OCYA’s report shows change desperately needed in child intervention process

MLA David Swann and Alberta Liberal Leader David Khan are calling the government to act on the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate’s latest report into the tragic deaths of three young children of Indigenous heritage.

David Swann points specifically to the role and support for Delegated First Nations Agencies (DFNAs) as a key part of the issue. “A successful transition of a child from government care back to their families relies on the DFNA,” he says. “However, funding for these agencies is inadequate, particularly for band designates who act as the link between the band and Children’s Services. The lack of support for the DFNAs at both the provincial and federal levels is a recurring and longstanding issue. They simply do not have the resources or time to effectively collaborate with the individuals and organizations involved.”

“Once again this report highlights the serious changes that still need to be made to the child intervention system,” adds Khan, whose legal career specializes in Indigenous Law. “In addition to his recommendations from the three cases he investigated, the Advocate repeated a call from eight months ago to enhance policies and procedures around family unification. We need to start seeing real change in how this system is run.”

“The deaths of Sarah, Anthony, and Mikwan are unspeakably tragic and our thoughts and prayers go out to their families,” Khan concludes. “We can only hope that we can learn from the circumstances surrounding their deaths and improve our systems so it does not happen again.”


Statement on the conclusion of the Spring Sitting of the Legislature

Alberta Liberal Opposition caucus leader David Swann has released the following statement on the conclusion of the Spring Sitting of the Third Session of the 29th Legislature:

“The Spring Sitting saw the government introduce a number of new initiatives as well as amendments to previous legislation. There were a few common-sense administrative changes, some welcome improvements, which I supported, and a couple of politically-motivated pieces that I did not believe were in the best interest of Albertans.

“Budget 2017 did not strike the right balance. While it protected public services, it increased deficit spending to record levels with no clear plan to pay down the debt or save for the future. Overall, it rewarded government allies at the expense of taxpayers and the principles of sound fiscal management.

“There was broad support when the government announced it would eliminate school fees for all students. However, once Bill 1, An Act to Reduce School Fees, was introduced and the details examined, it was clear that the NDP were creating two sets of rules – one for ‘public’ schools, and another for charter and private schools. I challenged them on not being transparent about their plans and not treating all students equally.

“In Bill 2, An Act to Remove Barriers for Survivors of Sexual and Domestic Violence, the government wisely expanded limitation periods for seeking justice in the courts based on sexual misconduct, assault or battery. I introduced an amendment to try to broaden the categories of survivors to include those in positions of trust or authority such as relationships between professors and adult students.

“The NDP introduced an ideologically-driven ban on paid plasma donations in Bill 3, Voluntary Blood Donation Act, which will not ensure a safer or more sustainable supply of plasma. Alberta currently imports 80 per cent of its plasma products from clinics in the United States which pay donors. There is absolutely no way for the government to replace this capacity with volunteer donors. Systems allowing for paid plasma donations have had success in other jurisdictions without any of the adverse effects that the NDP are raising as justification for this bill.

“For many years, Alberta Liberals proposed the creation of a builder licensing system with an online registry. Bill 12, New Home Buyer Amendment Act, made this a reality, but stopped short of including information about warranty claims against a builder and any legal proceedings against a builder for structural defects, defects in materials or labour or any deficiency related to the construction of a new home.

“My Motion 502 was aimed at changing the way the Regulated Rate Option is calculated to the weighted average of the wholesale pool price, which, as significant research has shown, would deliver lower overall prices to consumers and reinforce the competitive market. The NDP chose instead to put a price cap on the rate, which hides the true cost of power, and ultimately has to be paid by the taxpayer.

“Bill 205, Advocate for Persons with Disabilities Act, was a well-intentioned Private Members’ Bill that the government adopted, but it did not go far enough. I proposed the creation of a new officer of the legislature, much like the Child and Youth Advocate, citing concerns over independence from government and having the necessary budget to fulfill its mandate.

“From day one, I advocated for a stronger, more co-ordinated response to the opioid crisis, including declaring a state of emergency, appointing new leadership, better data reporting, and investing more resources into prevention and treatment. I am pleased that the government has finally taken much-needed action, but there is still more to be done. We need to see a comprehensive plan to get ahead of this, one that isn’t based on what is politically palatable, but what is medically necessary.

“The Auditor General released a report on Better Healthcare for Albertans, which gives us some valuable insights into the long-standing flaws of our healthcare system. It clearly highlights a need to better co-ordinate our primary, acute and continuing care systems to ensure improved access to care and communication among care providers, smoother navigation through the system, and better overall health outcomes.

“Twice, I advocated to amend Bill 17, Fair and Family-Friendly Workplace Act, to extend employment standards such as overtime provisions and mandatory rest periods to paid farm and ranch workers. Shockingly, the NDP took the easy way out, fearing a backlash from the agricultural lobby, and failed to protect these workers when it mattered.

“The Ministerial Panel on Child Intervention met numerous times with stakeholders to listen to those affected by their interaction with the child intervention system. Bill 18, Child Protection and Accountability Act, incorporated the first phase of the panel’s recommendations related to reviewing the deaths of children and young people in care.

“Finally, the Session ended with the selection of a new Alberta Liberal Party leader, David Khan, who will have the responsibility of leading the party forward into the next provincial election. In the meantime, I have the honour of continuing to lead all caucus activities in the Assembly.”


