Alberta Premier Jason Kenney (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

An ambitious six-week fall sitting of the Alberta Legislature commenced in Edmonton yesterday with Premier Jason Kenney telling the House during Question Period that his government isn’t about to publish any updated COVID-19 modelling.

As Opposition Leader Rachel Notley argued, it would be useful to know what the experts say now if we wish to strike the right balance between keeping the economy percolating and keeping the population safe.

Former Alberta premier Rachel Notley, now the leader of the Opposition in the provincial Legislature (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Premier Kenney, who takes a lot of his strategic cues from the Republican playbook south of the Medicine Line, was having none of that, claiming to have no updated models and insisting, with considerable justification, that past modelling wasn’t very accurate anyway.

One might ask: Why not prudently stick with the precautionary principle and plan for the worst even while hoping for the best?

Well, there are political risks to such a course, as Mr. Kenney knows well. It’s just the kind of thing he exploited effectively when Ms. Notley’s NDP government was in charge, and he’s not about to risk being taught that turnabout is fair play.

With the Alberta economy showing few signs of the traditional transition from bust to boom, there’s no way he’s going to be accused by his friends in business of being too cautious.

And with COVID-19 infections everywhere in Canada except maybe Nunavut and Vancouver Island catching on like a house afire, he’s equally not about to be accused of risking lives by not being cautious enough.

Since the initial COVID-19 modelling did turn out to predict more deaths than have materialized, derailing the UCP’s rush to pass and implement a barrage of controversial legislation in the first months of its rule, the premier has a good excuse to avoid any more delays to his legislative plans.

Hence the UCP’s heavy legislative schedule — up to 20 bills in six weeks, which will surely require some time management — and the premier’s determination to keep any more COVID-19 infection projections that might slow things down out of sight and out of mind.

United Conservative Party House Leader Jason Nixon (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

If Alberta Health Service’s projections are as grim as those of the University of Washington Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation — which forecasts 3,022 COVID-19 deaths in Alberta by Feb. 1, 2021, if we stick to our current response strategy, compared to 634 in British Columbia and 29 in Saskatchewan — you can see why he might fear doing the right thing.

The UCP is never happier than when it’s governing by meaningless statistics — they’ve acted on 75 per cent of their election promises, Government House Leader Jason Nixon boasted yesterday — and it’s never happier than when it’s cutting budgets and squeezing government operations until the pips squeak.

This is what Mr. Kenney’s friends at Postmedia call an “intense focus on economic recovery,” never mind that conventional economic wisdom that the right thing to do in a recession is deficit spending and using debt to reboot the economy.

As Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman wrote Monday in the New York Times about what needs to happen in the post-Trump United States, “arguing for large-scale deficit spending and a relaxed attitude toward debt is entirely mainstream.”

Well, Alberta’s a province not a country (and likely to stay that way, thankfully) and Mr. Kenney runs a faith-based government in more ways than one, so that’s not going to happen.

So fasten your seatbelts and brace yourselves. The recession here will be the usual Alberta roller-coaster ride, at least the downward slide, and we’re nowhere near the bottom of the plunge.

But there will be lots of bills passed, plenty of money allegedly saved, and many public service jobs cuts, depersonalized statistics that will be lovingly trotted out daily as evidence, supposedly, that everything’s getting better and better in Alberta even if it doesn’t feel like that down here on the ground.

The only statistics you’re unlikely to hear any bragging about will be the number of Albertans afflicted with COVID-19. But that’s OK, because you’ll never know what Alberta Health Services expected to happen.

Will the feds ‘stop at nothing’ to keep Alberta from gutting health care?

Will the federal Liberals really “stop at nothing” to prevent the United Conservative Party from gutting public health care in Alberta?

Edmonton Strathcona Member of Parliament Heather McPherson (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

That’s what federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu promised the NDP’s Heather McPherson in the House of Commons Monday when Edmonton Strathcona MP noted that delegates to the UCP’s annual meeting had just voted in favour of setting up a parallel private health care system.

“Despite a guarantee during his election campaign to maintain public health care, Jason Kenney is gutting our publicly delivered universally accessible health care,” Ms. McPherson said during Question Period. “Once the Conservatives destroy public health care in Alberta, which province is next? What is the minister doing to protect Canadians from two-tiered, American-style health care in Alberta and across Canada and what is she doing to make sure that premiers are adhering to the Canada Health Act?”

Ms. Hajdu responded: “I share the member opposite’s deep concern about a Conservative Party that would seek to undermine a principle of our universal health care system, which is, by the way, the need for health care rather than the ability to pay.

“On this side of the House, we will fight to ensure that we protect something that all Canadians treasure, which is access to health care that is there for people, regardless of their income, regardless of their ability to pay, and we will stop at nothing to do so.” (Emphasis added.)

