Alberta Politics
Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw at yesterday’s COVID-19 briefing (Photo: Screenshot of Government of Alberta Video).

UCP tries to recast story of premier’s meddling in pandemic response as tale of betrayal by unidentified leaker

Posted on November 27, 2020, 2:48 am
7 mins

Turns out the Kenney Government’s pandemic response has been guided more by political pressure and right-wing ideology than science and expert advice.

For weeks Premier Jason Kenney and his army of “issues managers” have claimed Alberta’s determined effort to keep its restaurants, bars and casinos open in the face of surging COVID-19 infections was based on the informed advice of the province’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, and other experts in epidemiology.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney as he doubtless felt yesterday (Photo: Screenshot of UCP Video).

Suggesting otherwise brought swift accusations from United Conservative Party Government spokespeople and their online echo chambers that critics were trying to undermine the sound counsel provided by Dr. Hinshaw, or even attack her personally.

Thanks to the revelations yesterday by CBC Edmonton’s investigative reporters, the curtain has been jerked back on how Premier Kenney, Health Minister Tyler Shandro and other cabinet members have been directing and interfering with Dr. Hinshaw’s response to the province’s dramatically worsening pandemic crisis.

The political interference was revealed in 20 audio recordings of Emergency Operations Centre planning meetings that somehow found their way into the hands of reporters Charles Rusnell and Jennie Russell. It sounds as if someone at the meetings of officials from Alberta Health and other ministries left their smartphone’s recorder running.

The CBC scoop summed it up this way: “Taken together, (the recordings) reveal how Premier Jason Kenney, Shandro and other cabinet ministers often micromanaged the actions of already overwhelmed civil servants; sometimes overruled their expert advice; and pushed an early relaunch strategy that seemed more focused on the economy and avoiding the appearance of curtailing Albertans’ freedoms than enforcing compliance to safeguard public health.”

To her discredit, Dr. Hinshaw appears to have been OK with this. According to a source quoted in the story, she was afraid things could get worse for Albertans if she were replaced by someone more in sympathy with the premier’s ideologically driven micromanagement.

When the story broke yesterday morning, the government’s first reaction was to turtle.

Mr. Shandro cancelled a scheduled interview with CBC Calgary’s morning program about an hour before he was due to go on the air. Officials, including Dr. Hinshaw, didn’t return reporters’ phone calls.

CBC investigative reporter Charles Rusnell (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

But UCP “issues managers” were soon busy on social media, working hard to spin the story into a bitter debate about whether the unidentified leaker was a whistleblower or a perfidious traitor undermining the operations of orderly democratic government.

This is an interesting topic for discussion, but it may not be the issue that ought to be at the top of the agenda, seeing as Alberta, with only 4.4 million people, now has the highest number of active cases of COVID-19 any province in Canada, including Ontario with a population of 14.6 million.

But it seemed to work for the government, and by the time her afternoon COVID-19 briefing rolled around, Dr. Hinshaw was complaining the leak was a “personal betrayal” and “a violation of the public service oath and code of conduct.” She claimed to have been “taken out of context” in the CBC report, and said an internal investigation will be launched to track down the leaker.

UCP outrage at the leak appeared to be driven as much by partisanship as principle, at least if we go by the reaction of the same actors to similar leaks when other political parties are in power.

Former NDP premier Rachel Notley, now leader of Alberta’s Opposition (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

It certainly would have been hard to find a Conservative unhappy about former Liberal federal minister Jody Wilson-Raybould secretly recording telephone conversations with Canada’s top civil servant in December 2018.

Nor were there any conservative tears back in 2016 when someone in the Alberta civil service leaked a negative forecast to a friendly newspaper that suggested the NDP’s climate action plan “could lead to 15,000 fewer jobs, a $4-billion drop in household income, as well as lower corporate profits, oil exports and overall economic activity.”

But political ethics, apparently like evidence-based advice on how to deal with a pandemic, seem to be situational as far as Alberta conservatives are concerned.

