Alberta Premier Jason Kenney at the Hope Mission, in his controversial medical mask, with Community and Social Services Minister Rajan Sawhney (Photo: Facebook).

No one should fault Premier Jason Kenney too much for visiting Edmonton’s Hope Mission, having a few photos taken and posting them on social media with an uplifting message about pitching in to fight COVID-19.

It’s what politicians of all stripes do, and arguably it’s not a terrible use of their time.

Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro (Photo: Facebook).

It beats sitting around scheming about ways to mess up the health care system with dubious corporate apps or, as a Conservative predecessor of Mr. Kenney’s once did, showing up drunk at a men’s shelter in the wee hours and throwing change at the folks who were living there.

And Mr. Kenney’s message was far from the worst one imaginable: “If you can, please contribute to homeless shelters, food banks and other groups who work with the vulnerable. They need the help now more than ever.” True, and we only wish UCP policy would reflect that reality.

But wearing what appeared to be an N95 medical face mask? That was a horse of a different colour, as they say.

United Nurses of Alberta President Heather Smith (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Because fitted N95 masks are in short supply everywhere in North America thanks to the globalized supply chain and the neoliberal policies on health care that are advocated by parties like Mr. Kenney’s United Conservatives. Worried health care workers in Alberta and throughout the world are being told they will often have to work without this piece of safety equipment when treating people who may be infected with the coronavirus.

“You are wasting precious N95 masks that are not necessary for the activities depicted in these photos,” said a typically bitter comment on the premier’s Facebook page. “Shame on you.”

Said another: “Tell us why you are wearing an N95 mask to hand out sandwiches while you say health professionals only need to wear surgical masks?” There were plenty more like this.

Supporters of the UCP government, of course, accused the commenters of unfairly making a mountain out of a molehill — an activity that’s apparently only acceptable if the complainer is a Conservative and the molehill is a Liberal prime minister allowing voters to take selfies with him.

Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions President Linda Silas (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

It wouldn’t have made any difference from the perspective of Mr. Kenney’s photo op or his safety if he had worn a normal surgical mask, as did some of the other mission volunteers in the pictures, although not Community and Social Services Minister Rajan Sawhney, who accompanied the premier. These do not seal as well, but they are certainly up to the task of handing over a sandwich. Moreover, they are much more plentiful.

They are also what many nurses are being told to wear in situations that really call for an N95 mask.

That’s why I suspect this was more evidence of the poor value Premier Kenney gets for the big bucks he spends on his “issues management” team than any malice on his part. At worst, it showed he and his aides are remarkably out of touch with one of the key issues impacting their government during this difficult time.

If he would like to get up to speed, he could ask Tyler Shandro for a look at the letter the health minister received yesterday from Linda Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, and Heather Smith, president of United Nurses of Alberta.

In the letter, they told Mr. Shandro that “we have repeatedly called for governments at the federal and provincial/territorial levels to adopt the precautionary principle as their standard in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet in hospitals and long-term care facilities all across Canada inconsistencies in the rules around infection prevention and control and the use of personal protective equipment still persist.”

“At any other time, nurses and other workers in health care environments are entrusted with the care of patients,” the letter continued. “Yet at this critical moment, when faced with a global pandemic and when we need their skills and services most, they find their professional judgment called into question and their safety potentially jeopardized, which is both offensive and dangerous.”

The only available royalty free photo of government communications specialist Kimberley Capstick (Photo: Twitter).

This is in particular a reference to the circumstances in which nurses are told they cannot wear N95 masks when doing nasal swabs and other medical tests or treatments and they judge the circumstances require the more secure masks.

Nurses point to the dangerously high numbers of health care workers who have become infected with COVID-19 in Italy, Spain and other countries as the global pandemic continues. Many of those workers have died.

“It is the position of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions that, in the event of an outbreak of any new respiratory virus, we acknowledge that the best respiratory protection for health care workers at risk is a fit-tested N95 or greater respirator,” says the CFNU’s position statement on COVID-19.

