Alberta Politics
Jason Kenney responds to journalist Emma Graney’s question at yesterday’s news conference (Photo: Screenshot of Government of Alberta video).

Alberta’s story about Ottawa’s COVID-19 app keeps changing, but the ending’s still the same: You can’t have it!

Posted on November 03, 2020, 2:46 am
5 mins

Premier Jason Kenney issued a new explanation yesterday for why Alberta won’t adopt the COVID Alert tracing app created by the federal government.

In a testy response to a question by the Globe and Mail’s Emma Graney, Premier Kenney claimed the federal smartphone app isn’t compatible with Alberta’s coronavirus infection tracing capabilities.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Photo: Justin Trudeau/Flickr).

Ms. Graney asked during a news conference about a provincial emissions reduction program why the province didn’t embrace the federal app “and just kinda roll with it?”

“Well, first of all, we don’t make these decisions based on rolling with things or embracing things or vapid talking points, Emma,” an obviously irritated Mr. Kenney mansplained to the respected Globe journalist, who previously covered Alberta politics for Postmedia.

“We base them on their public health efficacy, and the Alberta Trace Together app connects to Alberta’s contract tracing system which has led the country in terms of contract tracing,” he continued. “So it is, based on the advice that we’ve received, so far more effective as a public health tool.”

Now, back on Aug.1, an Alberta Health spokesperson had blamed Ottawa for how long it was taking to fix Alberta’s ABTraceTogether app, for which the province had paid $625,000 although it was based on open-source software. Albertans had not adopted the provincial app in great numbers, likely because it didn’t work properly on phones with Apple’s iOS operating system.

Tom McMillan accused the federal government of deliberately delaying an iOS update for the app by prohibiting Apple from working with the province to address the problem.

On Aug. 9, however, Tyler Shandro’s press secretary, Steve Buick, said the province had made the decision to adopt the federal government’s COVID-19 notification app because it recognized a national coronavirus tracing strategy made more sense than Alberta going it alone.

Two weeks ago, Mr. Buick said Alberta was working with the federal government to transition “nearly 245,000 users” of ABTraceTogether to COVID Alert.

Last week, Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw and Mr. Shandro said COVID Alert still wasn’t available in the province, though, “because there are still technical issues in transitioning current users of the ABTraceTogether app to the federal app.”

It was about then that media, Opposition politicians, and Albertans frightened by a surge of COVID-19 cases and the government’s apparent determination not to reimpose restrictions on businesses to control the spread of the disease, began to press the UCP to adopt what UCP House Leader Jason Nixon calls “the Trudeau tracing app.”

Now Mr. Kenney has provided his new incompatibility claim as the excuse for not doing so, while also insisting that iOS problem with the undersubscribed Alberta app has been fixed. As a result, he said, “we haven’t made a final decision.”

This is the case even though infection rates are even higher than when the ruckus over the federal app began. Every hospital in Edmonton now has a COVID-19 outbreak!

“Certainly when Albertans travel outside the province they can use the federal app in provinces that they might be visiting when they have signed up,” Mr. Kenney added generously yesterday.

“And when Canadians are travelling to Alberta, they’re more than welcome to download the Alberta Trace Together app,” he added, apparently forgetting that Albertans are Canadians too.

UCP issues managers, MLAs, and online supporters need not be overly concerned. They should simply update their talking points immediately and consign any previous explanations to the Memory Hole.

In all seriousness, the kiss of death for COVID Alert in Alberta was almost certainly when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with an Edmonton radio station Friday to urge the province to adopt the federal app, and bluntly stated that the UCP government was blocking its use.

The only way for Albertans to use this COVID-19 tracing tool is for Ottawa to unilaterally introduce it in this province.

11 Comments to: Alberta’s story about Ottawa’s COVID-19 app keeps changing, but the ending’s still the same: You can’t have it!

  1. Dave

    November 3rd, 2020

    Oh, I think Ms. Graney hit a tender sore spot in that question to Premier Kenney! He might be a fairly smooth talking career politician, but when he is really irritated by something, it sure shows. At least he didn’t literally say he disagreed with the premise of her question, he is a far too smooth talking politician for that, although I suppose that was the essence of his answer.