Well, in truth, the Liberal record on making sure provinces behave themselves and abide by the terms of the Canada Health Act isn’t terrible, but it isn’t perfect either.

Liberal governments withheld health care transfer payments from Alberta in the 1990s, during the Christy Clark government in British Columbia, in Quebec in the same time frame, and, at least temporarily, in New Brunswick this year when efforts were made in those provinces to evade the rules of the federal legislation.

But stopping at nothing? We’ll see.

Join the Conversation


  1. I think that giving up on modelling because the very early models were not accurate is a defeatist argument. Surely, we have learned something more about COVID over the last six to eight months and can use that knowledge to do better much modelling.

    I suppose as always, the UCP goes back to what it is most comfortable with and goes over well with the true believers which probably includes much of the UCP leadership and many of those members that vote at party conventions. However, problems with group think are well documented historically and the best response when things are not working well, is not to ignore, diminish or try to dismiss reality.

    The problem for the UCP is most voters are not true believers or ideologues. I suspect many who voted for the UCP did so because they were unhappy about the state of the economy at the time and thought well perhaps we should try something different. So ultimately the UCP’s success or failure will be judged on cold hard facts – the unemployment rate, progress or lack of on various pipeline projects, how successful the more confrontational UCP approach with the rest of Canada has been at achieving anything, the size of the deficit … Likewise, voters want health care and education systems that work reasonably well including being widely accessible and affordable.

    The UCP leadership may judge their success on whether they can achieve a number of ideological goals, but to the extent that all the disruption involved in this undermines things voters really care about, it is equivalent to shooting themselves in the foot. Ultimately, voters will be asking themselves in a few years whether they are better off than before and so far it is not looking good for the UCP in that regard.

    I suspect the Federal Liberals will decide how to deal with the UCP’s preoccupation with health care privatization based on a number of factors. First of all, they have little to lose in terms of seats or votes in Alberta, so it would probably be easier to take a harder line against the Alberta UCP government that they might if it were some other province with a number of Liberal MPs. Second, I suspect there are some Federal Liberals who would love to tie the eager health care privatization Alberta UCP closely to the Federal Conservatives on this issue, particularly if a Federal election happens soon. This could present some difficulties to Kenney and perhaps even more to his Federal friend Mr. O’Toole.

    1. The mathematical models havent changed, they can still be used, why would you assume anything else?

      Feigning that there is an issue about whether such things are being/ can be used smacks to me as fake news directed at a mathematically illiterate population.

      1. Brett: a mathematical model is just a version of a paper map to the terrain in question. Like all maps/models it should be updated to account for new information, which I imagine has been done several times in academia and likely in AHS as well. The fact Kenney will not release the results of modelling for Alberta suggests that the more accurate the models get, the worse the news is – kind of like the modelling for human caused climate change for example. You can bet if the most recent Covid models predicted less effect, the UCP types would trumpet that from the rafters.

        1. Well, its good news then, like I said, the models show the same thing they showed in the spring, concerning the ability of the virus to spread. However, the consequences of that spread are better known now then before.

          Eg, lock downs were perhaps reasonable in the spring because we didnt know the morbidity rates, specific population vulnerabilities, modes of transmission, effective treatments and etc.

          And of course, the Kenney governments stance would have to be founded on a public health perspective, as we all know, every public health decision has a toll. Good decisions are made that minimize that toll.

          And so far so good for the decisions made by the UCP.

          1. “So far so good” said the man falling from a 120 story building as he passed the 40th floor. The infection rate is worse because the lock-downs and contact tracing were not detailed enough. That is the result of public health resources being destroyed by Cons over the past 20 years. The countries with the best lock downs and contact tracing are having the best public health results and like New Zealand and Viet Nam to name a couple, are more or less back to normal.

            Containing a new disease is something we did effectively for at least two centuries until the public health system was damaged in the name of business. The irony is now we have the worst of all worlds: a politicized public health system with diminishing credibility because of political interference, a poorly controlled epidemic, and business with no prospect of normalcy for months, if not years, to come.

  2. McPherson and Hajdu, two peas in the same pod. Kenney promised to maintain public healthcare. Not maintain the same manner of providing public healthcare.

    Course an NDP and A Liberal would link Government union and healthcare because they are the rent-seekers that keep them elected.

    As far as Im concerned, McPherson should concentrate on her own promises during the election. That would be supporting pipelines.

    1. Kenney promised to maintain public healthcare. Not maintain the same manner of providing public healthcare.

      i’m calling that typical cOnservative,
      Kenney’s talking out of both sides of his mouth

      1. And he currently has. Unless your idea of healthcare is food services and the like.

        As a strong advocate of publicly funded basic health care I think government has two things they have to deal with soon.

        The government union monopoly on labour, wages are too high and union voting blocks are distorting our democracy, for these sorts of industries and the scope creep of services.