“Given the amount of uncertainty around COVID-19 and the current threat to health care workers across Canada,” the statement continues, CFNU “recognizes the critical importance of the point-of-care risk assessment, an activity that is based on the individual nurses’ professional judgment (i.e., knowledge, skills, reasoning and education).”

The letter to Mr. Shandro urges the minister: “Health care workers need your leadership at this time, Minister Shandro.”

Yours too, Mr. Kenney. Yesterday’s misstep gives you an opportunity to show it.

Kimberley Capstick named director of government communications office

I wonder if Mr. Kenney would have gotten better advice if he’d talked to Kimberley Capstick about it? Yesterday, Ms. Capstick was appointed by cabinet order to the post of Managing Director, Communications and Public Engagement Office, effective today.

Edmonton-Goldbar MLA Marlin Schmidt in 2015 (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Ms. Capstick has a communications career in the Alberta public services that stretches back to 1999 when she was hired as a communications intern in the Department of Public Works.

Since then, she has held a number of posts of increasing responsibility in a variety of ministries, agencies and political offices, most recently as assistant deputy minister, economic, communications and public engagement. Thought within the Alberta public service to lean conservative, she nevertheless seems to have sailed without complaints through the four years the NDP ran the province.

Her only brush with controversy that lingers on the Internet took place just before the 2015 provincial election, when as acting deputy minister of justice she sent public employees a memo that stated their deputy minister had to be “notified in advance of any political activity by a member of the public service.”

“This is a significant limitation to a person’s participation in the democratic process that would prevent a lot of people from participating for fear of retribution,” complained Marlin Schmidt, then the NDP candidate in Edmonton-Goldbar and later minister of advanced education in Rachel Notley’s NDP government.

Join the Conversation


  1. Who was that masked man at the Hope Mission? At least it wasn’t a hold up, which given Mr. Kenney’s approach to funding things would not be beyond belief – “Give me all your funding, I’ve got a decicit to cut now and corporate tax cuts to pay for!” Let’s call it the reverse Ralph Klein, instead of throwing money at the homeless.

    I’m not sure if this a really a PR snafu, or just another clever UCP dog whistle to the base. First, I doubt Kenney cares much about what nurses think. He probably doesn’t care much about what doctors think either, but they can be more of a problem for him politically, so he has to pretend to try get along with them at times.

    Second, it is a great photo op to show up at Hope Mission with a mask on. Of course its not entirely clear who he intends is being protected here by the overkill mask. Its exactly the way the slippery Kenney likes to communicate, unlike Klein who could be very clear about his thoughts at times, especially after several drinks and that clarity could get him into trouble. However, I think UCP supporters will get the message Kenney wants to get across.

    Third, I think Mr. Kenney’s approach to charity has been fairly consistent since he donned a hazmat suit to visit people with AIDS in San Fransisco when he was attending a religous University there. It’s more about making him feel and look better, keeping some distance and having barriers, not about changing his world view by interaction with the less fortunate.

    I don’t think this was the message Kenney intended, but this photo op says a lot about Kenney and the UCP.

  2. I recall during his tenure as the federal Immigration Minister, Kenney was well-known as ‘Minister of Curry in a Hurry’. The reason for this label on Kenney mystified me, until I saw the proof first hand.

    As minister, Kenney would make a point of attending as many ethnic and cultural events as he could. While the Immigration portfolio is usually considered a lesser ministry, a place where a disgraced cabinet minister goes to watch their career die, Kenney seemed to revel in the role.

    It was clear from the outset he was promoting the CPC brand among New Canadians, so Kenney was determined to become one of the people. And there was also the matter of the infamous Temporary Foreign Workers Scandal, which occurred because Kenney relaxed the oversight of the hiring of temporary foreign workers, resulting in all kinds of abuses among a long list of employers, including major banks. It was because of this scandal that Kenney was handed the Immigration portfolio and was told to go away forever. But Kenney managed to convinced Harper that this was an great opportunity to do what the Liberals have always done: cultivate good relations with Canada’s ethnic communities.

