Politics

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney accuses feds of getting in the way of fixing contact tracing app

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is accusing the federal government of preventing tech companies like Google and Apple from working with provinces to improve their contact tracing apps.

Federal health minister says national app will be launching 'very soon'

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says he has raised issue with the feds on a weekly basis. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is accusing the federal government of preventing tech companies like Google and Apple from working with provinces to improve their contact tracing apps.

"Unfortunately the government of Canada has told Google and Apple not to work with the government of Alberta — or other provincial governments — on improving the TraceTogether app," Kenney said during a press conference earlier today.

Alberta's app, called ABTraceTogether, uses Bluetooth technology to identify other nearby smart phones that also have the app installed.

But the province's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said that the app doesn't function on iPhones unless the app is open and the phone is unlocked.

A report released last week by Alberta's privacy commissioner indicated that leaving the app open could be a privacy concern.

Watch: Jason Kenney on the Albert vs. national contract tracing app row:

'They are effectively reducing the functionality of an app which can help us in the midst of a public health crisis.' 0:40

"Running the app on Apple devices requires a device to remain unlocked, which significantly increases risk in case of theft or loss," privacy commissioner Jill Clayton said in a press release.

Kenney said he wants to work with Apple and Google to fix the problem, but Ottawa wants to deal with tech companies itself.

"They [the federal government] want cooperation on a single national platform, but there isn't one," Kenney said.

"They are effectively reducing the functionality of an app which can help us in the midst of a public health crisis."

Apple and Google have said they are restricting use of their technology to one app per country, to avoid creating a patchwork of apps and to promote their use. The two companies are leaving some room for exceptions, however.

Kenney isn't the first premier to accuse Ottawa of interfering with provincial plans for a contact tracing app. New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs said in June that the feds have stifled his province's attempts to implement its own app.

Last month, the federal government announced it would be developing a national contact tracing app to be used across the country.

The project is being spearheaded by the Canadian Digital Service, a federal initiative, and the Ontario Digital Service, with help from volunteers from the tech firm Shopify. It incorporates Bluetooth technology provided by Apple and Google.

The app was supposed to launch in Ontario last week before being launched in other provinces, but the initial Ontario launch was delayed.

Federal Minister of Health Patty Hajdu says a national contact tracing app will launch soon. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

In reaction to Kenney's comments, Health Minister Patty Hajdu said the federal government has been working with Apple and Google and the national app will be launched soon.

"We continue to work with Apple, Google and our partners in jurisdictions across Canada on a voluntary national app that will be ready for download very soon," Hajdu said in an email to CBC.

Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro said the province would support a national app but it still wants to be able to work with the companies to fix Alberta's app.

"If we're going to be asked to help [the federal government] in the development of another app, that's fine. But look, let's allow Google and Apple to work with us to make sure the ABTraceTogether is fully functional," Shandro said.

Kenney said he brought up the issue with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a recent weekly call with the premiers. The Council of the Federation is expected to hold another such call later this week.

Clarifications

  • A previous version of this story did not mention that Apple and Google have restricted the use of their technology to one app per country. The story has been updated to reflect that fact.
    Jul 15, 2020 4:36 PM ET

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

now