Well, the UCP is entitled to be worried by this development if there’s anything to the Environics Research poll yesterday that showed that 47 per cent of decided Alberta voters would now vote for a return of Rachel Notley’s NDP, compared with 40 per cent who would vote to keep the UCP.

Former Liberal cabinet minister Jody Wilson-Raybould (Photo: Erich Saide, Creative Commons).

Another poll by the same firm released the day before indicated strong opposition to the UCP’s health care policies.

The polls were commissioned by the Canadian Union of Public Employees’ Alberta section, which led government spokespeople to dismiss them as biased. One suspects, however, that Environics, a pretty respectable polling company, would take issue with that characterization.

In conclusion, alert readers will recall how the UCP strategic communications brain trust promised to respond to Mr. Rusnell’s and Ms. Russell’s calls for comment on another scoop last October, then reneged and handed a more positively spun version of the story to a competing media organization.

That is not best public relations practice. It might have seemed like a good idea at the time. The fact the government doesn’t seem to have had very much time to figure out how to respond yesterday, though, illustrates why.

37 Comments to: UCP tries to recast story of premier’s meddling in pandemic response as tale of betrayal by unidentified leaker

  1. Dave

    November 27th, 2020

    This leak probably just confirmed what most Albertans already suspected for quite a while. Mr. Kenney has been using his position to railroad over Dr. Hinshaw and his concerns were more about politics than health.

    No one, except Mr. Rusnell, comes out of this looking good. I think in order, it is the worst for Kenney, then Hinshaw who comes across as not having much backbone, and then the leaker who the UCP is desperately trying to paint as some sort of villan. However, as the saying goes, if you keep on throwing dirt, you just keep losing ground. We don’t know the motives of the leaker and it could be they were very concerned about the situation and felt this was the only way to possibly change things. This idea could turn out to be right.

    On that note, this does make it more difficult for Hinshaw to carry on as her credibility is further diminished. She might resign soon, or perhaps Kenney will act, realizing she really does not have much credibility for him to hide behind anymore, so she is no longer that useful to him.

    I suppose given how badly Kenney has dealt with COVID, and anything else health related over the last several months, it is not a surprise to me the poll numbers have started to show further diminished support for him and the UCP. Perhaps this will provide the incentive for him to get his act together, but I doubt it. He has more over confidence in his convictions than the PC’s ever did and seems to have a big streak of stubborness too. The PC’s, despite their ideology and at times inept management, would have never let something like the war on doctors go on for so long and the health minister would have long since been replaced with some one less confrontational. I don’t expect any real U turns from Kenney or the UCP any time soon.

    Reply
    • Marilyn Fawcett

      November 27th, 2020

      Wow!! Brilliant reply! Thanks for that, Might frame it.
      Hope Rachel gets back in.

      Reply
  2. Corwin Sullivan

    November 27th, 2020

    I don’t think it’s quite fair to say that cabinet members have been “directing and interfering with Dr. Hinshaw’s response to the province’s dramatically worsening pandemic crisis”. They’re Alberta’s democratically elected leaders, and the province’s response to the pandemic ultimately belongs in their hands, not hers. Her role, which she appears to have been performing in exemplary fashion, is to draw on her expertise to provide the cabinet with the best public health advice she can. The cabinet’s role, in a perfect world, would be to evaluate her input alongside that of economists and other social scientists, and then come to a considered decision about the best course of action based on the totality of the expert advice plus their perception of public opinion and their own judgement as to the province’s best interests. Am I confident that they’re doing a good job of this? Well, no, or at least not entirely. But for them to simply step aside and let an unelected public health expert dictate policy would be a retreat from their proper responsibilities, and would ignore the need to strike a sensible balance between trying to slow the spread of the virus (a tricky problem, as experience from around the world has shown) and maintaining some semblance of normal social, educational and economic activity. Just as war is too important to be left to the generals, public health in Alberta is too important to be left to Deena Hinshaw, for all her sterling qualities.

    Reply
    • Keith McClary

      November 27th, 2020

      Suppose, instead of Covid, this was like the Fort McMurray fire, and the Premier and Cabinet were overriding the firefighting experts and telling them to save the bars, restaurants, casinos and oil companies first. Is that a good analogy?

