Alberta Politics
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney at yesterday’s COVID-19 update (Photo: Chris Schwarz, Government of Alberta).

Clarity on pandemic travel: it’s bad, but it’s safe; it’s not recommended, but it’s facilitated … OK?

Posted on January 08, 2021, 12:53 am
6 mins

Travelling by air is safer than going to the grocery store, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney explained to yesterday’s COVID-19 news conference. 

But that doesn’t mean you should travel by air. Or shouldn’t go to the grocery store. Or something. 

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

It’s always a little dispiriting when Mr. Kenney steps up to the microphone at one of these daily pandemic briefings and attempts to reconcile his previous statements with his latest position on the same thing. If clarification is the intention, confusion is often the effect. 

Sometimes, you’d almost think they were making it up as they go along. 

“The position of our government has been to facilitate safe travel because travel is happening and it’s best that when it happens, it be safe,” Mr. Kenney said yesterday. Or, as some media put it, as he clarified. 

That makes sense in a tautological sort of way. Safety is good, so if you’re darned well going to travel, you might as well travel safely, no matter what happens when you walk out of the arrivals gate. 

But is this consistent with the premier’s statement that “Alberta has sought to support and facilitate safe travel during the COVID era”? (Emphasis added.) 

Not really. But that was, like, ages ago, almost a week, when the premier was taking responsibility for “not having clarity” in the international travel guidelines he gave his MLAs about how they shouldn’t travel during COVID restrictions. 

This came up on Jan. 1 because some of Mr. Kenney’s United Conservative Party MLAs, cabinet members and staffers had just been caught travelling anyway, to places like Mexico and Hawaii. 

That was when he said there would be no consequences, which caused a certain amount of resentment among Albertan proles, locked down as they were here on the wintry Great Plains. On Monday he flip-flopped, and disciplined his globe-trotting colleagues.

Clarity. “Just don’t leave town” would actually have been clearer. The premier feels bad about that now. And he says you have a right to be angry. 

Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes (Photo: David J. Climenhaga). 

But if you are going to leave town, remember what he said on New Year’s Day: you should take WestJet. They need the money and they’re based in Calgary, and you can take comfort in knowing it’s good for the economy. 

As for Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s chief medical officer of health who was also at yesterday’s newser, she said “the advice that my team and I have provided is to avoid non-essential travel.” 

So is everyone clear on this now? 

What was Premier Kenney actually doing at yesterday’s COVID briefing? That’s a different question. 

I’m pretty sure it was to prove that he’s still large and in charge after taking a time out in the former Sky Palace atop Edmonton’s Federal Building, which is really a provincial building, another matter that could use some clarity. (Why don’t they just give it a name? You know, like the Grant Notley Block, or something.) 

And by the way, Mr. Kenney’s issues manager insisted the day before yesterday that the premier’s not hunkered down up there because of Hawaiigate or Aloha-gate or that #ResignKenney hashtag that’s constantly zipping around on Twitter. He’s just waiting out some office renovations in the Legislature Building. And fair enough. Nobody can work in the middle of a construction mess. 

What better place could there be to prove you’re still alive and in charge than at a virtual press conference where you can control which reporters get to ask the questions?

Mr. Kenney said he’s going to impose “a much stronger culture of discipline” on his fractious caucus. That should be fun to watch. I wonder what Drew Barnes, the independence-minded MLA from Cypress-Medicine Hat will have to say about that? 

Plus, we still “are all in this together,” although it was Dr. Hinshaw who said that, so maybe the jury’s still out on the concept. 

If anyone’s unhappy about the speed COVID-19 vaccine is being distributed, Mr. Kenney said, “I’m not pointing fingers, but the government of Canada is responsible for procurement.”

Oh, and schools will be reopening on Monday with no additional safety measures. Mr. Kenney insisted this would be safe. Not everyone is so sure.

None of the reporters who were allowed to ask questions thought to ask when teachers would be getting their vaccinations. Not anytime soon, presumably. 