    I suppose a more forthcoming answer from Kenney would be: “I am not going to adopt the Federal app because: I don’t like Trudeau, I don’t like Liberals and worst of all Trudeau had the temerity to call me out for my foot dragging about adopting the app which hurt my fragile snowflake like ego.” As much as I would like Ms Graney to get that quote as a reward for having to suffer through Kenney’s tirade, I doubt he is likely to ever admitt that to anyone.

    If anyone in Alberta still had doubt that Kenney was very stubborn and rigid, this should dispell that. Unfortunately that stubborn and rigid approach is not helping us deal better with COVID. In fact, its making things worse.

    Reply
  2. !?

    November 3rd, 2020

    I am not a computer scientist, so… What I want to know is: Why can’t both apps be used simultaneously?

    Reply
  3. Doug

    November 3rd, 2020

    So are you equally concerned about BC not moving to the federal app?

    Also, a few clarifications:
    -the AB is not open source. Read the license. Like virtually all software, it contains some open source libraries. The code is forked from an app developed for the Singapore government, which is largely irrelevant. Most software is based on something developed by someone else or for another purpose. Code reuse is desirable. Criticism of the price paid for develoment of the app is valid
    -the AB app always worked on iOS. The issue was that versions prior to iOS 13.7 did not expose a sleep state to allow third party apps to run in the background when the phone is locked. All apps, including the federal app have the same shortcoming. Older iPhones cannot be updated to iOS 13.7 or later and will never be able to support a tracing app

    The AB government has also claimed that it is struggling to migrate the data collected from its app to the federal app. This would be an extremely challenging task that also raises other issues like ability to preserve anonymity and whether sharing data with feds violates the terms of service that users agreed to when they installed the app. While these are valid concerns, I question the need to migrate data at all. Users of the AB app could install the federal app and restart tracing. Contacts from the previous two weeks would be lost, but given low uptake of the AB app, the downside is minor.

    Reply
    • Bret Larson

      November 11th, 2020

      What makes you think the uptake on the Federal App would be any better.

      Reply
  4. tom

    November 3rd, 2020

    The ironic thing here–well, ok, one of many ironic things–is that Kenney supporters routinely accuse Rachel Notley’s NDP of being ideologues. When you choose ideology over people’s health and welfare–that’s being an ideologue.

    Reply
  5. Abs

    November 3rd, 2020

    Bless their little hearts. They follow the Narcissists’ Guide to the Galaxy, which involves a lot of truth shifting. You honestly don’t expect them to keep track of what they said last week or five minutes ago, do you? They were probably distracted by Parks Will Goon fiasco, and all the photoshopped images of Big Jason and Little Jason on the bow of the Titanic, and the forgetting to buy the .com domain. Just trust the Jasons, big and small, and Alberta will goon like the Titanic.

    Reply
  6. jannabanana

    November 3rd, 2020

    I won’t get the Alberta app because I don’t trust it. I don’t trust the UCP government to make something safe and private. Perhaps I’m being paranoid, but I just can’t trust this government at all.

    I downloaded the Canadian app. I have a faint hope that Kenney may pull his head out of his ass.

    Reply
  7. Bruce Turton

    November 3rd, 2020

    Question to the Used Car Party: Why is it that B.C. has just over 15,000 Covid-19 cases and Alberta has well over 27,000 – while the population of B.C. is 15.5% larger than that of Alberta? What is being done incorrectly here as opposed to those west of us? And why are not these questions being raised in more public fora throughout Alberta?

    Reply
    • Doug

      November 7th, 2020

      AB has far higher testing rates than does BC. Identified cases is a worse metric than active cases which is a worse metric than hospitalizations. BC and AB are much more similar on meaningful metrics.

      How do explain how euro-progressice QC has suffered by far the worst Covid outcomes in Canada?

      Reply
  8. Athabascan

    November 3rd, 2020

    That little troll is denying Albertans a Federal benefit that we all paid for.

    What’s next? Will he now deny us our Canada Pension Plan as well?

    Denying us access to the federal tracing app, which belongs to ALL Canadians, is highly illegal. This is very bad!

    Reply

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