Alberta Politics
Municipal Affairs Deputy Minister Paul Wynnyk at the podium, at left, during yesterday’s COVID-19 daily briefing, as Dr. Deena Hinshaw looks on from self-isolation (Photo: Screenshot of Government of Alberta).

Alberta COVID-19 cases rise to 74; UCP to push budget through; Jason Kenney visits the airport

Posted on March 17, 2020, 2:32 am
7 mins

Faced with the embarrassment of having to rewrite Alberta’s budget to acknowledge economic reality and public health necessity in the midst of a global pandemic or stick with one that fails to meet even that low bar and sets the stage for a attacks on public health care in the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis, Jason Kenney instinctively chose the wrong path yesterday.

It didn’t even take all of the 24 hours that passed between the Ides of March and St. Patrick’s Day for Premier Kenney and his United Conservative Party to reveal they would opt for political expedience and force through an austerity budget designed eventually to lay off nurses and cut doctors’ pay.

Mr. Wynnyk in his military days as a Canadian lieutenant general (Photo: Department of National Defence).

We do not know how long this Legislature will be able to sit for health reasons,” Mr. Kenney huffed self-righteously and a little disingenuously during Question Period yesterday. “We need the budget passed now to take care of these issues.”

As the CBC’s reporter also noted, just as NDP Opposition Leader Rachel Notley revealed last week, Mr. Kenney also confirmed that the 14 days of job-protected, paid sick leave he had promised “may hinge on a yet-unannounced federal government expansion to employment insurance during the pandemic.”

House Leader Jason Nixon told media the government would do whatever is required to force through the budget to fund operations for another year — either forgetting or ignoring that Alberta’s Legislature is not the U.S. Congress and can fund the business of the province with special warrants for as long as it needs.

Well, never mind the differences between Canadian and American Parliamentary procedure, the UCP Government will do what it can, even risk the health of his own supporters if Mr. Kenney is to be believed, to avoid a fulsome budget debate.

So that answers that question!

And if that wasn’t enough to make your blood run cold — or if you haven’t yet questioned what’s with the UCP’s astonishing timing for announcements — Alberta Health Services said yesterday it will soon pull the plug on contracts with three of the province’s largest diagnostic image providers.

Premier Jason Kenney in his military days as federal minister of defence (Photo: Screenshot of notorious Harper PMO Iraq video).

AHS revealed in a tweet that it had done so “at the direction of the minister of Health,” Tyler Shandro.

The president of the Alberta Society of Radiologists, Dr. Robert Davies, told the CBC members were shocked by the sudden decision. “The radiology groups that provide the majority of service in Edmonton and Calgary, including the major hospitals, just signed a contract in November that included a 12-per-cent average rollback in their fees, based on a recent arbitrator’s decision,” he explained, noting that the cut was retroactive to April 1, 2018.

No sooner had the radiologists cut their cheques than AHS announced it would cut them off. “It really feels like more bad-faith bargaining from the government,” Dr. Davies told the CBC. “We’re really not sure why they’ve done this.”

Steve Buick, Mr. Shandro’s press secretary, trotted out the usual excuses about how radiologists in Alberta are paid more on average than folks doing the same job in the rest of Alberta — like everyone else in this province, including MLAs and cabinet ministers, as it happens.

Also, presumably in a worrisome gesture to someone for something, casinos and bingo halls in the province are still being allowed to remain open!

Canada Border Services Agency officials were apparently reluctant to pose with Premier Kenney, but he did his best (Photo: Twitter).

Meanwhile, at yesterday’s daily COVID-19 update, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw reported 18 new cases in the province, for a total of 74, with five in hospital and the rest expected to recover at home.

Speaking with her usual sang froid via video-link from self-isolation at home where she was nursing a sore throat — a situation she described as Alberta’s new normal — Dr. Hinshaw said two of the cases, as was suspected Sunday, were the result of community transmission.

She prudently handed off a reporter’s question about Premier Kenney’s Canadian-Taxpayers-Federation-style grandstanding at Edmonton Airport on Sunday, during which he got his photo taken with some Canada Border Services Agency officers in the frame and promptly tweeted it out with a claim to have “directed provincial officials to deploy provincial resources to AB airports.”

Paul Wynnyk, deputy minister of municipal affairs and the premier’s favourite former lieutenant general, got the job of explaining what Mr. Kenney was talking about, intoning with military gravitas, “in terms of the actual resources that are deploying forward, I can tell you that one of the things that’s being worked on is an Alberta specific pamphlet that will be handed out to all travellers.”