    Charged with this new mission, Kenney became the Minister of Curry in a Hurry. He attended every single multicultural event, ate a variety of delicious foods, and was welcomed at every event. And he had his ‘tickle trunk’. In this trunk was an assortment of clothing, from mandarin robes to Nehru jackets. Kenney attended every event and was loved by the people. It was through Kenney’s efforts that the CPC achieved their majority government against the Liberals lead by the hapless Michael Ignatieff. In the aftermath of that election, Harper was able to declare that, thanks to the tremendous support the CPC gained from among New Canadian voters, that the CPC was the party of New Canadian’s values.

    Fast forward to the 2015 election and the CPC were falling. New Canadians, with the CPC’s new policies framed around banning “barbaric ethnic cultural practises”, abandoned Harper in droves and returned to the kinder Liberal Party.

    Fast forward again to the present day, we see Kenney standing in front of a homeless shelter, providing care and comfort to the needy. Kenney doesn’t really want to be there. At least when he attended all those multicultural events, he was fed and feted. Now, he’s doing these photo-ops for reasons of damage control. He’s been found out to be a sham artist, always looking for another stunt to make himself look better. As for the homeless he wants people to think he cares about, that’s the cruelest part of the story. They are likely poor, unemployed, and homeless because of Kenney and his UCP idealogical gongshow.

    Kenney, the poor zealot. He would rather be kicking the poor and homeless than aiding them. Hopefully, Alberta will see that all Kenney does is just pull gimmicks out of his tickle trunk of deceptions and lies.

  3. Dave, I think you need to consider that Jason Kenney might have worn a N95 medical face mask to visit Hope Mission even before the pandemic.

  4. Interesting note on the ubiquity of masks:

    Public health authorities say they want infected people to wear masks when they are out in public. This is to prevent them, the infected, from inadvertently spreading the disease to the non-infected. Just basic public health best practice.

    However, the public soon recognises that anyone out and about with a mask on is infected. It will surprise no one that when the public recognises an individual who can harm any one of them, well, bad things happen.
    For their own safety and their lives, the infected quickly stop wearing masks in public.

    This is not a good outcome for the population in general, in fact, almost certain to increase the spread and morbidity of the disease.

    So the smart decision-makers and quick-witted leadership do all they can to encourage everyone in the population to wear masks when they go out.
    It remains to be seen what the mouth-breathers in this jurisdiction do.

  5. I have read the CBC stories about the nurses in Edmonton who have refused to do Covid tests until they are provided with N95 masks. The stories included quotes from AHS management who claimed the surgical masks met the standard set by the Public Health Agency of Canada, while the nurses counter that the US Centre for Disease Control, and its European equivalent, call for an N95.

    As I read the story my thought was the bureaucrats who claim surgical masks are sufficient should go and take some samples. (Turns out this wouldn’t work; apparently the device goes far enough up the nose a skilled worker is needed.) Instead, Jason Kenney has supported the nurses stand; if an N95 mask is needed to hand out sandwiches, they are clearly necessary to test people who have Covid symptoms.

  6. No one should…?

    I do fault him for still trying to score political points via useless photo ops. Get the fuck out of the way, and get back to work and do the right thing. What is that you say?
    1. Stop your war on public health care and front line workers.
    2. Put a moratorium on cutbacks to post secondary institutions.
    3. Postpone or halt any layoffs in post-secondary
    4. Institute a total lock down like Ontario and Quebec – immediately

    That’s only off the top of my head. There is more that he could do, instead of getting in the way with photo-ops.

    Hey, Kenney you aren’t fooling anyone.

