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Danielle Smith Appoints a Champion for the Unvaccinated

Quietly ensconced as parliamentary secretary, she is MLA Tracy Allard of Hawaii holiday notoriety.

Charles Rusnell 18 Dec

Charles Rusnell is an independent investigative reporter based in Edmonton.

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith last week quietly appointed a parliamentary secretary to protect the civil liberties of Albertans, specifically those who choose not to get vaccinated.

Smith appointed Grande Prairie United Conservative Party MLA Tracy Allard as parliamentary secretary for civil liberties on Tuesday. 

There was no public notification of the created new job, a non-cabinet post reporting to the justice minister. Smith appointed a new cabinet in October after she won the UCP leadership and ascended to the premier’s office.

A senior government source told The Tyee Smith appointed Allard to the position because some in the fractious UCP caucus were unhappy that the government had shelved legislation to formally amend the Alberta Human Rights Act. The amendment was designed to prevent employers from refusing to employ Albertans who aren't vaccinated against COVID-19.

In an interview with the Western Standard Monday, Smith confirmed she appointed Allard in an attempt to ensure the unvaccinated were not discriminated against by employers. She said most employers are not discriminating based on a person's "medical choice.

"There are some isolated cases where that is occurring and I have just put in place a new civil liberties parliamentary secretary, Tracy Allard, so that she can be investigating those and letting me know if there are any problems," she said.

But Smith acknowledged Allard will have no legal authority to force employers to drop vaccine mandates for their staff.

"Hopefully, we will be able to continue using persuasion so that we don't end up with any discrimination for any reason in Alberta," Smith said. "I think people are being quite responsible. I am getting the sense that people really do want to move on and move forward from what we have been through over the last two and a half years. And I'm hoping that that continues."

Upholding the rights of the unvaccinated was a main plank in Smith’s leadership race platform and backing away from the legislation was seen as a major pivot for the new premier.

University of Calgary political scientist Lisa Young said the appointment of Allard shows the UCP is still very much a divided party, which Smith is “desperately trying to hold together.

“I think the bulk of the party doesn't want her to fulfil her promise about protecting the unvaccinated and want her to stop talking about it,” Young said.

“But there is still a group in caucus who want to hold her to this promise and see this as important. And she is trying to accommodate them by making this appointment.”

Young said Allard’s appointment probably wasn’t publicized because it was meant to appease party insiders and Allard was specifically chosen for the role to send a message.

“Allard has been quite outspoken on COVID and vaccination mandates,” she said. “So I think it's not a coincidence at all. I think she was selected to send a particular signal.”

The government backed away from amending the human rights legislation in late November and Smith, at that time, said they would find other ways to address any form of what she called discrimination against the unvaccinated. 

In November, Smith told reporters she wanted the public to tell their MLAs if an employer is refusing to hire anyone who is not vaccinated. She said she asked one of her ministers to call a film production company that had refused to hire hair stylists who were not vaccinated. 

The premier also said the government told the organizers of the Arctic Winter Games they would not get $1.2 million in government funding if they maintained a vaccine mandate. The organizers revoked the mandate. 

The premier’s press secretary did not address specific questions from The Tyee on Saturday but instead provided a transcript of Smith’s comments from a call-in radio show earlier in the day. 

Smith, during the show, did not directly comment on why Allard was appointed in secret and whether her main role was to advocate for the unvaccinated. Instead, she said many concerns about property and civil rights had been raised during the recently completed fall sitting of the legislature. 

Smith referenced freedom of speech on university campuses, the rights of firearms owners, and concerns from members of the alternative media that the federal government may attempt to interfere with their “ability to freely put messages out there.

“So there is a whole range of things that came up in this fall session and it seemed to me having a parliamentary secretary focused on property and civil rights would allow for [Allard] to give us some advice on how we might be able to address these in legislation,” Smith said.

“And as we go forward, if there are bills that we’re passing, just having somebody with the lens of saying, ‘Is this making sure that we're protecting all of the rights that are protected in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms,’ I think that that is going to be important.”

Allard was the target of public outrage in December 2020 after CBC revealed she and her family had taken a holiday in Hawaii despite both federal and provincial governments directing against non-essential travel during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Former premier Jason Kenney initially downplayed the incident but Allard later resigned as municipal affairs minister as did Kenney’s chief of staff Jamie Huckabay, who had travelled to England, following a barrage of negative publicity. 

Kenney also demoted five other MLAs — Jeremy Nixon, Jason Stephan, Tanya Fir, Tany Yao and Pat Rehn — who travelled internationally over the holidays. 

Allard could not be reached. The opposition NDP declined to comment.

Young noted the timing of appointing Allard as a parliamentary secretary two weeks before Christmas might fuel further criticism of the decision. Given Allard’s “main claim to fame in Alberta politics up to this point has been a Christmas trip to Hawaii,” she said, the move “was maybe inviting some mockery of the party and the appointment.”  [Tyee]

Read more: Politics

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