Statement on Auditor General’s Better Healthcare for Albertans Report

Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann released the following statement in response to the Auditor General’s report on Better Healthcare for Albertans:

“I applaud the Office of the Auditor General for conducting this insightful and timely analysis of the root causes behind lack of progress towards the effective integration of health care in Alberta. It speaks volumes about the value of a truly independent officer of the Legislative Assembly and its ability to investigate and report directly to Albertans.

“The report clearly highlights a need to better co-ordinate our primary, acute and continuing care systems to ensure improved access to care and communication among care providers, smoother navigation through the system, and better overall health outcomes.

“We need to reduce barriers to care, involve people in their healthcare decisions, and make sure the right level and quality of care is being provided in the right place, by the right health professional at the right time.

“It is clear that much more work still needs to be done promoting wellness, injury and disease prevention, and chronic disease management. Albertans need multidisciplinary teams that are interconnected, patient-focused and follow a single, consistent care plan.

“The report also explicitly states spending more money on healthcare is not the solution. This undoubtedly means that there must be more accountability for the administrative and financial performance of our system, including physician compensation, billing, and ordering of lab and diagnostic tests.

“There is also the opportunity for innovation, better integration of clinical information systems, and use of health data analytics to inform decision-making and ensure we have the best performing public healthcare system possible.

“I share the optimism of this report. Change is not only possible, it is absolutely necessary. It is incumbent on the government of the day to embrace change, commit to honest and transparent reporting of system performance, and depoliticize healthcare funding, infrastructure projects and service delivery.

“Operating in silos has proven to be ineffective. We must work together. Alberta Health, AHS, and the all of the healthcare associations and colleges must seek to improve their communication, co-ordination and co-operation.

“Elected representatives, government officials, healthcare providers, and patients all have an important part to play in ensuring improved access, quality and sustainability of the system and making Better Healthcare for Albertans a reality.”


Advocate for Persons with Disabilities must have independence from government

Alberta Liberal Leader Dr. David Swann seeks to amend Bill 205 to establish the Advocate for Persons with Disabilities as an independent officer of the legislature.

“This bill is well-intentioned, but having an advocate report to the minister reduces the office’s independence and makes its budget subject to ministerial whim,” says Swann. “A truly independent officer will have a budget set by an all-party committee and report directly to the Assembly.”

Bill 205, Advocate for Persons with Disabilities Act, proposes the creation of an advocate’s office similar to the Health, Seniors, and Mental Health Patient Advocates, all of whom report to a minister and whose funding is determined by ministry officials.

In the past, this has led to the advocates being unable to fulfill their mandates due to lack of resources. For example, in the 2014-15 Annual Report, the Alberta Mental Health Advocate explicitly stated, “The past year posed challenges to fulfill our legislative mandate in a timely manner. This was largely due to the loss of a position and the subsequent reassignment of duties, along with the Government of Alberta’s restraint measures. It had a direct impact on the number of Albertans we served and the comprehensiveness of our investigations” (pg. 4).

Instead, Swann envisions the disabilities advocate having an expanded role similar to that of the Child and Youth Advocate. This move has the support of stakeholders such as Inclusion Alberta and Calgary’s Disability Action Hall, both of whom are also proposing the creation of an independent advocate.

Swann gave notice of his intention to amend the bill, and requested he be allowed to proceed first in the debate for procedural reasons. However, the NDP did not consent. Now in order for Swann to amend the bill, the Minister of Community and Social Services must withdraw his own pre-emptive amendment, which was moved prior to Swann’s proposal.

“I certainly hope that Minister Sabir and the NDP government do the right thing and consider establishing the Advocate for Persons with Disabilities as an independent officer of the legislature,” says Swann. “That is what Albertans I’ve talked to want and expect.”


Revenues from cannabis legalization should go to support mental health and addictions programs, drug treatment courts

Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann says revenue from cannabis sales should be used to support mental health and addictions prevention and treatment programs, as well as initiatives such as the drug treatment courts.

Swann welcomes federal legislation on cannabis introduced in the House of Commons today, and calls on the province to ensure the revenue from the sale of cannabis is used appropriately.

“I congratulate the Liberal government on taking this important step to ensure children are protected and profits from the illicit sale of cannabis products are kept out of the pockets of criminals,” says Swann. “Now, it is up to NDP government to ensure these funds go to where they are needed most.”

Swann points out the province’s annual spending on mental health and addictions is well below the national average. He argues dedicating funds from cannabis taxation to prevention and treatment programs is consistent with the NDP’s practice of directing revenues from the carbon levy to reduce carbon pollution and encourage energy efficiency.

“The goal of any cannabis regulation should be to reduce the negative health impacts of drug abuse,” says Swann. “I can think of no better use of these funds than to expand prevention and treatment options.

“Addictions and mental illness often go hand in hand, so it makes sense to have this funding follow suit.”

Swann says the new legislation will also help to alleviate pressure on our overburdened justice system. He notes part of the funding from cannabis sales could go to expanding the drug treatment court system.

“Liberals believe treating drug addiction as a public health issue is far better than dealing with its consequences in the criminal justice system,” says Swann. “That is why we would also like to see an expansion of the drug treatment courts to accompany the new cannabis regulations.”