Well, that ought to shake them to their boots in the Prime Minister’s Office!

For the first time, the theatrical COVID-19 briefing tableau included an American Sign Language interpreter, whose resemblance to Calgary Herald political columnist Don Braid was certainly purely coincidental.

12 Comments to: Alberta COVID-19 cases rise to 74; UCP to push budget through; Jason Kenney visits the airport

  1. Just Me

    March 17th, 2020

    Even in Doug Ford’s Ontario, there is the recognition that action must be taken to protect workers from derelict employers. During his press conference, Ford enforced the policy that no one will be fired for being sick, no one should go to work sick, and no one should not compensated for taking a sick day. Suddenly, some of the sound policies of Premier Kathleen Wynne were back and Doug Ford was acting like a politician fearful he might be strung up by all the voters he’s angered since his election. Talk about being very careful about what you do.

    Elsewhere in Canada, the members of the so called “Resistance” are acting amazingly responsible. Even the premiers of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia have halted VLT operations because they, obviously, are a vector of infection transmission. Quebec is in a bit of a quandary, with the premier maintaining a schizophrenic policy position (Go to work but stay home; don’t go out but go out.) So, the Mayor of Montreal, Mme Valérie Plante, steps forward and announces the policy decisions that the premier is too terrified to make. Bravo!

    Which brings us to Alberta…or as I like to call it the Kenney Gong Show.

    Kenney standing at the Edmonton Airport and acting as though his provincial actions are standing in the place of federal ones, though the airport is under federal regulation, is the height of weirdness. I suspect that once Kenney and his entourage were out of the building, everything went back to normal. A special pamphlet for Alberta’s COVID-19 protocols? I guess the difference is washing your hands for ten seconds less than the federal guidelines, because washing hands is an inefficiency in free market loving Alberta. Besides, that pamphlet was likely produced by the War Room. I mean they have about $30M laying around – may as well put it to better use.

    While giving everyone a reminder that Kenney never met a photo-op he didn’t want to be in, it displays with glaring effect that Alberta so out of step with COVID-19 prevention, I can see Canada closing its borders with Alberta. The only thing on Kenney’s mind is shoving his budget through so he can gut public health care and wreck anything resembling civilization in Alberta. What I found interesting during his address to the legislature is that Kenney did not utter an attack on PMJT, but I suppose that is coming in the days to come. I mean doing that in the legislature would just make Kenney seem unhinged. Kenney’s hatred of Rachel Notley, Trudeau, and Peter MacKay is so bizarre, he will even burn down Alberta to get back at them. And then Kenney decides to echo the defeatism of U.K. PM Boris Johnson when he said there will certainly be many fatalities. At least he didn’t get into Johnson’s seemingly lusty pronouncement of the likelihood of 10,000 fatalities. Judging by the way the UCP and the U.K. Tories are handling this pandemic, we’re well on our way to disaster.

  2. J.E. Molnar

    March 17th, 2020

    The ride to “hell-in-a-handbasket” just got a lot more precarious.

    With the election of Jason Kenney and the UCP, it’s been pretty much obvious since day one that this province currently lacks competent leadership. Watching the UCP misrepresent the new budget and fumble the CODVID-19 crisis—as infections spike daily—it’s like watching Donald Trump in stereo. Face it, there’s a serious lack of political gravitas on the right these days, which unfortunately is turning the UCP into the United Clown Party.

  3. Abs

    March 17th, 2020

    The City of Calgary is looking at ways to shut the casinos, but one has already closed voluntarily. Casinos attract the Covid-19 target group, so at least some people in this province can see why closure is needed, have common sense, are not 111 percent driven by ego, can see the writing on the wall, etc. The shenanigans by Kenney & Co. continue.

  4. _

    March 17th, 2020

    “doing the same job in the rest of Alberta”???

