Advocate for Persons with Disabilities should be a higher priority for government

Alberta Liberals say the government needs to make the creation of an office of the Advocate for Persons with Disabilities a higher priority.

“Ensuring a better quality of life for Albertans living with disabilities should be a far higher priority for this government,” says Alberta Liberal MLA David Swann. “The rush to create a new elections watchdog proves the NDP can push an issue when it wants to, or when it is politically expedient to do so.”

Yesterday, a committee approved a budget of $1.3 million for the office of an election commissioner, which was made possible by Bill 32 – an act that was introduced in the legislature during the final weeks of the Fall Sitting. Meanwhile, a bill to create an Advocate for Persons with Disabilities, which was passed in June, still has yet to be proclaimed.

The need for an Advocate for Persons with Disabilities was obvious following a scathing 2016 report by the Auditor General, in which he criticized the government’s management and delivery of the AISH program.

“There is a clear need for an advocate to help Albertans with disabilities navigate the system,” says Swann. “I am disappointed there hasn’t been more done to help some of the most vulnerable get the government services they deserve.”


Urgent action needed to stop suicide epidemic in Maskwacis

Alberta Liberal MLA David Swann says urgent action from all levels of government is urgently needed to stop the suicide epidemic in Maskwacis.

“I am deeply saddened by this tragic loss of life,” says Swann. “My heart goes out to this community, which has endured immense suffering and witnessed so many preventable and senseless deaths.”

A recent CBC News report said the community has experienced 14 suicide deaths in less than 2 months. This echoes a previous story from May, 2015 that warned about a dramatic rise in Maskwacis suicide rate, which had reached one or two every week.

A local health worker and community members alike are asking for the area’s leadership to declare a state of emergency, a measure Swann believes may be needed to raise awareness and mobilize additional resources.

“This is clearly an ongoing crisis that hasn’t garnered the attention and action it deserves, especially given the scale of death occurring in this particular community,” said Swann. “All levels of government, must use whatever means at their disposal and work with the community and the affected families to put an immediate stop to this.

“We need the provincial and federal governments to provide increased access to affordable housing, education, health and child care, mental health and addictions services, as well as increased professional development and business opportunities.”

Yesterday, the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate also released a five year summary showing that, of the number of suicide deaths during involvement with child intervention services, Indigenous young people accounted for 71.4% of deaths and 37.5% of serious injuries from suicide attempts. Among the suicide risk factors it identified were depression and exposure to suicide within their families and communities, as well as the impacts of intergenerational trauma and colonization.

“Maskwacis is particularly vulnerable given the particularly high presence of all of the risk factors associated with suicide,” says Swann. “The Advocate’s report should be a clarion call to invest in culturally appropriate care and activities to strengthen individual identity and connection to the community.”


NDP breaks the bank for Christmas spending spree

Alberta Liberals are raising concerns about the NDP borrowing billions just before the holiday break.

In an Order in Council late yesterday afternoon, Cabinet removed the restriction on the use of foreign currency and authorized the Minister of Finance to borrow money up to $37 billion. The move comes just hours before the civil service goes on an extended holiday period.

“Did the NDP really think no one would notice the piggy bank was broken into and $37 billion was missing?” asks Alberta Liberal Leader David Khan, who says the decision puts the government’s cynicism on full display.

“This is extremely disrespectful to taxpayers,” says Khan. “I expect the government to tell us why billions of dollars in new debt is needed now, what it will be used for, and, most importantly, how it plans to pay it back so that Albertans aren’t saddled with this debt for Christmases to come.”

Alberta Liberal MLA David Swann agrees.

“I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that this information was released without any fanfare whatsoever just before the ultimate holiday long weekend,” says Swann. “Albertans should be concerned about how, and how much, the NDP is borrowing for a Christmas spending spree.

“There is certainly going to be some sticker shock when the bill comes due in the New Year.”


David Swann statement on International Day of Persons with Disabilities

Alberta Liberal MLA David Swann released the following statement on International Day of Persons with Disabilities:

“On this International Day of Persons with Disabilities we take the time to appreciate the unique struggles faced by those with disabilities, who are all too easily forgotten. One in six Albertans live with a disability, and need support to overcome the various barriers that face them. Sadly, that support is all too often lacking.

“Here in Alberta, changes need to be made to the Persons with Developmental Disabilities (PDD) program; as well, a Disability Advocate remains to be appointed. The government needs to move now to make people with disabilities a higher priority, and offer them the support they need.

“Albertans with disabilities deserve the same happiness and prosperity afforded any other Albertan. As we celebrate this International Day of Persons with Disabilities, we must pledge to do more so disabled Albertans have access to the same opportunities as everyone else.”


