Mandatory vaccinations in Alberta no more under new UCP proposed legislation

Alberta’s Health Minister introduced a new bill Monday repealing controversial emergency health powers previously introduced by the United Conservative Party.

Bill 66 would repeal sections of the controversial Bill 10 that allowed cabinet to make changes without the approval of the legislature while also removing legislation to make vaccines mandatory.

Bill 10 was passed last year in April in 48 hours as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It allowed cabinet members to make legislative changes without the legislature’s approval.

Many people held concerns of government overreach emerged after the bill was passed. The government initially defended the bill as it would ensure ministers could keep public services operating in emergency situations.

According to Health Minister Tyler Shandro, the proposed amendments to the Public Health Act are a result of direct feedback heard from Albertans and recommendations from a government committee that reviewed the act to find ways to modernize it.

“We’ve taken recommendations to heart,” he said.

The expanded authorities in Bill 10 were never used by the province, Shadro said. He added that the legislature adapted to overcome the challenges COVID-19 brought and that MLAs were still able to meet virtually to ensure public services were never interrupted.

The bill goes beyond addressing public concerns around Bill 10 by including chronic disease and preventable injuries in the Public Health Act, which currently only contains communicable diseases.

If passed, chronic diseases and preventable injuries will be monitored and a coordinated approach to chronic disease will be drafted to help lower health-care costs.

Shandro said the bill protects the rights of individuals while maintaining measures to adequately respond to public health emergencies. This includes removing “unnecessary powers” to order immunization.

“Checks and balances play an important role in the balancing of protection health with individual rights,” Shandro said.

If passed, the bill would require the province to respond to emerging public health threats with progressive measures that escalate only as needed.

Additionally, the bill would require government to outline how personal health information is collected or disclosed.

“Albertans told us that these are excessive authorities that infringe on their civil liberties.”

Provisions about employee absence would be updated if the bill passes to reflect the possibility of working remotely.

Shandro said much of the new additions to the act are being made after lessons learned with COVID-19 pandemic. These include how people are identified as close contacts, recognizing the possibility of remote work to contain infections of viruses or diseases, and information to collect during inspections.

The pandemic marked the first time Alberta declared a state of public health emergency.

David Shepherd, NDP critic for health, said the changes proposed in Bill 66 is “bad political theatre.”

“This bill is not about promoting public health. It’s mostly about cleaning up political messes for Jason Kenney and the UCP,” Shepherd said. “It reverses their Bill 10 power-grab, which prompted a lawsuit and a party rebellion last year, and it removes several other government powers that have been in the Public Health Act for years and never used.”