      Reply
      • tom

        November 28th, 2020

        Yes.

        Reply
    • Sheldon

      November 27th, 2020

      I agree with you the province’s response to the pandemic ultimately belongs in the hands of the politicians.

      The issue , for me, is UPC has not been transparent. When politicians make decisions (different than the medical advice) they must explain their reasons and not use the Chief Medical Officer as cover for their own choices.

      Reply
      • Bret Larson

        December 4th, 2020

        Which medical advice?

        There is likely to be different needs expressed from those treating the pandemic and those treating depression, for instance.

        And of course, there is the requirement to fund the fight against the pandemic. Destroying your economy doesn’t seem to be a great idea and on that score Alberta was already in a bad place.

        Hard choices to make one way or the other.

        Reply
    • Death and Gravity

      November 27th, 2020

      I have to agree with this. The problem is not that Cabinet was making decisions. It’s that they were making bad decisions for bad reasons because they are bad people with terribly bad ideas.

      Reply
    • Kang

      November 27th, 2020

      Corwin: Is the latest UCP talking point to claim it is a tricky problem to contain a new virus.? It is not that tricky. Containing a new virus is still just basic public health methodology. Test, trace, and quarantine. Let’s see who it has worked for:

      Viet Nam, now almost entirely open as is most of Asia. Public masks, testing, tracing, and enforced quarantine.
      Australia and New Zealand. Same methods with the same good results.
      How about Slovakia? Same population size as Alberta. They tested their whole population in one weekend and have used that information to reduce their transmission rate by 80%.
      Did you know that as of yesterday the BBC is reporting that Hong Kong has not suffered a single Covid death in a senior’s facility?

      In a way, Alberta is not too different from South Korea. They both got off to a good start with lock downs. Then Korea had to shut down a looney evangelical church to get back on track. In Alberta we just put the evangelicals into power and never did get back on track.

      The Public Health people know exactly what to do and when. As revealed in the leaked recordings, the UCP have sandbagged what needed to be done. Now it is too late. Where those in power are sensible enough to know what they do not know and let the Docs run the show, things are either under control or getting much better.

      Oh, and can we say again how outright stupid it is to fire 11,000 or so support workers and attack doctors and nurses? Well maybe not, since Kenney passed legislation criminalizing protest.

      Reply
    • Mike in Edmonton

      November 27th, 2020

      Sorry Corwin, I think you’ve missed a critical failure of Kenney’s thought process. He’s not weighing evidence anymore, he’s sucking up to his base and his corporate sponsors. That’s why he’s made the classic mistake and reopened the province too soon–and now refuses to reimpose a lockdown when we obviously need one.

      For an analysis of Kenney’s reasoning, see this opinion piece by Duane Bratt and Lisa Young:
      https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/road-ahead-jason-kenney-alberta-covid-politics-1.5818058

      Kenney’s recent “apology” to Restaurants Canada and the CFIB shows exactly why he’s wrong. It amounts to, “I’m sorry we cost you money. It won’t happen again ever. I swear.” A handful of business owners are more important to Kenney than the rest of the province – probably because they contribute to his war chest.

      Reply
    • Corwin Sullivan

      November 28th, 2020

      @Keith McClary – More like the cabinet telling firefighters they can’t deliberately burn down a commercial district to create a firebreak, perhaps.

      @Sheldon – I agree entirely with your point about transparency.

      @Death and Gravity – I’m not holding up the UCP cabinet as paragons of virtue by any means, but I’m not prepared to just write them off as “bad people” either.

      @Kang – Lots of countries have tried versions of testing, tracing and isolating with less success than the examples you mention, which suggests that getting this right is indeed tricky. The same applies to lockdowns, which appear to have worked much better in some places than in others.

      Reply
      • Kang

        November 29th, 2020

        Corwin: nice try, but lock downs work best when they are put in place soonest. Nothing tricky about that, but the longer the delay, the higher the number of deaths and the greater the disruptions to business. Targeted shutdowns are exactly like having a peeing section in a swimming pool. In spite of the Premier’s contentions this is all about the mathematics of disease spread, not ideology.