26 Comments to: Clarity on pandemic travel: it’s bad, but it’s safe; it’s not recommended, but it’s facilitated … OK?

  1. Dave

    January 8th, 2021

    I do wonder if the stress of governing is starting to get to Kenney. He looks a bit haggard lately and while I didn’t often agree with his message, he used to be much better at communicating it. He used to seem to know his audience and how to effectively get his message across to them.

    These days, his communication is a hot mess of contradictions, back pedalling and twisting as you have pointed out. It would really be more effective if he let Hinshaw speak first and then just repeat exactly what she said.

    He seems to have lost his bearings, probably relocating to the Sky Palace hasn’t helped. On that note, I agree the building really needs a new name. Old Federal Building doesn’t do it justice after the extensive renovations. Surely there is an Albertan of stature we can name it for. There has been a lot of Alberts leaders since Haultain, some even worthy.

    I am not sure how Kenney plans to tighten up his supposedly loose ship more. After all, he was the guy who was supposed to bring discipline to an unruly caucus who talked too freely without thinking. I don’t get the sense UCP MLA’s do much without checking with the boss already. Well, maybe except Mr. Barnes, but as far as I know, he had the sense to stay at home over the holidays so he isn’t the problem this time, is he?

    As for the vaccine rollout finger pointing, wouldn’t procurement only be an issue if Alberta had already administered all the vaccine it received? I don’t think this is the case. Kenney might be struggling with communication lately, but still seems to possess his old well honed skills of misdirection.

    Reply
  2. Bill Malcolm

    January 8th, 2021

    It’s not because there’s a shortage of vaccine that the rollout has been slow.

    I’m no pro-Trudeau warbler, but this BS about who’s responsible for slow vaccine rollout was covered by the CBC on Jan 6.

    https://www.cbc.ca/news/health/canada-slow-vaccine-rollout-covid-19-1.5862358

    “We need to be open to the concept that the way [the vaccines] were studied is not necessarily the best way to use them in the middle of a pandemic,” said McGeer.

    “In Ontario, it actually doesn’t matter, because we’re so far behind in delivering vaccine that we could give second doses to everybody that’s had a first dose and we wouldn’t make a dent in our vaccine supply.

    “So it’s actually become irrelevant.” ”

    I don’t suppose Alberta is any different. The only consistent thing in this pandemic whenever things take another turn for the ugly is the response of Con premiers that it’s the Fed’s fault. They sound like trained parrots, the lot of ’em, useless bloody amateurs who can’t even get their restrictions straight. Just like Boris the Bozo Johnson currently running England into ruin, his head full of right wing fluff, and squawking the same chaff at every turn, totally disorganized and looking like a frazzled freak.

    Describing kenney’s utterances as pious I cannot see. “Unctuous” is the word, I believe:

    “characterized by a smug, smooth pretense of spiritual feeling, fervor, or earnestness, as in seeking to persuade; too suave or oily in speech or manner”

    Sums up the sonuvabitch for me.

    Reply
    • Neil Lore

      January 8th, 2021

      I clicked the link you posted and read the article, and it got me thinking. 16,500 Canadians have died of COVID so far. There is no end in sight.

      The FLQ crisis, according to Wikipedia, killed 8 and injured “many more”.

      Gotta be frustrating for JT to have just spent months being grilled about when the vaccines are going to arrive, then having to watch people die while unused vaccines sit in freezers. Yes the provinces have jurisdiction over health care, but these are Canadian citizens. Is the federal government really supposed to sit there with its metaphorical dick in its metaphorical hand and watch its constituents die needlessly?

      I think a strong argument can be made to invoke the Emergencies Act. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emergencies_Act

      Maybe the next time there is a “freedom rally” we ought to deploy riot police to crack some heads and incarcerate some of the overindulged idiots and assholes spreading this disease.

      Really, we’re watching people die, especially in long term care homes, because of the bungling and/or ideology of the premiers of provinces. Maybe JT needs to have his own “just watch me” moment.

