Alberta Premier Jason Kenney in his nice red seasonal sweater at yesterday’s COVID-19 briefing (Photo: Chris Schwarz, Government of Alberta).

Alberta’s efforts to respond to the coronavirus pandemic with Jason Kenney in the driver’s seat are a lot like standup comedian Billy Connolly’s iconic routine about union negotiations, only without the profanity and without actually being funny. 

What’s going to happen tomorrow? 

Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw at the same event (Photo: Chris Schwarz, Government of Alberta).

The plans will all be changed thenso stay awake! 

Having implemented tougher new restrictions only two weeks ago in the face of burgeoning cases of COVID-19 and then seeing new daily case numbers ease off a little, Alberta’s premier called a press conference yesterday to announce new holiday exceptions to the rules. 

Given the time it takes COVID-19 to show up as diagnosable illness — about two weeks — it’s really a little too soon to know if the old new plan is working, although the numbers of new cases reported in the past few days, while still dangerously high, are admittedly hopeful.

Yesterday, there were 1,021 new cases reported, the lowest since Nov. 25. Eleven people died of coronavirus disease.

So if we can just get through the Christmas and New Year’s holidays without a lot of partying, maybe there’s a little glimmer of hope at the end of the tunnel — unless that wavering light is the new U.K. virus rattling down the Chunnel rails in our direction.

So that obviously sounded to our premier like an excellent time to loosen the restrictions over the holiday long weekend. 

This guy may want us to think he’s Winston Churchill, but when it comes to dealing with the virus – or at least with his friends in the fastfood lobby and the loony libertarian fringe of his United Conservative Party – his instinct is to go all Neville Chamberlain!*

So, yesterday’s new, revised holiday plan goes like this: 

Comedian Billy Connolly (Photo: Sean Reynolds, Creative Commons).

People who live alone in Alberta will now be allowed to attend one event — just one! — at another household over the long Christmas weekend, which according to the government runs from today until Dec. 28. 

“This is a small change that was just adopted based on advice from the minister of health, with input from the chief medical officer, by the COVID cabinet committee,” Mr. Kenney said, no doubt describing accurately who was involved without necessarily giving much insight in to how the sudden decision was reached.

And if you consider that that Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw was tweeting about the old rules yesterday morning, it seems likely this was all cooked up at the morning COVID cabinet committee. (Old copy editor here, but wouldn’t it be better to call this the cabinet COVID committee? I digress.)

“It will make a world of difference for single Albertans who otherwise would not be able to visit their families over Christmas,” Mr. Kenney went on — and he should know, he’s a single Albertan himself! 

“It will allow parents who would otherwise spend Christmas alone to welcome their children home for the holidays,” he enthused, a decision some of them will doubtless come to regret for one reason or another. 

During the holiday weekend — which curiously according to the government lasts five days — a household may “only host a maximum of two people who live alone and only one event (not including minors).

Anyone who lives alone may only attend one gathering during this time, Dr. Hinshaw said, explaining that the weekend had been stretched to accommodate schedules of people who do shift work. First responders, of course, were mentioned. 

According to the government’s press release, read aloud by Dr. Hinshaw during the presser, “this approach strives to balance mental wellness for individuals living alone and the need to limit spread” — and I guess we’ll all see just how well it balanced them in about two weeks.

“We know that Christmastime, for lots of reasons, is bound up with people’s emotional and mental health, and we don’t want to make the already serious mental-health crisis in the province even more serious for people being completely isolated at Christmastime,” the premier chimed in. 

If this confuses you, don’t worry, its ambiguity will confuse a lot of other people too. Many will err on the side of incaution. And, of course, there is essentially no way to enforce it. So look for another surge in cases in mid-January. 

Hey, people are finally signing onto the Alberta app — or maybe not

Albertans are still denied access to Ottawa’s COVID Alert coronavirus exposure app. But don’t worry about it!

According to yesterday’s press release, 287,251 Albertans are now using the province’s ABTraceTogether app, 66 per cent of them on Apple’s operating system and 34 per cent on Android. 

“On average, 22 new users were registering every hour,” the release breathlessly reported.

There’s just one thing the release didn’t mention. 

The government has ordered that the Alberta app must be loaded on all work smartphones used by Government of Alberta and Alberta Health Services employees. 

That’s a lot of cell phones, although I couldn’t tell you how many exactly. Nor can I tell you how many of those phones are used by more than one employee, and whether all those users are being counted in that total. 

Those might be a good questions for reporters to ask at tomorrow’s COVID-19 briefing. 

*This is a blog for politically educated readers. I shouldn’t have to explain every metaphor to you. 

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  1. I am not sure about the Churchill aspirations in Kenney’s mind. I don’t know all the history, but it seems to me that Churchill messed up big a few times before he finally got it right. Maybe Kenney at this point is still in the first stage of Churchill and not the better second stage he aspires to be in. Will he ever get to the better stage?

