Calgary advocacy group Families For Choice (FFC) sent questions to United Conservative Party (UCP) leadership candidates to gain perspective from each on issues important to its members — only two responded to the request.
FFC was started in the fall of 2021 by five Calgary-based moms concerned with the "prospect of unprecedented COVID-19 vaccine mandates for children." The group's aim was to stand united against the mandates, fight for individual choice, and oppose decisions that lead to the exclusion of children.
The group grew quickly, reaching approximately 20,000 subscribers across Canada by the new year, according to its website.
Although the Alberta government dropped all COVID-19 restrictions for children in February, the group said it remains "strongly opposed to all vaccine and mask mandates for children" and will continue to "advocate for the mental, emotional and physical health of children post-pandemic" and fight against any future restrictions placed on children.
On July 7, FFC sent each UCP leadership candidate five questions and gave a deadline of July 22 for responses to be submitted. Of the seven candidates, only two — Danielle Smith and Todd Loewen — responded with their answers.
When asked how candidates personally advocated "for the health and well-being of children during the pandemic, Smith said she was "very outspoken about the damage of lock downs" while hosting a talk show on the radio and in podcasts with the Western Standard.
"I directly supported the work of advocacy groups including Families for Choice because it was clear restrictions on children were doing more harm than good."
Smith pointed to Dr. Ari Joffe, a pediatric critical care specialist at the Stollery Children's Hospital in Edmonton, as her early source of information during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"He warned we would have 10 times the number of years of life lost due to broader health and mortality impacts, family breakdown and poverty, as a result of shutting down society for prolonged periods of time.
Loewen said he believed he was a "consistent, passionate, and principled voice for children during the pandemic" and his opposition to the premier's "excessive powers" lead to his expulsion from caucus.
"In statements in the legislature, media, and privately in caucus, I expressed my concerns about the secondary harms of lock downs, mandates, and school closures," said Loewen.
He said he met with several children and parents affected by the public health restrictions as he continued to speak out against them.
Next, candidates were asked what their response was to the "massive increase in non-COVID-19 related mortality among the youth" during the pandemic.
Smith said she was heartbroken and concerned with what she called "a generational mental health crisis" looming.
"Young people were lost to preventable tragedies such as addiction, drug overdose, suicide, and undiagnosed and untreated illness," said Smith, adding she believes the stats show the "government's approach to managing the pandemic didn't work."
"Our young people have suffered inexcusable harm and trauma," she said, assuring it would be something she would address immediately if she is Alberta's next premier.
Loewen said he shared his concerns publicly about the study that showed a rise in excess mortality and asked the health minister about the troubling trend in question period.
"I am deeply alarmed at this information, but equally disappointed by the indifference and lack of intellectual curiosity shown by the bureaucracy and media," said Loewen.
"We deserve answers and I am committed to tracking them down in my role as an MLA."
The third question asked how each would "prioritize the health and well-being of Alberta Children."
Smith said she understands "mental health is the number one concern for parents," as well as physical health and learning loss and said she would commit to "not closing schools or locking down again."
"I will address the current overwhelm of pediatric mental health services and professionals in our province," said Smith, adding she will also provide each Albertan with a $300 personal health spending account to assist with such things as counselling and other therapies.
She would also direct focused protection to those Albertans considered most vulnerable.
Loewen said he believes a "responsible government" would acknowledge and respect a child's mental and physical health, along with their social, developmental and spiritual well-being.
"As premier, I will commit to this holistic approach to addressing the well-being of Albertan children," said Loewen.
"I will ensure that the tunnel vision of public health bureaucrats during COVID is not allowed to be repeated."
When asked if they will guarantee "no Albertan child will be excluded from fully participating in society or otherwise be discriminated against" based on vaccine status, Smith said she would guarantee "no lock downs, vaccine mandates or passports" under her leadership.
"The freedom, health and well-being of Albertan children are non-negotiable."
Smith said she would amend the Alberta Human Rights Act to prevent future discrimination against medical choices or political beliefs and would stand against any attack from the federal government on charter rights and freedoms.
Loewen said he has already released his plan to end all future use of vaccine passports and all forms of coercive measures, including the elimination of the QR code systems.
"I will amend the Public Health Act to rule out the use of vaccine passports, then amend privacy legislation to prevent compelled disclosure of vaccine status to third parties," said Loewen.
Lastly, candidates were given the opportunity to add anything else they would like FFC members to know.
Smith said she was proud of how FFC members "demonstrated the courage and grit to stand up for children during a difficult and traumatic time" and praised the advocacy group for its efforts in persuading the Alberta government to "let kids be kids."
"Your advocacy has moved mountains for Albertan families, most of whom will never know what you did for them," she said and encouraged people to join the UCP by August 12 to vote for the party's next leader in September.
Loewen said he has met with many educators, parents and childcare workers to hear firsthand how there is "evidence of huge increases in the need for counselling services at school" and how "academic achievement has fallen drastically."
"There absolutely must be an acknowledgement that the actions we took were mistaken, and that children and middle-class families paid the dearest price," he said.
The Western Standard sought comment from FFC and the response it received from UCP leadership candidates but did not hear back in time for publishing.