Alberta Premier Jason Kenney at yesterday’s COVID news conference (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

Did the Great Barrington Declaration just transition into the Great Edmonton Declaration?

Remember that thing? The now discredited notion – with the thinnest veneer of transitory scientific respectability – that everything would be OK if we just shielded the old folks from COVID-19 and ignored almost everyone else while the coronavirus pandemic ripped around the globe till we all had “herd immunity.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the U.S. Coronavirus Task Force, in 2007 (Photo: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases).

The science deniers and conspiracy theorists who are determined to let COVID-19 run free in Alberta don’t speak its name much anymore – it was pretty well done for once it became clear that such esteemed scientists as Dr. Johnny Fartpants and Professor Notaf Uckingclue were among the 15,000 “scientists” who signed the thing by clicking a button on its website.

It probably didn’t help either that the declaration turned out to have been sponsored by a Koch Brothers funded libertarian “think tank,” up to then better known for denying that climate change is a thing.

Nevertheless, despite being in bad odour nowadays, there was a whiff of Great Barrington in the air of Edmonton yesterday when Premier Jason Kenney got up on his hind legs at a news conference to discuss Alberta’s appalling performance controlling COVID-19, the worst in Canada at the moment, and announced his government is about to relax visitor restrictions on long-term care homes in two weeks.

Calling this a “safe and prudent step forward,” he explained that more than 83 per cent of Albertans over 75 and nearly all residents of long-term care facilities are vaccinated now, so why worry?

This move certainly smacks of Great Barringtonism. It will also please some operators of private, for-profit long-term-care services worried about how to staff their facilities. 

So despite rising numbers of young, still-unvaccinated people in hospital, and seemingly out-of-control variants of concern, there will be no further effort to control the spread. It’s all on the vaccines now, as far as Mr. Kenney is concerned. 

After all, he shrugged in response to a reporter’s question, “we did predict that we would probably hit 20,000 active cases this week about three weeks back when we announced those additional measures. And so a lot of what we’re seeing now was, in a sense, baked in prior to these measures.”

There’s nothing fanciful about arguing this Great Barrington nonsense has always appealed to Alberta’s premier and his government. Mr. Kenney has boasted from the pandemic’s get-go that there was no way Alberta was going to try for COVID Zero, as Canada’s Atlantic provinces have successfully done. 

So while the words may not have passed his lips yesterday, his latest plans were clearly influenced by a doctrine Dr. Anthony Fauci, the respected head of the U.S. Coronavirus Task Force, calls “total nonsense.”

Just as the premier has from the start of the pandemic, the declaration emphasizes the dangers of mental health and other medical conditions neglected because of the focus on COVID-19, claiming they are a more urgent threat. 

And just as the UCP’s still-welcome anti-mask, anti-vaxx Legislative caucus has, it calls for a swift reopening of schools, universities, offices, commercial establishments, restaurants and mass events such as musical concerts and sports matches. And rodeos. Mr. Kenney has promised we’ll be having rodeos by this summer, which he said recently will be the best ever. 

And how’s this actually working out? Not very well, it would seem. 

There were 1,495 new cases of COVID-19 reported yesterday. Active cases in Alberta reached 20,610. There are 616 patients in hospital yesterday, 145 of them in ICUs. Seven more Albertans died. 

According to figures published by the Government of Canada, the rate of cases in Alberta in the past seven days outpaces the rest of Canada dramatically – 251 per 100,000 population, compared to 186 in Ontario, the second hardest-hit province, 10 in Nova Scotia and Yukon, three in P.E.I. and Newfoundland. 

Not so long ago, when he was still president of the United States, Donald Trump and his minions loved the Great Barrington Declaration. It let them say that what they wanted to do was the right thing to do. 

That’s a funny thing about science deniers – they often crave a little scientific respectability. 

That’s the premise on which Alberta’s Energy War Room was built, isn’t it? What better way to sow a little doubt about an inconvenient scientific consensus than to have a sceptical scientist of your own to cast a little shade on things. It’s how Big Tobacco kept us smoking for generations.

Lots of lots of people in Alberta’s United Conservative Party felt and feel the same way. Despite Mr. Kenney’s sharp words on occasion for the most blatant COVID conspiracy theorizers, his repeated actions suggest a man who drinks from the same well. 

As a result, we Albertans are now living in a Petri dish, an ongoing experiment in how well the Great Barrington Declaration really works.