    In any case, he still seems to be taking the political approach to COVID and we know where that has got him so far. Will it go better this time? Maybe, but probably not. I find it interesting it was said that his new plan was based on “input” from the Chief Medical Officer, but not on her advise or agreement. Kenney, as usually is the case, chooses his words carefully to obscure what he wants to.

    Will this Christmas concession win a bit of what Kenney may feel is needed short term political support? Perhaps, but so did “peace in our time” for Chamberlain. People were happy for a while that he seemed to avert conflict, but not so much when that peace turned out not to be very lasting. At least Churchill rose to the occasion and did not think like a politician when he saw the flaw in the short term focus of appeasement. Can Kenney do the same? Maybe he will eventually learn, but I have my doubts.

  2. If one considers the low number of tests used to calculate the new Covid case number released yesterday, then uses the positivity rate based on 21,000 tests, the number of new cases would be more than 1500. Now I’m digressing.

    The last-minute change to the Covid rules yesterday is an example of how purely arbitrary, not based on science, so many of these rules under the public health order are. One example is allowing the rich and elite to play hockey indoors, while disallowing it for unwashed masses indoors and outdoors (NHL, World Juniors). For another example, look no further than the AJHL Canmore Eagles, and the league’s decision to suspend a coach and keep its Covid numbers under wraps. Now why would a CMOH set aside science and allow this sport to continue, when it’s obvious the virus has no respect for hockey or the people who play it, no matter how rich or elite they are? I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure this will be tested in court.

  3. I see Kenney and his bunch as more Quisling than Chamberlain. I even can offer some evidence for this metaphor. Most readers know that in Canada “Crown Land” means land held in common by the government for the use and enjoyment of citizens. Ranchers can lease the land for grazing and hikers and others can also use the same land. However, Jason has just fined a hiker for walking on Crown Land “given” to a coal company along with taking water rights away from Canadian citizens for said coal company to use.
    Chamberlain was not inclined to war. On the other hand, Quisling was eager to enforce the invader’s desires and invited the invader in.

    1. Technically—or, ideally—, all land in Canada is claimed by the Crown. The only exceptions are unsettled Aboriginal land claims, confirmed by the SCoC when it overturned the BC Court of Appeals ruling that all Aboriginal claims were effectively extinguished by confederation with Canada. The Royal Proclamation of 1763, which requires the Crown to negotiate treaties with indigenous nations in order to extinguish their respective sovereign claims, is an integral part of the British North America Act 1867 and, thus, of the Constitution Act 1982; the SCOC ruled that, notwithstanding Crown governments’ neglect in fulfilling this obligation in various parts of Canada (BC, for example), it remains in force as originally intended, without prejudice to First Nations which have no treaties, as yet.

      In effect, land which has no treaty with indigenous nations is encumbered with two sovereign claimants, one the Crown’s (vested in provincial or federal governments) and the other to the specific FN claimant (naturally, because these claims are not yet settled, there exists a small amount of overlap, presumably to be eliminated in negotiation). Thus, there are two kinds of land in Canada: land where the Crown is the sole sovereign, other competing, Aboriginal claims having been extinguished by treaties, and land where their are competing claims by the Crown and various FNs.

      The RP 1763 orders Crown agents, colonial, charter, or national to extinguish competing sovereign claims by negotiating treaties with indigenous nations. This decree was proclaimed by King George III of the UK after the conquest of New France—that is, it did not claim a right of conquest over most of the rest of British North America. Treaties of various kinds had been sealed from first contact between English (then British) mariners and indigenous nations. As confederation to Canada proceeded, the extinguishment of Aboriginal sovereign claims usually preceded a Crown Colony’s or Crown Charter’s union with Canada as a sovereign federate, with three glaring exceptions: Lower Canada (Quebec), British Columbia, and the federal Territories (still about 40% of Canada’s total area), each with its peculiar rationale that, in nay event, is superseded by the RP 1763 which remains an integral part of the BNA Act 1867 and the

    2. …Constitution Act 1982.

      This is why: until 1066, ‘Anglo-Saxon’ (war)lords could hold land, or allods, without any obligation to the King (that is, solely by their capacities to defend their allods by main force); when the Duke of Normandy was crowned King William I of England in that year, he decreed, by right of conquest, that all tenure (‘holdings’, in Norman french) would thenceforth be held from the Crown alone in return for the fife holder’s military service to the King: no competing sovereign claims could legally exist. The English Common Law still used by the UK and its former colonies and charters (including Canada and the USA) is founded on this ‘feudal’ land tenure system, naturally expanding from the law of real property to services required, inheritance, subinfeudization, dispute settlement, reversion to the Crown, and so forth. By 1763, when King George III made the Proclamation, seven centuries of legal precedent (which, along with juries and lack of law codes, is the major difference between Common and Roman or Civil Law) and attendant statutes had accumulated and become exceedingly complex and legally impossible to undo. This is why it became imperative that all sovereign claims competing with the Crown’s had to be extinguished. It is purely legal and practical, not esoteric or particularly honourable.

