Edmonton

Alberta premier shelves unvaccinated rights bill, pushes organizations to drop mandates

Premier Danielle Smith says the Alberta government has prompted at least one organization to drop its mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy.

'I'm quite prepared to make those phone calls,' Smith says

Premier Danielle Smith has backed away from one of her key promises — to amend the Alberta Human Rights Act to prevent employers from refusing to employ Albertans who aren't vaccinated against COVID-19.  (Dave Bajer/CBC )

Premier Danielle Smith says the Alberta government will work to protect the rights of the unvaccinated without forthcoming legislation and has already prompted at least one organization to drop its mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy.

"For instance, the Arctic Winter Games wanted $1.2 million from us to support their effort and they were discriminating against the athletes, telling them they had to be vaccinated," Smith said at a news conference in Edmonton on Monday. 

"So we asked them if they would reconsider their vaccination policy in the light of new evidence and they did."

The Arctic Winter Games announced on Nov. 18 that it was revoking its mandatory vaccination policy. The games are scheduled to take place in the Wood Buffalo region from Jan. 29 to Feb. 4.

Smith has also asked one of her ministers to call a film production set because she heard they wouldn't employ hairstylists who refused to get vaccinated. 

"Those are the kind of things that we'll do," Smith said. "We just want to remind people that in this province we do not discriminate against people for any reason.

"So I'm quite prepared to make those phone calls and have my ministers make those phone calls if there are other examples."

Smith added that she wants people to tell their MLAs about businesses and employers with vaccine mandates. 

Smith's comments came on the same day it was revealed she was backing away from one of her key promises — to amend the Alberta Human Rights Act to prevent employers from refusing to employ Albertans who aren't vaccinated against COVID-19.

In a speech to the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce on Oct. 20, Smith said making that change was one of her priorities for the fall sitting which starts on Tuesday. 

But earlier on Monday, government House leader Joseph Schow said the bill wasn't on the legislative agenda. He said the government wanted to focus on affordability issues and the Alberta sovereignty act instead. 

When asked about it later, Smith said solving the issue requires a larger legislative review. 

"Just trying to change one piece of one act was not going to solve the problem that we encountered over this past two and a half years," she said. 

"I want to make sure that when we come through with a new pandemic planning proposal and a new pandemic plan that we're addressing all of the the problems that we saw in existing legislation."

Informal policy

Lisa Young, a political science professor at the University of Calgary, noted that upholding the rights of unvaccinated Albertans was one of Smith's signature promises during the leadership campaign so her decision not to move ahead with legislation is notable.

"This is a significant pivot," Young said. 

Young is troubled that Smith will pressure companies and organizations behind closed doors to drop vaccine mandates, instead of passing legislation that can be challenged in court. 

She said the Alberta government is adding new conditions to funding that aren't in writing. 

"It isn't policy that can be challenged because it's not written down," Young said. "So it really takes us into this very problematic place."

The Opposition NDP said Smith's admission she and her ministers are making calls to businesses and organizations will push away potential investors. 

"Instead of calling these companies and organizations to intimidate them, we should be welcoming them to come and do business in Alberta," Justice critic Irfan Sabir said. 

Smith made her remarks at a news conference confirming her government's commitment to tie AISH and other social benefits to changes in the cost of living. 

AISH recipients will get a six per cent bump to their payments starting Dec. 22. The government is committing to increase benefits to match inflation going forward. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michelle Bellefontaine

Provincial affairs reporter

Michelle Bellefontaine covers the Alberta legislature for CBC News in Edmonton. She has also worked as a reporter in the Maritimes and in northern Canada.

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