  5. Albertan

    March 17th, 2020

    Again, for me and many others, the mark of the Kenney UCP, ultra right wing populist authoritarians, and seemingly, increasingly, dictators.
    Pre-surgery preparation can often include pre-operative xrays, MRIs, scans, etc., that is, prior to and necessary, to do the surgery.
    Can it be said then, that this cutback to diagnostic image providers, will impact/delay diagnostic image procedures prior to surgeries, and, thus, delay surgeries? What of the Kenney UCP trumpeting that they would improve surgery wait times? If any of the Kenney UCP, et al, needed a diagnotic imaging procedure, and the wait time was lengthy, would there be the jumping of the queue, or quietly go to the USA?
    The Kenney UCP, et al, it seems, is cutting off their noses to spite their faces.
    If this negatively impacts UCP supporters/voters, the question could be: How long will this UCP mess be tolerated until there is pushback? Is it a situation of, if the Kenney UCP does it, it’s just fine?
    Already, again, we are hearing more and more, that Alberta folks who voted for the UCP, are saying that they didn’t think “it would be this bad,” and that they are “sorry they voted for the UCP.” One example, re: the grassroots folks that we heard of the other day, was a small business operator who voted for the UCP based on UCP pre-election small business talk, but who also has Inflammatory Bowel Disease and is now, facing having their medication for IBD replaced with a cheaper ‘biosimilar’ drug as ‘dictated’ by the Kenney UCP. Needless to say, the IBD issue is taking priority with this small business operator who is facing a future with more pain, and regretting voting, of course, for the UCP. A real shame……

  6. tom in ontario

    March 17th, 2020

    As a service to your premier, I offer a quote from today’s regarding the actions of his ideological buddy, Doug Ford.
    “The province is now legally requiring the closure of all bars and restaurants except to the extent of takeout and delivery__public libraries, private schools that weren’t affected by the earlier decision to shutter public schools, theatres, concert venues and licensed daycare centres. The prohibition on public events with more than fifty people includes everything from parades to communal services inside places of worship.”

    The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Commission closed its casinos effective last Sunday. Happy gambling Albertans!

  7. Gail

    March 17th, 2020

    Alberta has just been the most neo-liberal of the provinces in Canada for the past 30 years. The sad truth is that we – as Canadians – have allowed our governments to cut health services and bought into the myth that private business does better despite the evidence it *never* does. Now we will pay for it. I feel for the front line health workers from the radiologists to the doctors to the laundry workers who we desperately need and who we have allowed our governments to bully and smear for too long. After this is over nobody should ever begrudge any spending on health care or other social services.

    Speaking of, we can’t get people to self isolate and social distance because they don’t have jobs paying a living wage that are secure. Instead, we have people worrying about how to pay their rent / their mortgage / their bills making the choice between trying to stay safe in isolation and working to pay necessary expenses.

  8. Athabascan

    March 17th, 2020

    We would have better off with Rachel.

    Kenney will be responsible for unnecessary loss of life to some Albertans. Thank goodness we have an election to look forward to – in three years.

  9. Just Me

    March 17th, 2020

    Given Kenney’s tendency to micro-manage outcomes, one wonders if anyone will know how bad this will really be? Or, if the UCP army of paid social-media trolls are going to support a cover-up of massive proportions? Doug Ford responded to the growing anger with him in Ontario by being intelligent and rational. At least Ford has hint of what the real world thinks of him; in Alberta, Kenney thinks he’s a great leader and a genius beyond compare, because his cadre of Yes-men keep telling him how awesome he thinks he is. Dr. Hinshaw has made her assessment of the situation clear, but Kenney is doing all he can to block it so as to not offend his cadre backers, like restaurateurs, car dealers, and day-drinkers.

    At some point, even those blessed good providence will have their downfall once that good luck runs out. Kenney should be looking very seriously at the end of his public career. Then, he can accept that fat pension and spare the rest of us the turbulence.

  10. Dave

    March 17th, 2020

    Nice of Mr. Kenney to pop out to the airport to show he is a man of action, or perhaps in an aborted attempt to try get out of town. I don’t know the situation at the time this picture was taken, but the Edmonton International airport is now closed to international (non US traffic). Of course, airports are mostly Federal jurisdiction, so I suppose this is consistent with Mr. Kenney’s constant ongoing interest in Federal matter often seemingly more so than in provincial matters. This only reinforces my belief that his long, mostly Federal, political career has ended up here in Alberta, because it was the best opportunity available to him at the time and he still pines for a return to the big leagues.

    The border services staff person does seem to be keeping a bit of a wary distance from Mr. Kenney. How appropriate. Perhaps she is thinking, if she were a provincial employee, they would be very concerned about cut backs and layoffs , like those in health care and education are now. Perhaps she is thinking, who is the crazy guy going out to the airport, right now just for a photo op.

    I expect most people are trying to avoid airports right now, unless they have need to get home from somewhere. I also wouldn’t have thought that Mr. Kenney would have had time on his hands for such a photo op, in the midst of a crisis like this. Perhaps he isn’t as much of a micro manager as I thought, but just wants to give the image of being one.


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