Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw and Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro at yesterday’s COVID-19 update news conference (Photo: Chris Schwarz, Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

Cornered by an upswing in the rate of COVID-19 cases and a frightening rise in cases of the more infectious B117 variant, Alberta’s United Conservative Party Government was forced yesterday to shelve its plan to move immediately into the third phase of its reopening. 

Under the circumstances, a return to even stricter measures to control the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus might be called for, but Health Minister Tyler Shandro’s admission that the government just couldn’t open up as fast as it would like was better than the alternative of trusting the UCP’s instincts.

Mr. Shandro with his remarkably yellow tie (Photo: Alberta Newsroom Flickr).

Going full Texas and saying full speed ahead and damn the pandemic, thereby guaranteeing a third wave of COVID-19, was widely expected by media to be the government’s likely course of action, so props to whoever persuaded the so-called COVID Cabinet Committee* to wait. My money’s on Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw.

But Mr. Shandro’s repeated effort to blame Alberta’s high infection rate on Justin Trudeau and the Liberal federal government during yesterday’s daily pandemic briefing with Dr. Deena Hinshaw was embarrassing and not particularly persuasive. 

Has Ottawa’s slower-than-the-U.S. vaccine rollout caused the need to extend measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 longer than the Kenney Government wishes? It’s surely had an impact.

But is it the cause of Alberta’s highest-in-Canada COVID-19 infection rate? Obviously not. Vaccines are being distributed by Ottawa to provinces and territories at the same rate.

Currently there are 6,176 active cases in Alberta, including 1,691 cases of the fast-spreading B117 variant. 

Last night there were 140 cases per 100,000 people in Alberta, compared with 105 in B.C., 100 in Ontario, 79 in Quebec, two in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and the N.W.T, and zero in Yukon and the Nunavut. The national average was 94.

So, no, our UCP Government owns this one, and it seems likely the main reason is its reluctant acceptance of strong measures to control the spread of the disease and its tacit encouragement of anti-vaccination sentiment among the province’s population. The presence of a rebellious and vocal group of anti-vaxxers in the UCP Caucus surely doesn’t help. 

Dr. Hinshaw (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

As the CBC’s Robson Fletcher tweeted yesterday during the news conference, “Alberta’s health minister repeatedly blames the federal government for the COVID-19 situation the province finds itself in. He says it’s due to the slow pace of Canada’s vaccination rollout compared to the U.S. I wonder if health ministers in Atlantic Canada feel the same way”? (Emphasis added, of course.)

Well, when your previously high-flying government is as far down in the polls as Premier Jason Kenney’s UCP is, the temptation to find someone to blame is understandable – even if it’s not very credible. 

The Kenney Government chose a downward trend in hospitalizations – despite being a lagging indicator – as its key measure for determining when the province could move to the next step in reopening, with 300 being the magic number. 

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

But as Mr. Shandro conceded at yesterday afternoon’s news conference, “while hospitalizations are indeed below 300, they’ve risen in recent days.” What’s more, he admitted the government expects hospitalizations to rise past 300 within a week. “And that’s why we decided not to move to Step 3 of our path forward plan today. There will be no easing of any restrictions at this time.”

Dr. Hinshaw noted that almost half of the COVID-19 patients now in hospital in Alberta are under 65, as are almost 90 per cent of those in intensive care. Since older citizens have been given priority for vaccinations in Alberta, this suggests just how effective vaccination is, although it’s also likely older people try harder to avoid risky behaviour. (Full disclosure: Your blogger received his first shot of Pfizer-BIONtech vaccine on Sunday.)

Whatever the government decided to do, it was bound to face strong blowback in a province that is polarized and sharply divided on vaccinations and the appropriate way to respond to the continuing pandemic.

The political calculation the cabinet COVID committee faced yesterday was stark, with whatever course of action it chose likely to cause severe blowback. 

