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On first day in office, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith calls unvaxxed people the ‘most discriminated against group’ she’s ever seen


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On first day in office, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith calls unvaxxed people the ‘most discriminated against group’ she’s ever seen

EDMONTON—In the eyes of Alberta’s newly minted premier, Danielle Smith, unvaccinated people have faced an “extreme level” of inequity that is unparalleled and, she says, she plans to protect them under the province’s Human Rights Act.

“They have been the most discriminated against group that I’ve ever witnessed in my lifetime,” Smith said Tuesday during her first media availability as premier of Alberta.

“I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a situation in my lifetime where a person was fired from their job, or not allowed to watch their kids play hockey, or are not allowed to go visit a loved one in long-term care or hospital, or not allowed to go get on a plane to either go across the country to see family or even travel across the border.”

Her comments came as she took questions from reporters after being sworn in as premier in Edmonton on Tuesday. Smith won the UCP leadership race last week on the sixth ballot, capturing 54 per cent support from the party, and the premier’s office.

One of her core campaign promises was to protect unvaccinated people under the Alberta Human Rights Act. On Tuesday, a reporter asked why Smith thought vaccine choice was on par with issues around race, sexuality or gender identity, and needed to be placed under the protection of the act.

“I don’t take away any of the discrimination that I’ve seen in those other groups that you mentioned,” said Smith.

“But this has been an extraordinary time in the last year in particular and I want people to know that I find that unacceptable, that we are not going to create a segregated society on the basis of a medical choice.”

Smith was a longtime radio show host in Alberta before entering a bid to become UCP leader and she often criticized Jason Kenney’s government for its public health measures. She waded into hot water at times, such as when she once promoted a study that suggested hydroxychloroquine could cure COVID-19 before deleting her social media post about it and apologizing for causing confusion.

Smith said Tuesday that COVID-19 has to now be treated more like influenza and that vaccination should be a choice that people make in conjunction with advice from their doctor. She’s promised that Alberta will never enter a lockdown under her leadership.

Kenney, who officially resigned as premier on Tuesday, was asked by Global News’ Mercedes Stephenson during an interview aired over the weekend if he thought a Smith-led UCP could win in the province’s general election in May.

Kenney responded that “a conservative party focused on the ordinary concerns of regular people” could.

However, “a conservative party or government that is focused on a campaign of recrimination over COVID, politicizing science, entertaining conspiracy theories, campaigning with QAnon, is a party that can’t form government and shouldn’t,” added Kenney.

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On Tuesday, Smith announced that she’d be getting rid of Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, who helped lead the province through the worst months of the pandemic by advising Kenney and his cabinet.

One of Smith’s other campaign promises was to completely reform Alberta Health Services, the main health body in the province, after she said the pandemic revealed its systemic weaknesses. Smith said Tuesday that she could even get rid of health bureaucrats to do this because the restructuring will be sweeping and said that within 90 days she wants to have a new governance structure in place.

Kenney was a fierce critic of Smith’s at times during her campaign — calling her cornerstone Alberta Sovereignty Act a “risky, dangerous, half-baked” idea — and, according to Smith on Tuesday, he’s rebuffed a transition meeting with her, a move that would go against political convention.

Smith proposed the act as a way for the province to simply ignore federal laws it doesn’t like and Kenney blasted it for being, as proposed, unconstitutional.

“The so-called sovereignty act would effectively take us to the brink of separation from the Canadian federation, would shred the rule of law and would do devastating damage to jobs, the economy and the prospect of pipelines,” said Kenney during the UCP leadership campaign.

Since winning the UCP leadership and the premier’s chair, Smith’s rhetoric around the act has seemingly been watered down.

She had previously suggested it could allow Alberta to ignore Supreme Court decisions, but on Tuesday said that the country’s highest court is the arbiter of the law and that the province would, in fact, follow it.

When asked how she felt about Kenney not accepting a meeting request, Smith talked about how hard he’d been working and how she wasn’t his choice candidate in the race. (That would have been Travis Toews, who served as finance minister under Kenney.)

“I think the (former) premier needs a little bit of time and I’m prepared to give him a little bit of time,” said Smith. “It’s a big adjustment.

“I think it’s pretty clear that he had a preferred candidate in this race and it wasn’t me. So, I have asked my cabinet and my caucus to reach out to him; know that I still admire him greatly.”

Smith has announced that she’ll run in a byelection for Brooks—Medicine Hat as she still doesn’t have a seat in the legislature. The writ for that byelection was issued Tuesday.

Alberta’s fall sitting will probably go until later in December, said Smith, as she likely won’t be able to take her seat in the legislature until Nov. 29.

Kieran Leavitt is an Edmonton-based political reporter for the Toronto Star. Follow him on Twitter: @kieranleavitt

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