Jason Kenney rejects the idea that he is responsible for the fight against COVID-19 in Alberta
For weeks, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has been preaching personal responsibility as COVID-19 cases in his province have spiked.
On Tuesday, it was a question of whether he would take responsibility — for Alberta’s pandemic situation — that sparked his ire.
“It sounds a lot more like an NDP speech than a media question,” Kenney said, speaking to Calgary Herald reporter Sammy Hudes. “I reject the whole premise of your question.”
The question of whether Kenney would take ownership of an approach that appears not to have worked from a health perspective, came at the end of the Prime Minister’s announcement of new public health measures in a province that has long resisted. This prompted an irritated-looking Kenney to recount his early calls to close the borders and provide the free masks via fast-food drive-so.
His approach was “balanced,” Kenney said, at a time when “people … are doing road smears about Alberta.”
The moment of fire came from a prime minister in the hot seat. Kenney has repeatedly said lockdowns violate individual rights, but nearly a third of active cases in Canada are now in his hard-hit province; hospitals are running at overcapacity; and the number of people in intensive care has increased by 600% in six weeks.
In a quick reversal of earlier policy, Kenney announced Tuesday that Alberta will face its toughest rules yet, including a province-wide mask mandate for the first time and a ban on all indoor and outdoor gatherings.
Retail businesses and places of worship will remain open, but with more capacity restrictions.
For at least a month, a slew of personal care services will close as restaurants, bars and cafes switch to take-out only.
Even Christmas gatherings aren’t on the table, with new restrictions set to last through the new year.
Albertans will not be allowed to socialize outside their homes unless they live alone and it is with one of their two designated contacts.
“We simply cannot let this Christmas turn into a tragedy for many families. And so, with great reluctance, we ask Albertans to limit their holiday gatherings to members of their household, or close contacts for people who live alone,” Kenney said.
“If stronger action is not taken now, we know that hundreds, if not thousands more Albertans could die. We cannot let this happen. We won’t let that happen. We must act to protect lives,” Kenney said.
It marks a departure for Kenney, who has largely resisted the kind of public health restrictions that have become common in other provinces and around the world.
For weeks, the Prime Minister and his government have heard the opposition NDP and hundreds of doctors and infectious disease specialists urging Alberta to go into lockdown for a short time to avoid overwhelming the health care system. Instead, the government has repeatedly called on residents to exercise personal responsibility.
On the same day as the new restrictions, Alberta racked up 1,727 new cases on Tuesday, again beating Ontario, a province three times as populous.
The last time Kenney introduced new rules — restrictions that limited restaurant hours and banned personal gatherings indoors but allowed bars, casinos and even water parks to stay open — he said that he had not entered politics to impose limits on people and spoke out against lockdowns which he says violate Charter rights.
But as cases have increased, so too has the pressure to act.
The mayors of Edmonton and Calgary have both warned they will use whatever emergency powers they have to bring their own additional measures if the province does not take additional action. A recent poll suggested that half of Albertans disapprove of their government’s handling of the pandemic.
On Monday, Chief Public Health Officer Dr Deena Hinshaw said the measures had stopped the numbers from getting worse, but had failed to bring the curve down, so tougher restrictions are needed .
But even when introducing new rules, it was clear that, as Kenney said, this was not a first resort, but the very last.
Before outlining the new rules, he touted Alberta’s “admirable” response to the start of the pandemic.
For most of the year, Alberta had lower relative levels of infections, hospitalizations and deaths “than other major Canadian provinces, all US states and virtually all European countries” , did he declare.
“Let’s not forget that the NHL recognized Alberta’s leadership. By choosing Edmonton as the NHL playoff center of dozens of cities across North America.
The surge Alberta was experiencing was “typical” as winter approaches, Kenney said. Ontario and Quebec both had higher death rates, he added.
He reiterated that some people just don’t understand what small business is up against.
“Those of us in government, who frankly have safe paychecks, can too easily make the mistake of viewing these policies as abstractions. It’s too easy to think of them as just words on a piece of paper,” he said.
“But behind each of these restrictions lie shattered dreams and terrible adversity.”
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