Alberta NDP Opposition Leader Rachel Notley (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Continuing to reopen would have allowed the UCP to boast things are returning to normal in time for it to build a positive re-election narrative, plus get retailers, movie theatre operators, casino and bingo hall operators, adult sports teams, and religious organizations off its back.  

It would have settled down the restive anti-vaxx caucus among Mr. Kenney’s own disunited MLAs, and maybe even toned down the increasingly ugly and occasionally violent “freedom marches” by the province’s far-right fringe. 

But doing so would also have cost lives – which, at this point in the pandemic, would unquestionably have been noticed. 

It’s no secret that vastly more people in Alberta are cautious about reopening too rapidly and growing increasingly skeptical about Mr. Kenney and the UCP government – with several recent polls showing many voters turning to the NDP led by Rachel Notley. 

*If the UCP had named this the COVID Cabinet Committee, it wouldn’t have given the impression the government was endorsing the idea more COVID. Well, they insist they’re the experts. 

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  1. Whenever it sees a looming problem, the UCP does tend to blame Ottawa. Call it a preemptive strike against possible bad news, an attempt to try shape the narrative.

    Does it work, or does the Alberta government just look increasingly more ridiculous or desperate? As you pointed out, we do not exist in a vacuum and other provinces dealing with the same Federal situation seem to consistently have managed COVID better. I think that has also not escaped notice of many Albertans, which in part explains the UCP’s languishing polls results.

    Much like the boom, bust roller coaster approach to the economy wore down support for their Conservative pedecessors, the roller coaster of easing restrictions, more COVID and more restrictions is also wearing down support for the UCP. Nothing hurts long term credibility more than numerous premature declarations of victory.

    I suspect the inclination of the UCP was to ease restrictions again, although even its poorly considered lagging indicator was now flashing a big warning sign. However, I suspect even the UCP has figured out their dropping popularity can not withstand another COVID restriction easing bungling, so it was decided the political risk was too much.

  2. This is all the UCP knows how to do for Alberta, and it’s threefold. Do so many pricey shenanigans. Fail to prepare for the future, by repeating and not learning from past experiences and mistakes. When it all goes sour, blame someone else for it. The most easiest targets are Rachel Notley and the NDP, or Justin Trudeau and the Liberals. This is very predictable, but it isn’t going to help. The UCP are responsible for what has been happening in Alberta. I have a sense that in a month from now, give or take, there will be more restrictions in Alberta, because cases of Covid-19 will have gone up substantially. The UCP is going to have to answer for this. It’s not going to be easy for them to point fingers at someone else. That’s not going to fly. Even the hardcore supporters of the UCP that we see in newspaper columnists are really going to be raking the UCP over the coals for how they have handled things so badly. Albertans will also likely turn on the UCP. I cannot see support for the UCP enduring. It’s not happening.

  3. You got your shot already, so that’s pretty good! My brother in Calgary who’s not quite a senior yet has his Pfizer jab scheduled for April 7 at a pharmacy. Back here in NS, we are at the bottom of the provincial vaccinations completed list, for reasons that don’t seem reasonable, considering the federal per capita doling out of vaccines is even across the country. We’re still doing over 80 year-olds and specials for essential workers, teachers, police, First Nations, jail populations, etc. And making a meal of it.

    So, to the extent that vaccine availability is limiting shots, there is some truth to Shandro’s bellyaching, because Alberta is really getting on with it. Here in NS, pharmacies aren’t allowed to administer Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, because of the frigid storage requirements — apparently somehow Alberta has overcome that hurdle.

    The AZ vaccine uptake at pharmacies in NS for 63 and 64 year olds has been a bust, so now they’ve extended it to 61 and 62 year-olds. And the bureaucracy is frightening for that group: all appointments (for any vaccinations actually) have to go through Public Health, no phoning up the pharmacy for an appointment — too simple, I guess. Not impressed myself at the glacial pace here.

