Politics

Danielle Smith, Liberals trade shots over transgender policies during her trip to Ottawa

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith faced an icy reception in Ottawa Monday as a Liberal cabinet minister from her province called her proposed transgender policies "reckless" and "irresponsible" and left the door open to a court challenge.

Alberta premier says she wants 'guidelines' for transitioning kids; Liberal minister calls them 'harmful'

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith addresses a news conference in Ottawa
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith addresses a news conference in Ottawa on Monday. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith faced an icy reception in Ottawa Monday as a Liberal cabinet minister from her province called her proposed transgender policies "reckless" and "irresponsible" and left the door open to a court challenge.

Speaking to reporters shortly before Smith opened her province's new office in Ottawa, Employment Minister Randy Boissonnault said he's prepared to fight what he called "the most draconian and harmful policies for young people in the country."

Referring to proposed policies that would demand that some Alberta trans kids get parental consent to use their preferred names and pronouns in school, Boissonnault said Smith is intent on "forcing kids out of the closet before many of them are ready."

The timing of someone's coming out "doesn't belong to a teacher or a school, and it definitely does not belong to a premier," the Edmonton MP said.

Boissonnault accused Smith of putting at risk the lives of trans kids whose parents don't accept their gender identity.

"Why is the premier doing this? Why is she targeting the most vulnerable in our community?" he said.

"This is Ron DeSantis's 'don't say gay bill' in Florida coming up north," he added, referring to the former candidate for the Republican presidential nomination and his state government's highly controversial gender and sexuality policy.

WATCH | Alberta's move on gender-affirming care is 'American-style' politics, Boissonnault says 

Alberta's move on gender-affirming care is ‘American-style' politics, Boissonnault says

3 months ago
Duration 1:07
Alberta Liberal MP Randy Boissonnault spoke out against Alberta's new policy on gender-affirming care and called out Conservatives for not talking about the issue, saying 'silence is complicity.'

Boissonnault said the Liberal government doesn't want to turn to the courts to fight the new policies — it wants to help inspire a public uprising against the policies before they're enacted.

But Boissonnault said the federal government will "look at every single option" to stop Smith's programme.

Smith later defended her policies when speaking with reporters, saying she doesn't want children to make life-altering decisions they may come to regret.

She said it's prudent to introduce "guidelines" that will dictate when a child can start using puberty blockers and hormone therapies.

She said there needs to be a more "rigorous process" before trans kids start their transition journey.

WATCH | Premier Smith defends proposed new gender policies during Ottawa visit: 

Premier Smith defends proposed new gender policies during Ottawa visit

3 months ago
Duration 2:58
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith, visiting Ottawa to open a new provincial office, says her planned policy changes on gender identity are part of 'a debate that we have to have.'

Puberty blockers are hormone-suppressing agents that pause the progression of puberty for as long as people are on them. They are sometimes prescribed for younger children after consulting with a doctor.

They may sometimes be combined with hormone therapies, some of which could have long-term, irreversible effects.

Smith is also pitching a moratorium on so-called "top" and "bottom" surgery for children, a practice that's very rare in Canada because it goes against the World Professional Association of Transgender Health (WPATH)'s standards of care.

Smith said her government has been approached by some trans people who have "very serious reservations" about the kind of care and counselling they received in Alberta before their transition.

The premier said she recently spoke to one trans woman who told Smith she had "shame and regret" about pursuing bottom surgery at the age of 19.

"The child needs to be mature enough to understand the consequences of the decisions they're making," Smith said, citing the risk of infertility for some trans people.

"We just need to take a considered approach on this to make sure young people are being fully informed, not being rushed."

In a later interview with CBC News Network's Power & Politics, Smith said Alberta is following the lead of other jurisdictions that have curbed access to transgender care for kids.

She pointed to the U.K., where the National Health Service recently closed its only gender identity clinic after an independent study found the services offered at Tavistock were "not safe or viable as a long-term option for the care of young people with gender-related distress."

But Smith doesn't have all doctors on her side.

Dr. Sam Wong, the head of the pediatrics section of the Alberta Medical Association, said he's angered by the province's proposed policies.

"There's a degree of sadness. And it's disheartening. I'm angry. That was my initial impression of the video when I was watching it," he said.

"Transgender patients who are youth and adolescents have suffered enough mental health issues as it is without being picked on by the government and being denied treatment."

Wong said the province is taking away parents' right to pursue medical options for a child with gender dysphoria.

As for Boissonnault's suggestion that Ottawa could intervene legally to try and stop her policies, Smith called the threat "premature" and said the new policies won't be introduced until September.

Boissionnault also called out Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre and his caucus over their silence on the issue.

The Conservative leader's office told CBC News last week that Poilievre has "no comment" on Smith's proposed policies.

The Globe and Mail has reported that Conservative MPs have been told not to speak about the issue publicly.

"Pierre Poilievre's entire caucus, including all the Alberta Conservative MPs, have been muzzled — they've been instructed to be silent on this, just as they're silent on the CPP," Boissionnault said, referring to Smith's campaign to pull the province out of the Canada Pension Plan.

WATCH | Poilievre goes after Trudeau after being asked about gender issues: 

Poilievre goes after Trudeau after being asked about gender issues

3 months ago
Duration 1:07
Conservative Party Leader Pierre Poilievre says the prime minister should 'stop distracting and dividing Canadians, let parents raise their kids and provinces run their schools and hospitals.'

Asked about his tight-lipped approach to the issue at a Monday morning press conference on crime, Poilievre said Liberals and the media are "spreading disinformation to distract" from the government's perceived failures on housing.

He wasn't clear about what sort of "disinformation" is being disseminated about him and his MPs.

"Justin Trudeau does not want to defend his appalling record of sending two million people to food banks so he's spreading disinformation on this subject, with help from the media," Poilievre said.

"It's time for Justin Trudeau to stop distracting and dividing Canadians. Let parents raise kids and provinces run schools and hospitals. That's my commonsense approach."

New Alberta 'embassy' in Ottawa

Smith is in Ottawa to open a designated provincial office to act as a provincial "embassy" of sorts in the nation's capital.

She said that with so many federal public servants being bilingual Quebecers, the province needs to have its own voice in Ottawa.

Under Smith's leadership, the province has had a contentious relationship with the federal government.

She's been particularly outspoken about the government's clean energy regulations, which demand that the electricity grid be net-zero by 2030.

Smith has said the plan is unworkable for a province like hers that relies on fossil fuels to keep the lights on.

She's said solar panels and windmills are less useful than natural gas when the temperatures dip well below zero, as they did recently. She's also called the regulations an act of unconstitutional overreach by the federal government.

Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault has defended the plan as a way to green the grid and make Canada a leader in climate action.

Smith said Guilbeault is hard to deal with.

"I'd like to see a change in the environment minister so we can try to reset our relationship. There is one extraordinarily ideological member of that cabinet who seems to be running the show. I don't know why the prime minister hasn't reined him in," Smith said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Paul Tasker

Senior reporter

J.P. Tasker is a journalist in CBC's parliamentary bureau who reports for digital, radio and television. He is also a regular panellist on CBC News Network's Power & Politics. He covers the Conservative Party, Canada-U.S. relations, Crown-Indigenous affairs, climate change, health policy and the Senate. You can send story ideas and tips to J.P. at john.tasker@cbc.ca.

With a file from the Canadian Press

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