        Reply
      • Athabascan

        November 29th, 2020

        @Corwin – You are deluded. The UCP led by the kenney fascist are indeed bad people. Using every metric possible they have shown in every instance to be evil.

        They are so evil in fact that logic cannot explain their actions. It’s as if they are hellbent on punishing Albertans for some reason. How else to explain why they won’t use the free Covid Tracer App we all paid for, which was developed by the Federal government? It’s criminal.

        It was bad enough when they started plundering the treasury as soon as they got into power, but now their actions ( or inactions) are killing us and they don’t care.

        That’s the definition of bad, or evil if you are religious. We are doomed, and kenney is our executioner.

        Reply
    • M. Nokleby

      December 1st, 2020

      Stopped reading at the point you argue that ‘Alberta’s democratically elected leaders’ and not Dr. Hinshaw, should determine Alberta’s reaction to the pandemic. That’s simply absurd….and the chief reason we don’t elect our Public Health officials.

      When it comes to responding to a pandemic, or other health emergency, we need qualified people making the decisions, not elected politicians. Good health care has zip to do with ideology, or politics…..and before this is over, I suspect many Albertans are going to wish that was more self evident than apparently it is.

      Reply
  3. Ron

    November 27th, 2020

    Surreptitious recordings of meetings may be distasteful, even illegal.
    In a ‘normal’ world – with rational politicians making life-saving decisions in a transparent process – such impolite measures would not be necessary.

    This whistle-blowing is obviously very much needed when the meetings are making secret decisions that actually cost lives … causing death!!

    And it is not really fair to contrast this with a politician’s (gleeful) attempted entrapment of the country’s senior civil servant.
    JWR’s ugly maneuver was all about personal advancement and political revenge.

    Reply
    • M Nokleby

      December 1st, 2020

      Jodi Wilson Reybould’s decision to record a telephone conversation and in that way lay to rest any ambiguity about who was bullying who might seem ugly to some people; I was grateful she revealed the extent to which that ‘feminist’ government was willing to go to discredit her principled stand. At the same time, whistle blowers are an essential part of a functioning democracy…………..where too often, power works in secret to subvert the rule of law or due process.

      The public needs to be grateful that there still are individuals who put honour, truth and due process above party affiliation or group loyalty. They are a testament to why we can continue to scoff at conspiracy theories where there is no evidence: if half the stuff those theories claim, had actually happened, we can continue to believe a Julien Assange, or an Edward Snowden will emerge……..willing to put their future at risk to tell the public the truth.

      For my money, thank goodness for whistle blowers.

      Reply
  4. Abs

    November 27th, 2020

    Tyler Shandro’s performance reminded me of the Pee-Wee Herman Show. Yesterday’s secret word was “insane”.

    Was it any surprise to learn that the UCP has not been following medical advice from the CMOH in forming policy to control the spread of the pandemic? No. Jason Luan and the UCP’s own actions already let that stray cat out of the bag.

    Was it a surprise to learn that Dr. Deena Hinshaw seems to have been collaborating in this? To some, yes. Others have been saying this all along. She emphasized her oath of office several times, making some in the TV audience question if she had forgotten her oath as a doctor, which should come first. Speculation has it that this is Hinshaw’s last stand, and will be the UCP’s first step in making her responsible for the leak, and escorting her off the property.

    Seems there are lessons to be learned from history. You cannot collaborate with evil without becoming evil yourself. Someone had the morality to see the 510 deaths as people, and put the human cost ahead of else. Real lives are being lost. People are dying by the tens, and humanity has left the building. The only adult in the room exposed the Emperor’s New Clothes. Some call this person an unknown hero.

    Batten the hatches and prepare for battle. People with no morality don’t like being caught with their pants down. If only they fought this hard against a virus, instead of protecting their false image.