    Still, over in the EU, things are so bad as to vaccine supply that some countries have been buying the Russian and Chinese vaccines, and to hell with the political BS attendant from other leaders about using stuff brewed in the socialist world. Since there are almost 200 Covid vaccines under development worldwide, it does seem that coming up with one isn’t quite the rocket science we were led to believe, especially if it’s not an mRNA one.

    Personally, if I had the choice which I don’t, I’d take the Moderna. Developed by the US National Institute of Health, it seems less tainted by grubby visions of money-making like Pfizer or slight concerns over AZ.

    The variant strain of Covid seems to be nasty on 30 to 40 year-olds who get it, and is on the rapid rise. So yup, getting vaccinated soon is a priority, and I haven’t a clue as a 73 year old when I’ll get mine as yet, or where for that matter. Not all bad out in Alberta, then.

  4. The situation in which the UCP government finds itself now is that any anti-covid measure they take will be judged as too much by some and too little by others–one result of the ideological polarization Jason Kenney thought he thrived on. Everything was supposed to turn out so differently.

  5. I think a lot of the government’s reopening steps have been relatively well thought out. I especially think allowing retail outlets to operate at 15% capacity was an excellent idea.

    Where the government has been woefully delinquent, however, has been in enforcement. Violations by church groups has been the most blatant transgressions, but even the rule that everyone at a restaurant table has to be from the same household is a joke if it is not being enforced. Why would a restaurant manager refuse to serve a group of people who are obviously not from the same household if there is no threat of closure?

    Sadly, it appears the government is trying to satisfy both sides of the restrictions debate by announcing tough rules to satisfy the cautious crowd, then adopting a policy of non-enforcement to satisfy their libertarian base.

  6. “The presence of a rebellious and vocal group of anti-vaxxers in the UCP Caucus…”
    Interesting group, the anti-vaxxers. When asked about their aversion to taking the shot, the answer usually comes back, “I don’t want foreign substances in my body”, the same argument they use against inoculating children for diseases like measles, polio, whooping cough and the rest.
    Have these people ever taken an alcoholic drink, smoked a cigarette or gasp! tried weed?

    1. You list vaccines that have a long history and have been properly tested, in the case of the covid vaccines offered in Alberta you are the test subject. Those hesitant about being a test subject shouldn’t be lumped in with the anti-vaxx group, but alas they are. Now if you are in one of the age categories where getting covid has a high probably of killing you this may not worry you. If the only response you are getting is they don’t want foreign substances in their body maybe you need to talk with more informed people.
      As an aside, I way down on the vaccine list, for those that have taken the vaccine how were you informed about the interm authorization these drugs are used under?

  7. If retailers want restrictions to end, certain retailers need to look in the mirror. Why are they allowing staff and customers to break the mask laws? I’m referring to a big chain that owns grocery stores and pharmacies, where both of these things have occurred recently.

    Does Tyler Shandro think Trudeau is also responsible for the third wave shutdown in France? How about Germany?

    Meanwhile in Calgary, police are investigating that flagpole attack at an anti-mask rally, and an attack on a girl wearing a hijab, at the same location as the anti-mask rally the previous day. Also, police have taken to wearing thin blue line patches.

    What a mess. Welcome to UCP land. Is it over yet?

  8. An obvious observation: Politicians think politically, more some more than others. The UCP seem to only think politically when thinking outside of that box is required. As for blaming Ottawa…that crying wolf tactic is beyond old at this point and mostly due to how often they have done so in a relatively short period of time. The public’s attention span isn’t that long, unfortunately but even they can remember this.

  9. It’s so tiresome listening to the ever whiny Shandro and his blame game, primarily against the federal govt. When will he put on his “big boy pants” and accept that HE is the major problem, plus all the UCP base that support him?

  10. What a role model to children Mr. Shandro. Do you and your govt not take responsibility for anything. Pardon my words but Mr. You make me sick! This is why you will lose the next election, people are getting tired of hearing about the Liberal boogey man.

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