      Can’t believe I just said that. Yikes and yuck. These are scary times.

      Reply
      • Death and Gravity

        January 8th, 2021

        You wrote: “Maybe the next time there is a “freedom rally” we ought to deploy riot police to crack some heads and incarcerate some of the overindulged idiots and assholes spreading this disease.”

        I could not agree more. This sort of behaviour simply can not be tolerated. They’ll be invading the leg and hanging MLAs next, just you wait.

        Beyond the gratifying truncheoning, we need to go after the people who are financing the poison being poured into these yahoos’ ears. State power is overwhelming, and it’s about time we tried applying some of it to the dangerous reactionaries and insatiable billionaires who are actively subverting the realm.

        Reply
      • Caron

        January 8th, 2021

        A friend reminded me of George Carlin’s observation: “Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.”
        Certainly the record of Kenney, the UCP, and the other Cons is a vindication of Carlin’s wisdom.

        Reply
  3. Public Servant

    January 8th, 2021

    UCP politicians can be tested so they can bask in the sun, but students and teachers are on their own.

    Reply
  4. Bob Raynard

    January 8th, 2021

    Good Heavens, just when I think maybe Jason Kenney has decided that he needs to govern with common sense instead of with ideology, he pulls another bozo stunt like this.

    By defending travel he has sent another mixed message to the Covid deniers in his base that is causing Alberta to have so much difficulty with the disease. I expect his donors from WestJet must have complained about the anti-travel message Kenney gave by sanctioning his travelling MLAs. This could also explain why he was reluctant to discipline them in the first place.

    The idea that air travel is safer than a trip to the grocery store just doesn’t pass the sniff test. I just can’t see how 20 minutes in a grocery store, where you can usually maintain a few feet of separation from others, could be riskier than sitting beside a stranger for 4 or 5 hours. Yes, the plane’s HEPA filters likely prevent an infected person from passing the disease on to the entire plane, but realistically you are going to breathe your seatmate’s air before it gets to the filter.

    I think it would be interesting to ask the authors of the Harvard and US Department of Defense studies if they agree with the premier’s summary of their work. This sounds like something that really needs to be passed through a BS filter. If nothing else I assume the grocery store model used in the study was not operating at 15% of capacity.

    I also wonder if the studies Mr. Kenney referred to examined the entire travel experience, or just sitting on a plane. I understand airport use is down to about 20% of normal use, which makes it possible to physically distance in departure lounges; if we all start travelling that advantage will be lost. There is also the matter of travelling to and from the airport (think bus to an all inclusive resort) and line ups in customs.

    Finally, it should be noted that air travel does not replace a trip to the grocery store. If someone is travelling to their holiday home they still have to buy groceries when they get there; in a non-holiday home scenario there is a lot more exposure they are taking on.

    Reply
  5. Abs

    January 8th, 2021

    If Kenney’s going to commandeer the ill-fated Sky Palace, it makes sense that he had to strip the lobby of (plant) life before moving on up. Austerity, don’t you know. Best to make it look as grim as the Ottawa airport, if that’s what you’re used to.

    Speaking of being devoid of life, the COVID situation with the highly-contagious variant B117 is critical in London, with one in 30 people infected. Unless we get our act together across the pond, we are heading for a major crisis ourselves, many times worse than the current one. Given the failure of our government to take this seriously, we are right on track for meltdown in mid-February, according to the medical sources I have been following.

    So while our Alberta leaders send the Titanic full steam ahead for the iceberg, (send the kids back to school, and head to a foreign beach if you like, but don’t play shinny; let’s promote other people’s tourism) may I make a suggestion to the readers of this blog, for whom I have no ill will? Please, if you do not already have a fully-stocked pantry, take the time to fill it now. Fill your prescriptions soon and purchase any medical supplies you need. The grocery stores may be less safe than an airplane full of people now, but they’ll be less safe than a grocery store in a month, and likely short of the most important commodity in this public health emergency: people. If I am wrong, and I don’t think I am, no harm done. If Kenney is wrong, you know how that goes, but blaming Trudeau won’t fill anyone’s stomach. I do care about you, but I am not a premier, nor a power monger with political ambitions, just a faceless voice in the dog-eat-dog Alberta wilderness.

