Alberta's prime minister pushed for the organization to cancel the mandate, drafting an unvaccinated rights bill

Prime Minister Danielle Smith said the Alberta government will work to protect the rights of those who are not vaccinated without a forthcoming law and has pushed for at least one organization to drop its mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy.

"For example, the Arctic Winter Games wants $1.2 million from us to support their efforts and they discriminate against athletes, telling them they should be vaccinated," Smith said at a news conference in Edmonton Monday.

"So we asked them if they would reconsider their vaccination policy based on the new evidence and they did."

The Arctic Winter Games announced on November 18 that it was lifting its mandatory vaccination policy. Games are scheduled to take place in the Wood Buffalo borough from January 29 to February 4, 2023.

Smith also asked one of his ministers to call in the film's production set because he heard they would not hire hairstylists who refused to be vaccinated.

"Those are the things we would do," Smith said. “We just want to remind people that in this province we do not discriminate against people for any reason.

"So I'm quite prepared to make that phone call and have my minister make that phone call if there's another instance."

Smith added that he wants people to tell their MLAs about businesses and employers with vaccine mandates.

Smith's comments came the same day it was revealed he was backing away from one of his key promises -- to amend the Alberta Human Rights Act to prevent employers from refusing to hire Albertans who were not vaccinated against COVID-19.

In a speech to the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce on Oct. 20, Smith said making those changes was one of his priorities for the fall sitting which begins on Tuesday.

But earlier on Monday, Government House Leader Joseph Schow said the bill was off the legislative agenda. He said the government wanted to focus on affordability issues and Alberta sovereign action instead.

When asked about it later, Smith said resolving the issue required a larger legislative review.

"Simply trying to change one part of one course of action is not going to solve the problems we have encountered over the last two and a half years," he said.

"I want to make sure that when we submit our new pandemic planning proposals and new pandemic plans, we address all of the issues that we see in existing legislation."

Informal policy

Lisa Young, professor of political science at the University of Calgary, notes that upholding the rights of unvaccinated Alberta citizens was one of Smith's signature promises during his leadership campaign so his decision not to proceed with the law is noteworthy.

"This is a significant pivot," Young said.

Young fears Smith will pressure companies and organizations behind closed doors to cancel vaccine mandates, instead of passing legislation that can be challenged in court.

He said the Alberta government added new requirements for unwritten funding.

"It's not a policy that can be challenged because it wasn't written," Young said. "So that really brings us to this very problematic place."

The opposition NDP said Smith's admission that he and his ministers were calling businesses and organizations would keep potential investors away.

"Instead of calling out these companies and organizations to intimidate them, we should welcome them to come and do business in Alberta," said Justice critic Irfan Sabir.

Smith made his remarks at the press conference affirming his government's commitment to tie AISH and other social benefits to changes in the cost of living.

AISH recipients will get a six percent increase to their payments starting December 22. The government is committed to increasing allowances to match future inflation.

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