Liberal bill will shine a light on dark money influencing Alberta’s democracy

Alberta Liberal MLA David Swann has introduced Bill 214, An Act to Regulate Political Action Committees, which clearly defines political action committees (PACs) and regulates them in accordance with the same rules as other political entities.

“I am very proud of the proposals being put forward in Bill 214,” says Swann. “Alberta Liberals are, once again, leading the way on this very important issue by being an impetus for change.”

The bill is the culmination of months of strong advocacy by Alberta Liberal Leader David Khan, who first raised the issue in June. If passed, Bill 214 would make Alberta a national leader with the most comprehensive law in Canada governing PACs.

“We need to shine a light on the unregulated dark money that is corrupting our democracy,” says Khan. “Albertans deserve to know who has donated and who is donating to PACs, how much they are donating, and where this money is going afterwards. It’s the only way they can be confident that big money is not buying and selling our democracy.”

Swann sought input from the Chief Electoral Officer on some aspects he incorporated into Bill 214, such as: the definition of a PAC, anti-collusion provisions between PACs and the political entities they support, standardizing the election finance and disclosure rules to include PACs, and banning corporation, union, and out-of-province donations.

He also consulted with the government on the matter by sharing the intent of his bill and discussing various approaches to resolving the issue of dark money in Alberta politics.

“Now is the time for us to get serious about protecting the integrity of our democracy by closing legislative loopholes,” says Swann. “No matter the fate of Bill 214, I expect swift and meaningful action from the government and all Members of the Assembly to protect our democracy from those who are more concerned with winning than ensuring the voice of the people is heard and the public interest is served.”

Please click here for more detailed information on Bill 214.


David Swann statement on the approval of clearcutting in Kananaskis Country & Highwood Pass

Alberta Liberal MLA David Swann released the following statement in reaction to the government’s decision to allow clearcutting in the Kananaskis Country and Highwood Pass:

“I’m deeply disappointed by the NDP’s decision to allow clearcutting of vast swaths of trees in the Kananaskis Country and the iconic Highwood Pass.

“Rather than show the kind of environmental leadership Albertans expect from an NDP government, they have proven to be no better than the Conservatives before them by bulldozing over the valid concerns from the municipalities and residents who are directly affected.

“Clearcutting in these areas poses an enormous threat to endangered local wildlife and the watersheds that are the lifeblood of southern Alberta. The potential negative impact on recreation and tourism in the region, highlighted by the municipal councils of Okotoks, Turner Valley and Black Diamond, cannot be overstated.

“During Question Period, and in letters to the Minister’s office, I repeatedly called on the government to put a stop to this plan, review the contracts, and examine other sites, but it refused to listen.

“Now, thousands of trees will be clear-cut in one of Alberta’s true natural jewels, leaving the landscape scarred for generations to come.

“This is a bad decision and must be reversed. Stop the clearcutting of Kananaskis!”


David Swann response to the Q3 Opioid Report

Alberta Liberal MLA David Swann released the following statement in response to the Q3 Opioid and Substances of Misuse Report:

“With each passing quarterly report, it becomes painfully obvious that the NDP government does not have a handle on the opioid crisis. A nine per cent increase in fentanyl overdose deaths from last quarter is unacceptable, and a forty per cent yearly increase is nothing short of a disaster.

“Despite these troubling facts, the NDP fails to treat this with the urgency and importance it deserves, choosing, instead, to rely on a piecemeal, reactive response to this crisis.

“It has rejected my call for the reinstatement of a Chief Addictions and Mental Health Officer to manage this crisis and guide actions on the frontlines in favour of an advisory commission.

“It refuses to declare a state of emergency, which may not give any additional legal powers, but would be of immense symbolic value. Affected families and organizations – as well as all opposition caucuses – have advocated for this declaration, but their pleas have fallen on deaf ears.

“As Alberta approaches two overdose deaths per day, every report, and awareness event organized by groups such as Moms Stop the Harm and Changing the Face of Addiction remind us of the tragic impact of these preventable deaths and the trail of sorrow that follows in their wake.

“People are dying. I cannot emphasize enough that the decisions government makes are literally a matter of life and death. We need better leadership, more coordinated and comprehensive action, and we need it now!”


More action needed to drive down Alberta’s high-cost dental care

Alberta Liberal MLA David Swann says more action is needed to drive down unacceptably high-cost dental care.

“We need a strong mandate for change in order to drive down unacceptably high-cost dental care in Alberta,” says Swann. “Instead, the NDP seems content just to tweak the status quo.

“They made an easy decision, rather than showing the real leadership Albertans need from their government today.”

Swann’s comments come in reaction to a government announcement unveiling revisions to the new fee guide that the Alberta Dental Association and College (ADAC) released to the public without ministerial input in August.