Join the Conversation


  1. Here is the unsurprising truth. Rome is burning, while Nero is fiddling. We can all kiss our spring, summer and fall plans goodbye, thanks to the UCP’s dithering on Covid-19.

    1. As long as your all puckered up there – kiss your winter goodbye too!

      We’ll arrive at the spring of 2022 pretty much the same as this last spring, infection-wise. Unless we, the people, decide to get serious about our circumstances and relieve stupid kkkenney of his public health decision-making we will be dealing with significant levels of disease in the population forever and a day.

      1. POLITICAL RANGER: That too. The winter of 2021/22 in Alberta, will also end up being the winter of discontent. Where will the UCP MLAs be flying off to next?

  2. And those people in Wood Buffalo Regional Municipality are alarmists, declaring a local emergency of all things, says kenney. Why, there’s plenty of unused vaccine just sitting around at the end of each day, he told the media. I heard him say this myself this morning on CBC, here way out east. They’re just a bunch of crybabies, was the the impression he created with me. Get back to bitumen digging at once, quit yer carping and get vaccinated, because it’s the right thing to do. You are left to wonder why Mayor Simon is ringing the alarm bells, but then he’s merely on the front lines, while kenney lives in a pad atop a federal building in Edmonton, out of touch and stupid with it, scheming coal fields, polluted watersheds, war on docs, in fact war on everyone who doesn’t see things his benightedly ideologically way.

    The King of Stupid and his cohorts of United Clustertwits obviously think the vaccine is the cure-all. Beyond the fact that it takes at least couple of weeks for any sort of immunity to develop, and people fall ill and die in about 10 to 14 days with the variant or become extremely ill and flood ICUs, relying on vaccines to get through current events is as stupid as one can get. You have to minimize spread. One Albertan observer says Alberta’s restrictions are not as tight as they were back in December. That fact is the height of assinine stupidity if true, but typical of the minor kenney mind. Does Henshaw have any integrity in not speaking up?

    Similar belief in magic vaccinations also envelops the minor brain of Mayor Brown of Brampton ON, who almost got to be the PC leader in Ontario until the doofus Dougie Who Me? Ford came along. Even the CBC National News host caught Brown out on that one, so he then showed his basic lack of knowledge talking about fire control. Seriously, do any of these Con artists even live in reality? Do they read? They obviously don’t understand, and apparently wilfully so.

    Yeah, we aren’t doing that well on Covid variants here in Nova Scotia at the moment, either. Shut down tighter than a gnat’s ass, though. Therein lies the difference in philosophy between people who can think and Cons in general.

    1. “…doofus Dougie Who Me?” Well, we’re stuck. After three straight Liberal majority governments we the people wanted change, anybody but the NDP. So, out went Kathleen Wynne and in came Rotundus Maximus from Etobicoke. You get what you vote for and vote for what you get.

  3. Even for a conservative, Jason Kenney has surprisingly few ideas. His inability, or refusal, to adapt has been costly in every way.

    1. Costly in every way but one – personally. Will Mr. Kenney lose any loved ones? Of course not, he is shielded by the wealth and power of the taxpayer. Republicons knowingly and intentionally bungled this crisis because they knew it would harm non-white people more than white people, knew it would harm poor people more than wealthy people, and that’s what they’re about. Every closet Malthusian in Neoliberaldom has used this plague as a means of population control.
      Well, either that or they are dumber than rocks.

  4. Let’s see. Doing some simple calculations based on yesterday’s reported 1495 new cases, with 14,848 tests done, the test positivity rate was 10.06 percent. If Alberta had done 20,000 tests, we would have had 2012 new cases. Remember that the accuracy of the positivity rate increases with more tests done. Perhaps that should give Albertans pause for thought. Why is testing taking five days in some cases? Might it be for political reasons rather than health reasons? Does that include rapid tests and tests done for curling tournaments? What is the current R-value?

    I don’t see a single medical professional on the cabinet emergency management committee charged with making important pandemic health decisions. Not a one.

    We have a premier who repeatedly states that modelling is a bogus practice, but now says he predicted all this? Yeah, right.

    For anyone who doesn’t know, some residents of care homes are not vaccinated yet and never will be, due to certain health conditions that prevent this from being a choice.

    It boils down to 2023. Who will we vote for in the next election: a premier who wants us dead, or the one who doesn’t? The choice seems obvious. In the meantime, let us take inspiration from Lord Farquaad of the Sky Palace (formerly of Shrek):

    “Some of you may die, but it’s a sacrifice I am willing to make.”