    Reply
  6. Alan K. Spiller

    January 8th, 2021

    Once again he tries to blame Ottawa. None of these Reformers are smart enough to govern any province properly, it’s all about blame everyone else.
    The true conservatives in my world have been amazed at how not one single one of these Reformers has been smart enough to suggest the obvious solution to Alberta’s financial problem. Follow Lougheed’s lead of collecting proper oil royalties , taxes, and health care premiums and run this province properly , like Lougheed did , and Norway and Alaska are doing.
    I bet Farmer Brian was happy to see them pass Bill 15 to slash taxes for their rich friends down to 8%. In other words they are rewarding the oil industry for creating the Orphan Well mess and literally telling our farmers they have no intention of helping them clean up their land. What a surprise , they don’t have the money.

    Reply
    • Farmer Brian

      January 9th, 2021

      I hesitate to respond as it will undoubtably unleash a new cascade of insults but here goes. Looking at revenue collected from corporate taxes it is hard to see where raising them from 10% to 12% as Rachel Notley’s government did on July 1, 2015 increased corporate tax revenues. I looked at the Annual reports from the Alberta government through the years to get the actual revenue numbers. The following is the actual corporate tax revenue from the given years according to those documents: 2014-2015 $5.796 billion. 2015-2016 $4.195 billion. 2016-2017 $3.769 billion. 2017-2018. $3.448 billion.
      2018-2019 $4.871 billion. 2019-2020 $4.107 billion. As you can see an increase in the corporate tax rate does not necessarily increase the resulting corporate tax revenue.

      Alan I personally disagreed with lowering the corporate tax rate to 8%. While I did not agree with raising it to 12%, my personal opinion is that 11% would be about right. The fact of the matter is with annual Alberta government spending sitting around $56 billion corporate tax revenue amounts to about 7% of total spending, difficult to see how corporate taxes will solve our government deficit problem.

      As for health premiums I certainly agree they never should have been removed and there is no doubt that when this pandemic is finally over that all levels of taxes will need to be looked at including a sales tax.

      Reply
      • Janna

        January 10th, 2021

        Farmer Brian, when you look at those corporate taxes, they didn’t increase, because the corporations profits were reduced. That reduction in profits had nothing to do with increased taxes. I think the appropriate tax rate is 25%. The corporations were taxed on profits, not on total revenues. That is, what’s left after all expenses are paid.

        Reply
        • Farmer Brian

          January 11th, 2021

          With an 11% provincial rate and the existing 15% federal rate the combined corporate tax rate would be 26%. Are you proposing a 25% provincial rate when combined with the existing 15% federal would be a total corporate tax rate of 40%? This combined rate of 40% would be the highest in Canada, for that matter all of North America, would that in your opinion be attractive to business?

          Reply
  7. Kang

    January 8th, 2021

    According to the to British epidemiologist Professor Neil Ferguson, there is a mutated Covid-19 virus spreading in Britain and there is a different and even more dangerous mutant Covid-19 spreading from South Africa. The British government has listened and their schools are now locked down.

    We could have snuffed out Covid-19 just like we did with SARS and MERS using tracking, tracing, and compulsory quarantines as we have done with other contagions for 140 years. But it is too late now and infection levels are too high for any of this to work according to Prof. Ferguson.

    But we don’t need no smarty pants virologists or epidemiologists in Kenney land. For religious and ideological reasons Kenney resumed the PC sabotaging our public health care system and now we are the most dangerous place in Canada. When does political irresponsibly become criminal negligence causing death? Here is the interview with Prof. Ferguson: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w3cszc7j

    Reply
    • Abs

      January 8th, 2021

      But Kang, the goal was never to be a hero, and take Covid to zero. We have zero political heroes here.