    Reply
  5. Bill Malcolm

    November 27th, 2020

    Why doesn’t any intrepid reporter at a press conference ask Henshaw or kenney if they’re proud of their Covid response? And if so, why? Let them tell us in public how wonderful they are.

    On reported statements attributed to her, Henshaw thinks she’s so wonderful that only she can battle the government, and if she resigned and was replaced, why, someone else with a UCP ideological bent, they would buckle under even more than she has to the politicos, er kenney.

    kenney seems to think it’s all a conspiracy where people out there are getting divisive on the Covid issue. No kidding. I wonder why? Couldn’t be him could it? Nah. He’s a self-taught ideological genius, after all.

    Reply
  6. Athabascan

    November 27th, 2020

    The whistleblower is a patriot, and a hero.

    All three enemies of Alberta (hinshaw, shandro, and kenny) need to be replaced with people who actually care about the health and welfare of Albertans.

    Reply
    • Marilyn Fawcett

      November 27th, 2020

      The whole UCP government has to go! And Hinshaw!

      Blood is on their hands. They have betrayed Albertans’ over and over again.
      Can’t wait till the full truth comes out from day 1. All the crimes and lies of their election.

      Their handling of the pandemic is sickening.

      Reply
  7. Hammer

    November 27th, 2020

    Leadership: an influence relationship among leaders and followers who intend real change and outcomes that reflect shared purposes. Please tell me where JK and his crew of ideological bandits fit this definition when it comes to the general population of Alberta.

    Reply
  8. Abs

    November 27th, 2020

    Perhaps Jason Kenney should refer to an editorial in today’s New York Times, on a break from flushing out the mole at the Leg. The Pope has something to say. It’s important.

    Reply
  9. Robert

    November 27th, 2020

    I don’t believe the recording of these conversations is illegal.

    In Canada and in Alberta it is a one party consent to record any conversation.

    I understand cabinet meetings are exempt from this.

    However, it was not a government cabinet meeting that was recorded.

    It was a meeting of Hinshaw’s team, who are hired employees, not elected officials.

    The old adage applies in this case “Those that have nothing to hide, hide nothing.”

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      November 27th, 2020

      You are correct. Recording of conversations is legal in Canada as long as one party gives consent. There is no legal requirement to inform other participants in the meeting that you are making a recording. Managers may have certain obligations when recording employees. But even if all participants in these meetings were managers, since no one was presumably recording an employee they supervised, it seems unlikely there is any recourse under the law against the culprit for recording the conversation. The release of information and violation of the oath that must be sworn or affirmed by employees of the Alberta Public Service is another matter, potentially a violation of both section 20 of the Public Service Act and Article 16 of the Code of Conduct and Ethics for the Public Service of Alberta. The former would allow a maximum fine of $500. The latter could, presumably, result in discipline, including being fired. DJC

      Reply
  10. All..in

    November 27th, 2020

    First off..thanks to the CBC Alberta news team for actually doing its job..it’s called investigative journalism..in case Global news..Ctv news..Calgary Herald and Sun ..don’t understand the concept..

    It seems as though..Bell..Corbella and Smith are all looking to retire in one capacity or another..at the U of C..

    Reply
  11. GregH

    November 27th, 2020

    Thanks, that was a great article!

    I often think to myself, “Man, I can’t imagine being in Dr. Hinshaw’s shoes. No way I could do that job.”

    Reply
  12. Windgrrl

    November 27th, 2020

    The masterful illusionist has created a spectacle showing that he has gone too far whilst not having gone far enough while the health of citizens and the economy descends.

    Reply
  13. Just Me

    November 28th, 2020

    Leaking boats often sink.

    That’s science and something Kenney knows nothing about.

    If the Angry Midget could, he would spin this whole thing into another attack on PMJT and those Laurentian Elites and their anti-Alberta ways. He would surely blame them for foisting this globalist assault on Alberta’s free-dum loving ways in the form of a pandemic hoax. Kenney would stand on the ramparts, wave his Stars & Stripes banner and call out to Albertans and guide them to a promised land of never-ending oil booms and a SoCON abortion free society, where angry Ted Nugent-Jesus rules.