  7. Maybe Jason Kenney should offer up some of his personal supply of N95 masks to health workers on the front lines. I’m pretty sure there are more where those came from, locked away somewhere in the legislature, in abundance. I am tossing the gauntlet: walk the talk and give, Jason Kenney. Give until it hurts. Give those masks to the people who need them. You don’t need them. You can stay home.

  8. One of my family members is a hospital porter. She is four months from retirement and certainly does not need the job. But she is going to go to work in solidarity with the nurses and doctors until this is over in spite of the fact the protective equipment needed to protect her life is just not there yet. She has also been self-isolating from at-risk family members. The fact she is typical of our medical people does not make it any less heroic. The sight of that toad wearing an N95 mask which nurses are not getting makes me enraged. When this is over there will be no forgetting or forgiveness.

  9. On the N95 mask—no surprise here! Conservative leadership in Alberta behaves like they have no idea of the meaning of empathy, compassion or understanding.

    As the ride to “hell-in-a-hand-basket” turns ever more precarious, due to dramatically spiraling COVID-19 outbreaks in Alberta—notwithstanding their neoliberal policies on health care, Jason Kenney and the lickspittles that make up the UCP brain trust once again exhibit a tin ear during this serious healthcare crisis. Sad. Very sad.

  10. “. . . . as a Conservative predecessor of Mr. Kenney’s once did, showing up drunk at a men’s shelter in the wee hours and throwing change at the folks who were living there.”

    That should be a clue and a big hint to any human being with a pulse and at least one functioning brain cell, of the qualifications required to ‘run’ the province of Alberta. Every sideshow circus requires a clown and the sideshow carnival in Alberta is no different, it seems, as long as the clown that pretends to be in charge knows full well who is really in control and who really runs the sideshow. For example,

    “Klein sold himself to voters as the anti-establishment candidate. But, in his next transformation, he became a pragmatic mayor. As a TV reporter, he crusaded against developers, yet $2 billion in construction attended his first year in office.” And so on and on,

    “In 2001, the Klein government deregulated the electrical industry to open it up to the free market. When prices shot ever higher, it forced the government to spend billions on subsidies to industry and consumers. In a meeting with The Journal editorial board, Klein looked at a pile of documents on the details of deregulation and admitted he didn’t understand them.” Because ,”he wasn’t much interested in deep conversations about policy and politics. ”

    But, “Klein’s reputation would last long after his personal interest evolved towards fishing at an exclusive lodge on the northern B.C. coast, dinners with top corporate executives, and golf at tony courses across the country.”

    I know, the above does not fit in with the greater “King Ralph” mythology sold to the public by the loyalists and all of the obsequious fans. Perhaps it is just more ‘fake news’.

    Now, please stay out of the way and keep quiet, as I stuff my pockets with more of that hated Nanny State government cash, because the privatization of government services is truly the last great frontier left to exploit. And where, talk of market efficiencies and saving money is little more than soothing talk for the soft headed true believers.

    1. Thanks for the “SPOT ON” comment!!! Ever since Klein I’ve yet to see a CONServative “walk the talk.” More often than not it is just more of their utter crap that has been spewed for decades. KKK-kenney and his clowns continue to “walk the walk and talk the talk” putting up a good front, and have mastered being phony BUT appearing in a way that impresses people. Every time I see his face or hear his voice I have the urge to puke.

  11. Given Jason Kenney proclivities to cut funding to the most vulnerable and the most valuable, that visit and the photo op is totally incongruent and most .insincere

  12. Poor Jason probably the first honest work he has done in a very very long time and everyone is picking on him for wasting valuable medical supplies. Did anyone check the bags he was handing out to see if they were full?

  13. Today, Mar. 26/20 Kenney goes on the news lecturing people about hoarding such things like toilet paper and food. And here he is hoarding N95 masks intended for medical workers for critical situations. I found it funny (not funny at all) that when he came on the news he said the N95 mask is intended for Nurses, Police and Homeless shelter workers. The worst Premier in Alberta’s history is down playing his act at the Homeless shelter wearing the N95 mask.

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