      Reply
    • Caron

      January 8th, 2021

      Kang: you say “But it is too late now.” But that may be too pessimistic. Here is an argument for having a zero tolerance policy for Covid-19 – apparently it may be cheaper and more effective in the long run as has proven to be the case in Australia, New Zealand, and much of South Asia. Which is sort of what your British professor was saying as well.
      https://thetyee.ca/Analysis/2021/01/08/Get-Real-Canada-Get-Zero/

      Reply
  8. Neil Lore

    January 8th, 2021

    A quick note about Kenney’s “contradictions”. It’s not a bug, it’s a feature, and we shouldn’t expect it to stop anytime soon. He is either so far up Neoliberalism’s ass that he gets daylight by email or he knows that the walls are closing in and he has decided to help his wealthy friends plunder as much as they can, while they can. When politicians break the rules to allow wealthy white men who wear suits to break the law, they are generally not incarcerated. Hell, a bunch of them have statues.

    Reply
    • Abs

      January 8th, 2021

      I believe it’s time for me to set up a Twitter account with the handle. “So far up Neoliberalism’s ass that I get daylight by email”. Perfect for being a complete maroon.

      Reply
  9. Abs

    January 8th, 2021

    No matter how many UCP politicians set an example for us by getting on airplanes to sunny tropical beach destinations, Albertans are not buying into that paradigm. WestJet is laying off more people, and it’s all our fault for listening to what UCP politicians say, not what they do.

    https://calgaryherald.com/business/local-business/westjet-announces-more-layoffs-route-reductions

    Can we assume that they will be a new “Uncle Covid” Conmercial called “Fly Away for Family Day”?

    Reply
  10. Bob Bott

    January 8th, 2021

    I am reconsidering my misgivings about recall legislation.

    Reply
    • Death and Gravity

      January 8th, 2021

      I totally understand, but I think it would not help. Recall capacity seems mostly by used by well-funded wingnut groups to undo elections that break for the “wrong” party.

      Especially in Alberta, I don’t think anything but electoral reform could work. The problem is the near-permanent majorities based on extra-parliamentary coalitions.

      Reply
      • Death and Gravity

        January 8th, 2021

        ETA: I meant to clarify that what we need to bring Jason to heel is not a recall, but a vote of non-confidence that his government could possibly lose.

        Reply
  11. pogo

    January 8th, 2021

    Now I’m here to talk about cry babies. Yes. All those who thought enlightenment was the baseline. I ground my teeth and stopped short of expletives. My sensei taught me that much. But, I have to say, here, there are us. We are here. We are not to be feared. We are likely your children. We actually just want a reign of love. A world. It’s under our feet. We have it. Why destroy it? https: //youtu.be/3o4Fgh0KW_4

    Reply
  12. Bob Raynard

    January 8th, 2021

    Jason Kenney’s ‘safe travel’ has brought Canada’s first case of the South African variant to Alberta. The infected person is in quarantine, and all will hopefully be well, as long as anyone else infected on the flight practices personal responsibility and quarantines as well.

    https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/alberta-reports-what-could-be-canada-s-first-case-of-covid-19-variant-first-found-in-south-africa-1.5866938

    Meanwhile, Westjet has announced a massive layoff of staff, with the Westjet CEO blaming the federal government’s new testing requirement that has caused “significant reductions in new bookings and unprecedented cancellations.” I am sure the CEO thought he was building anger against the federal government for the new policy, but to me it really sounded like the policy is working. If someone’s travel is truly essential, arranging to get a Covid test at the end of the trip isn’t that big an extra step.

    WestJet also announced the cancellation of multiple routes to tropical destinations; apparently not that many people have an essential reason to travel to Cancun.

    https://www.cbc.ca/news/business/westjet-cuts-1.5866018

    Reply
  13. Geronimo

    January 8th, 2021

    Brian Jean for leader!

    Latest poll – NDP 48%, and UCP 31%. Guess no election for a while, but a good old fashioned right wing leadership brawl would be fun.

    Reply

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