  5. Until it comes home to your kitchen a lot of folks will go about denying that the earth is round and claiming that covid is the flu. At my children’s school the teachers have worked overtime to keep the kids safe but their phenomenal efforts couldn’t keep it out of the school. Yesterday morning we got the call no one wants that our child and her whole class must now homeschool as they are close contacts. So off I went and tried to book a Covid appt for my child, but can not get in until Friday. I just wish JK and his band of flat earth conspirators could come and supervise my kids while I work from home. All I am getting at is it seems that some of these politicians are divorced from reality and unfortunately just don’t get it. It is also noted that some of the worst hit areas are represented by the band of 16. Don’t hear much from them these days.

  6. Thanks for this post, part of your astonishing output, both in quality and in quantity. For some people outside Alberta, the Calgary Stampede may be known, as well as the name of Calgary-born, Paris-based writer Nancy Huston. But little else (apart from oil of course). So your blog is most welcome if someone wants to get an idea of Alberta’s present and near future.

    I wrote a short article summarizing your work. It may sink or spark some interest. Either way, you are entitled to be informed it exists:


  7. Thank you for another great piece, David.

    I clicked on the Government of Canada link you included, but was unable to see the per 100,000 cases you mentioned. I have been following the per 100,000 cases regularly, using a graph the CBC has been providing (linked below). While the numbers presented by the CBC are significantly different than the ones you mentioned, but the trend is shockingly similar, so I expect the difference is related to something like current numbers versus seven-day average.

    The CBC numbers reported this morning list Alberta’s per 100,000 cases is 465 and Ontario’s is 275. The national average is 224, and all the other provinces are below the national average. Since Alberta’s high numbers are part of the national average, it would be interesting to compare Alberta’s rate to the national average without our province; we must be close to double. (Edit: since I wrote this this morning the numbers have been updated and Alberta is over double the national average without excluding our numbers from the national average)

    Given this discrepancy, I am starting to think that when this is all over, a public inquiry about Alberta’s handling of the pandemic would be appropriate, especially if our current per 100,000 cases produce an equally disproportionate death rate.

    There are a lot of things that are worthy of reflection with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight an inquiry could produce, and it wouldn’t just be a Jason Kenney witch hunt. A close look at our vaccination priorities could be a good idea. While I totally agree that seniors living in a communal environment should have received a top priority, I believe we should have prioritized essential workers above younger retirees and people who can work from home, both of whom are able to minimize contact with the general public.

    Even Mr. Kenney’s decision not to impose more restrictions may be valid. It is entirely possible behavioural scientists advised him that more restrictions would produce a backlash that would cause a reduction in compliance rate. If that is indeed the case, no increased restrictions would be justifiable, but at the same time it would definitely call for some serious provincial self reflection on what kind of people live here that the government cannot impose life-saving protocols. Civics would definitely be something for the new social studies curriculum to include.

    1. The media are all over the terrible situation in India – 35 times as many new cases as Canada. They don’t mention that India has 35 times the population. And of course, Alberta has twice the rate as Canada.

  8. Well, I was pretty angry yesterday after watching that farce of a news conference. After having a day to calm down and having an opportunity to read this excellent post I find I’m really at a loss for words to describe how much more intolerable the situation in Alberta becomes every day. The only applicable thing I can think of is an (almost) quote from ‘A Fish Called Wanda’.

    “It’s K-K-K-Kenney c-c-c-coming to k-k-k-kill us!”

  9. A lot of Albertans had it very good for a long time with the Conservatives in government thanks mostly to one natural resource (oil) and not to sound governance on behalf of the general population. Some of those just can’t accept that game being over not to be replayed, but they are being played by the UCP.

    1. Well, as far as I know they only have a political scientist actually employed in the War Room. But just read the drivel they publish. It’s full of quotes attributed to experts – including scientific experts – that supposedly buttress their arguments. These must be treated with a certain amount of skepticism. They may be taken out of context, and interview subjects may not be told the nature of the organization that has contacted them, like the Vancouver chef interviewed early in the War Room’s efforts. But the desire to attain scientific respectability, not to mention social license, for the Alberta Government’s unscientific opinions and anti-social policies runs through the War Room effort. DJC

  10. If it’s good enough to get the old-age homes vaccinated first because of patients’ vulnerability, then what about all the citizens Kenney says are vulnerable because of mental health—and Drew Barnes says are vulnerable to or in a spiritual crisis? Now the geezers are covered, shouldn’t the mentally ill and/or in spiritual crisis get prioritized next?

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