      Because the treaty obligation of the RP 1763 is incomplete in Canada, this legal matter keeps cropping up. Leaving bad-faith treaty negotiation aside for the moment, the SCoC has ruled Aboriginal nations’ sovereign claims on so-called ‘unceded’ traditional territories are valid today, presenting major resource development difficulties for federates because they have sovereignty over natural resources—and especially for those federates (BC and Quebec) which have large areas of unceded land legitimately claimed by various indigenous nations. That is, the matter of Crown authority in these instances is unresolved and problematic: the stand-off on Wet’suwet’en territory is a recent example.

      Alberta is a province where so-called ‘Numbered’ treaties have extinguished sovereign indigenous claims that once competed with the Crown’s. Remind that the RP 1763 effectively recognized indigenous nations as sovereign (otherwise they wouldn’t need to be extinguished). The only fly in the ointment in Alberta (and other similar provinces) with respect sovereignty—now technically the Crown’s alone—is the potential challenge to the validity of those Numbered Treaties on the basis of bad-faith or coercive negotiations. Also remind that, in 1763, the UK could not clear competing claims by way of conquest—it simply didn’t have the military capacity to conquer such a vast, continental interior (indeed, it soon lost the easily accessible seaboard of the Thirteen Colonies in the American Rebellion), especially after the expenditure and exhaustion from conquering New France. Thus, negotiation—and the attendant recognition of Aboriginal sovereignties—was the only practical way to consolidate post-New France territory. Neglect in negotiating treaties with all indigenous nations has come to haunt resource development —just as bad-faith negotiation of extant treaties might one day do.

      Colonies and charters had to extinguish Aboriginal claims by way of treaties in order to confederate with Canada as sovereign provinces (the 25-year delay in granting Alberta and Saskatchewan full sovereignty has political consequences even today). The exceptions are: Quebec where the matter of sole, Crown sovereignty was settled by right of conquest and, subsequently, pressure to implement RP 1763 was a delicate political matter because, at the time, 75% of Canada’s enfranchised (white) population lived in Quebec; BC got away with ignoring Aboriginal sovereign claims—in contravention of the RP 1763 which has always been an integral part of the Constitution included in BC’s Terms of Union—because the feds were so horny to induce BC to confederate with Canada instead of the USA, the majority of the BC population at the time being expat American gold miners—BC got a free transcontinental railway, the CPR a bunch of extremely generous land grants, the feds turned a blind eye to blatantly corrupt land speculation and, of course, effectively absolved BC from the treaty obligation of the RP 1763; the Territories did not need to clear competing sovereign claims because they weren’t candidates for confederation and didn’t need their own sovereignties like (most) would-be provinces did.

      Finally, in addition to treaty and sovereignty matters, there are confederal ones, as well. With respect the coal concessions recently let, the Terms of Union for Alberta and Saskatchewan (which both confederated at the same time) includes provisions to protect downstream water supply for arid, southern Saskatchewan’s sake: its riverine supply comes largely from Rocky Mountain glaciers and snow pack in Alberta. It seems to me a case could be made, presumably by Saskatchewan, that the coal project would negatively impact its riverine supply. But we know that Crown governments have ignored much bigger laws before. It’s a faint hope on the ground, but we also know that the courts sometimes refer directly to the law and Constitution in ways power that be do not expect.

  4. I believe that only the most ardent UCP enthusiasts will actually believe the Jason Kenney has more knowledge and insight than our health professionals when it comes to what steps are required to ease this pandemic in Calgary.

    Bottom line…..this is a major FAIL for Kenney and for the UCP Party. Unfortunately, unlike most fails, this involves lives not money.

    Kenney is embarrassing himself by trying to convince Albertans otherwise. His best course of action might be to just keep quiet.

  5. Back sometime when, Neville Chamberlain was willing to find any accommodation with A. Hitler. Among the reasons for avoiding war with Germany, the utter fear many Britons had of another bloody European war, after the last one killed over one million and crippled another two million of them, Chamberlain was, like Hitler, an anti-Bolshevik and antisemite. Why couldn’t he work with Hitler? Compromise is always a good thing, right?

    Kenney has gone from denying the pandemic, to beating his chest against the plague, to cowering in the corner with the heat from his base got too hot.

    Considering the UCP government’s recent backtracking on provincial parks abolition, it’s beginning to look like they’re a government with ADHD.

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