    I’m enjoying the way this pandemic is unfolding. The dark comedy that is Alberta in 2020 may just kill conservatism once and for all.

    Reply
  14. Ruth Forneri

    November 28th, 2020

    Class Action Law Suit is warranted here. Reckless endangerment of public safety, gross negligence.

    Reply
  15. Keith McClary

    November 28th, 2020

    Back in May, Kenney was attacking China for political interference in public health decisions and lack of transparency.

    Reply
  16. All..in

    November 29th, 2020

    Jason “the Con-man” Kenney and Tyler “the weasel” Shandro have lost the last remnants of their credibility with a large majority of normal Albertans…perhaps it’s time for some words of wisdom from our “deputy premier”…

    UCP incompetence has resulted in no effective contact tracing ability in Alberta…has anyone looked into a class action being brought against whoever is involved in the decision to exclude us from being able to use the federal covid tracing app as it would probably help save at least a few lives and possibly many..

    Haven’t heard much from Stephen Harper lately..wondering if he is still endorsing this bunch ??

    Dr.Hinshaw please for your own sake..get a little Dr.Fauci integrity and stand solid..or leave with your head held high and quit legitimizing some of the very questionable decisions made by this bunch..

    Can’t believe I voted for this bunch of uncaring,incompetent bird-brains..

    Reply
    • Comment

      November 30th, 2020

      Harper is the puppet-master, so the answer would be yes.

      Reply
  17. Pogo

    November 29th, 2020

    “UCP tries to recast story of premier’s meddling in pandemic response as tale of betrayal by unidentified leaker” Look here! The leaks are everywhere! Bad plumbing makes for restless nights! Check this one out and get back to me. https://www.producer.com/news/new-alberta-feedlot-to-open-next-year/?module=under-carousel&pgtype=section&i= Now in my math, we’re talking mega tons of sewage before we even give shit about the animals! I’m sorry, I’m about to wrestle with ethics and morality! Ah a song for the pause while we all duel with satanic forces? Is this they’re end game? They lose so we all have to? https://youtu.be/vchkFcfbDzA

    Reply
  18. Comment

    November 30th, 2020

    I don’t expect any changes from them either. Kenney made it very clear from the outset who he was and what he stood for, or the information was there for anyone to find.
    It isn’t Kenney or the UCP who need to change – it’s Albertan voters. Or, at the very least, to become better informed in terms of who they are voting for and why.

    Reply
    • M. Nokleby

      December 1st, 2020

      To Comment: Exactly…the question has to be ‘why did Albertan’s vote for this crew?” Who they were and what their ideology is was plain for anyone who wanted to look…..so maybe covid has come to help us get real.

      This is what you can expect in any real emergency, if your preference is for a bunch of ideologues who don’t have to study…….or listen to expertise……….knowing it all already, as they do.

      We picked em. They’re our boys and girls.

      Reply
  19. Isaac

    November 30th, 2020

    Kenny wants the economy to survive… is that a problem?

    I think it’s a problem to so many unhealthy individuals who don’t want to actually get healthy to help prevent themselves from getting sick. Go the the gym, take you’re vitamins, get fresh air, drink plenty of water, and build that immune system. It’s really the only way to fight a virus that is well invisible.

    I don’t know about you guys but trying to stop something that’s invisible doesn’t make much sense to me and ruining the lively hood of so many in the process doesn’t either.

    People need to realize shutting down and destroying businesses is utterly absurd when the only line of defence we have is focusing on our health and building an immune system to keep us safe yet so many people think masks and social distancing works…. still doesn’t help you prevent yourself from getting sick it just drags on the process until you get sick.

    All it takes is one person in a room to get you sick… but yet you did nothing for yourself incase that happens. You sat at home ate skip the dishes and then you get sick and blame it on Kenny. Put the fast food down and eat some food and do something’s that’s protects you because it’s only a matter of time before you get sick. It’s inevitable.

    Kenny is doing exactly what he was voted in to do and I support him 100%.

    Reply

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