        If they dont then healthcare is going to crumple under the baby boomer demographic shift.

        1. Brett: “healthcare is going to crumple under the baby boomer demographic shift.” You do live in a world of fear-based theory. The demographer David Foot wrote the Cdn fear mongering book on this in 1996 joining a long tradition of academics who argued catastrophe is just around the corner “if present trends continue.” His fact was fine enough, but many of his conclusions have proven largely unwarranted.

          Health care crumbling under a “gray wave” is one of those. In fact, most health care spending happens during the individual’s last two years of life and palliative care is relatively cheap. The greatest portion of the boomer generation have not become smokers and generally have a much healthier lifestyle than the previous generations from which Mr. Foot wrongly projected the need for more health spending per person.

          Oh, and please spare us the nonsense about people “living longer.” Actually, human biology has not really changed. We have a greater “life expectancy” because fewer of us die of childhood infections or in childbirth, thus raising the “average life expectancy.”

          For those who used Mr. Foot’s prognostications as guides, the results have been very mixed and as with all seers, prophets, and fortune tellers, much caution is advised.

          Since Capital is making more profits using much less Labour over the past 40 years (productivity grains) government taxing those excess profits to provide social services is an obvious course of action. That, and a modest Tobin Tax on financial transactions would provide ample money for public services in Canada.

          1. Fear isnt my intention.

            The issue with the demographic shift isnt limited to the heath results. A higher percentage of the population being retired as opposed to working and paying taxes is the main issue.

            However, you have convinced me. We really just need to limit the scope of “public basic healthcare” and somehow add competition into the labour purchase for such health care.

    2. Bret Larson: The UCP campaigned on not touching health care or education in Alberta. They clearly weren’t telling the truth. The UCP hasn’t done a single thing to make lives better for Alberta, ever since they came into office. Furthermore, Alberta will be approaching a record setting debt of $100 billion, under the UCP.

      1. The UCP have done what they can to make life better in Alberta. Unlike the previous NDP whose policies would likely necessitate a large population reduction in Alberta and effect a debt spiral dive into the ground.

        Personally, I think they only way forward without a major drop in population and GDP would be to separate or renegotiate terms with the feds, as the old curse goes, we are living in interesting times.

  3. Let’s hope that here in the birthplace of Canadian Medicare that two tier health care doesn’t follow next Monday’s provincial election if The Sask Party wins. They are after all the Sask equivalent of the UCP.

    And as Erik Berntsen said in 1981 that when the Pc’s formed government they were going to end socialism for all time even if they had to break the province to do it. And that’s what they proceeded to do in th 9.5 years they were in power.

    Looks like today’s plan is the same. In both provinces.

  4. now way back when… I was a victim of what at the time seemed to me to be some nadir of schooling in the rural (privatey parts) schools of Alberta. Call me short sighted! The UCP is drilling tax free ideological wells in elementary schools as we speak! The picture is unfolding. Pity the painters, for they know not what they do? Oh they know. Just like the terrarium of dimwits that matriculate and then graduate from all the cheese tray charter schools. Thanks Covid!

  5. Never let a crisis go to waste. — Winston Churchill

    While Kenney, I’m sure, likes to equate himself with the strangely revered Churchill, there can be no doubt that he has nothing in mind, save for causing as much mayhem and damage as possible.

    Of course, in Kenney’s mind, he’s advancing Alberta toward a new Babylon of righteous productivity, where weakness will be purged from the society, as all are encouraged/forced to embrace Kenney’s vision.

    Of course, the plans for this packed session will involve pushing forward legislation with minimal consultation or consideration as to its broader impacts. In other words, Kenney’s being Alberta’s bad boyfriend.

    It’s a wonder why he’s still single.

  6. So we set a new record of 406 Covid cases in a single day, AHS is pumping 20 vehicles at a time through drive-through testing centres, a cabinet member has Covid, and Dear Leader and others are in isolation. Covid data was delayed due to a “technical error” again today. Just another hump day here in Alberta. Business at the speed of virology. Keep calm and Covid on.

  7. Hearing about the Angry Midget being sent to quarantine caused more joy than I could handle.

    I wish I could take credit for karmic justice.

  8. “…plenty of money allegedly saved…” Like the $2.3 million AHS is looking to save by making people getting outpatient infusion therapies in hospitals pay for their often very expensive medications & IV supplies How much will it cost Albertans in hospital admissions for treatment failures because people can’t afford their treatment?

    Everything from simple IV antibiotics & iron infusions, to drugs for inflammatory bowel disease & cancer, will be more expensive for Albertans if AHS gets its way on this.

    1. JERRYMACGP: It’s certainly going to be a rough ride under the UCP. Albertans better brace themselves for challenges that lie ahead.

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