be more appropriate to deal with issues such as mental health or addictions that are often at the root of emergency calls.
MEDICARE RULING: A B.C. Supreme Court judge has upheld key provisions in the province’s public-medicare system, dismissing a constitutional challenge that critics feared would have opened the door to a two-tiered health care system by allowing access to treatment based on ability to pay instead of medical need. In an 880-page judgment released Thursday, Justice John Steeves wrote that the provisions of B.C.'s Medicare Protection Act being challenged do not violate the Charter rights of patients who want to pay for private care when waiting times in the public system are too long.
MISSING WOMAN’S REMAINS FOUND: RCMP say the remains of a woman reported missing two months ago have been found in southern Manitoba. The remains of 36-year-old Tamara (Norman) Benoit were found in the Rural Municipality of Portage la Prairie on Sept. 3. Mounties say her death is being investigated as a homicide.
SPECIAL-NEEDS STUDENTS: Shantel Sherwood said she found out the night before in-person classes started this past week that her son, who has severe autism, would receive an educational assistant for part of the day. The sensory room at his school, which is set up with comforting items, has been closed because of COVID-19 restrictions. “Sidelining special-needs students is what the government and boards have been doing forever, but COVID-19 is just making the gaps even more apparent,” she said.
Families in Alberta and across the country have been forced to make decisions about their children’s education and whether to send them to school at all, in some cases with incomplete information about what the year will look like. Once they decide, they can be locked in for months or longer before they will be able to switch, for example, from in-person learning to online classes.
PRIZE-WINNING WORK: Dr. Brian Kwon’s work on spinal-cord injuries has just earned him a $1-million award from the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation, a non-profit organization that supports people with such injuries. The orthopedic spine surgeon at Vancouver General Hospital is the only Canadian among the three recipients named on Thursday as the first winners of the foundation’s new Visionary Prize.
MANITOBA’S FIRST SCHOOL-RELATED COVID-19 CASE: A student in Manitoba has tested positive for COVID-19 for the first time since schools reopened, but other students and staff do not have to self-isolate, the province’s Chief Public Health Officer said Thursday. The unidentified Grade 7 student at Churchill High School in Winnipeg had been tested for COVID-19 before the first day of school Tuesday, even though they had no symptoms, Roussin said. When the student’s test result came back positive early Tuesday afternoon, the student left school, Roussin added. The school is being cleaned but classes continue as the student wore a mask while in school and maintained physical distancing the entire time. Other students are being told to self-monitor for symptoms but are not required to self-isolate.
HAPPY NEWS FOR THE J-POD ORCAS: An endangered female orca that once carried her lifeless calf for more than two weeks has recently become a mother again. Two years ago, Tahlequah, also known as J35, captured the world’s attention: the then-20-year-old marine mammal nudged her dead newborn around the Pacific Ocean for 17 days, marking the longest display of mourning yet documented among southern resident killer whales. But the once-grieving orca was spotted swimming alongside a very small new calf on Saturday, says the U.S.-based groups Pacific Whale Watch Association and the Center for Whale Research, which described the newborn as “healthy and precocious.”
Andrew Coyne on the medicare ruling: “Litigating the matter, indeed, suggests a conflict between the rights of the individual and the interests of the majority that is more apparent than real. User fees and private insurance may not be the answer to wait times, but it is not impossible that the system could be reformed in such a way as to make more efficient use of resources, without harm to the principle of universal public funding.”
Adrienne Tanner on a tent city: “The federal government is utterly failing when it comes to support for Vancouver’s most vulnerable people, who let’s face it, are far less likely to vote. That sounds like a crass political calculation and I’d like to think it’s not true. But it’s hard to interpret Ottawa’s unwillingness to budge any other way.”
Gary Mason on the possibility of a B.C. election this fall: “I think the greater worry is that calling an election in a province that is on the precipice of another explosion of the virus that could have profound repercussions for not only the general health of the population but the economy as well.”
The Globe and Mail’s Editorial Board on why we shouldn’t let the pandemic derail our future transit plans: “Some jurisdictions are thinking ahead. British Columbia this month announced the builders of Vancouver’s Broadway Subway. The $1.7-billion project is to open in 2025, as previously planned. In Ontario, the provincial government passed legislation in July that will see residential density built up around new stations, including the Ontario Line subway. But in Alberta, the provincial government is dallying on long-promised funding for the $4.9-billion Green Line LRT in Calgary, which had been approved in June.”
Mark Tyndall on fixing Canada’s overdose crisis: “Our approach to drug use and addiction is completely backward. We continue to prioritize abstinence-based programming and leave the most vulnerable people to figure it out for themselves. We champion something called “recovery,” and make it sound attainable to anyone who has the fortitude and support to overcome their addiction – but tell that to the friends and families of the 16,000 Canadians who have died of drug poisoning in the past five years.”