“Having a fee guide that more accurately reflects average prices and client expectations is good, but does little to resolve the problem of high, unregulated dental costs, including outrageous hygienist fees,” says Swann. “It will take a year or more to see if the guide will have any effect. Meanwhile, Albertans will still pay through the nose, since dentists can ultimately charge whatever they want.”

Swann points out there are many obstacles to overcome even with a new fee guide in place.

“Making an informed consumer decision is harder than both the ADAC and the government would have you believe,” says Swann. “Dentists should be required to discuss prices up front and publicly list their standard prices in comparison to the Fee Guide.

“If the government is serious about making dental health care affordable for the majority of Albertans, it needs to apply more pressure to lower costs, encourage open competition and ensure greater accountability for these high fees.”

Swann has been a vocal advocate for reducing dental fees in Alberta. He recently wrote to the Minister of Health to encourage her to take a stronger stand and press the ADAC to liberalize dental advertising rules, as well as consider separating the ADAC into separate entities.

Given the extreme demands on public dental services there is also clearly a need to increase public funding for services to children and low-income Albertans.

Swann’s letter and the Minister’s reply are available for viewing here on the Liberal Opposition website.


David Swann statement on the Standing Committee’s discussion of PACs

Alberta Liberal MLA David Swann released the following statement regarding last night’s meeting of the Standing Committee on Legislative Offices with Chief Electoral Officer Glen Resler:

“I thank the Chief Electoral Officer for sharing his concerns with us regarding third parties and Political Action Committees (PACs) in Alberta.

“I was particularly interested in Mr. Resler’s comments on the exemption of the non-commercial transmission of political views on the Internet in the definition of ‘political advertising.’ In his words: ‘You can have a corporation spending several hundred thousand dollars on a lavish campaign on the Internet and they’d be exempt from reporting.’ Given the increased prominence of the internet in elections today, this is a sizable loophole.

“It is clear that, by failing to address the lack of regulations surrounding PACs in its first attempt at electoral finance reform, the NDP intentionally or unintentionally left the back door wide open for dark money to subvert our democracy. Therefore, it is incumbent on them to help close it as quickly as possible.

“I was also heartened to hear Mr. Resler’s comments echoed those of Alberta Liberals, who have been the strongest – and only – voice warning of the dangers of dark money influencing our elections since our Leader David Khan first raised the issue this past June.

“Building upon the leadership he has shown, I am proud to sponsor Bill 214, which is the first and only attempt in Canada to define what a PAC is, expand election finance restriction beyond advertising, and make them subject to the same rules as everyone else.

“Finally, I share the concerns that some UCP Members raised in the committee about the NDP’s sudden interest in this issue just prior to the by-election in Calgary-Lougheed, but for completely different reasons.

“If it follows the same pattern as the municipal election in Calgary, we may soon witness the massive, devastating impact that wealthy, unaccountable and unregistered PACs such as the Alberta Advantage Fund, Progress Alberta, and Alberta Together, all of which have been allegedly linked to the UCP, NDP, and Alberta Party, can have on a provincial election campaign.

“That is why I am calling on all Members of the Legislative Assembly to take action as soon as possible to limit these effects by unanimously supporting my bill before more damage is done to our democracy.”


Swann to question Chief Electoral Officer on PACs

Alberta Liberal MLA David Swann will attend tonight’s Standing Committee on Legislative Offices to review the 2016-17 Report of the Chief Electoral Officer and ask about Political Action Committees (PACs).

“I share the concerns of the Chief Electoral Officer about the potential for money to be funnelled through PACs to avoid spending limits and create an uneven playing field,” says Swann. “As the officer charged with safeguarding our democracy, Mr. Resler is an invaluable resource in determining how we can limit the ability of these groups to circumvent the rules and manipulate our elections.”

Since Liberal Leader David Khan first raised the issue in June 2017, the Alberta Liberals have been the only voice calling for action on PACs.

“We need to shine a light on the unregulated dark money that is corrupting our democracy,” says Khan. “Albertans deserve to know who has donated and who is donating to PACs, how much they are donating, and where this money is going afterwards. It’s the only way they can be confident that big money is not buying and selling our democracy.”

Swann will also be seeking input from the Chief Electoral Officer on some aspects he plans to incorporate into his Bill 214, such as: defining what a PAC is, expand restrictions on third-party activities beyond the limited category of advertising, and subjecting PACs to the same election finance rules as every other corporation, union, and individual.

The Standing Committee on Legislative Offices will meet from 6:30 to 8:30 PM in the Rocky Mountain Room, 2nd floor of the Edmonton Federal Building.

A backgrounder on Political Action Committees can be found here.