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

On a wing and a prayer, Alberta reluctantly adopts stricter measures to counter frightening upswing in coronavirus variants; AHS fences off GraceLife Church

Posted on April 07, 2021, 1:35 am
11 mins

Faced with rising infection rates and a frightening upswing in coronavirus variants, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney reluctantly announced a return to somewhat stricter measures to control the spread of COVID-19 in the province yesterday.

Half-hearted though the reimposed restrictions announced at yesterday afternoon’s COVID-19 news conference may seem to advocates of strict lockdowns and a COVID-Zero policy, the measures represent a fairly dramatic flip-flop from a few days ago when the premier was all but declaring the pandemic over and nothing but sunshine and happy days ahead of us this summer. 

Alberta Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women Minister Leela Aheer (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

But that, presumably, was before the government’s public health experts drew the attention of the awkwardly named COVID Cabinet Committee to the gravity of the spread of more infectious variants of the coronavirus that are now showing up in Western Canada with a vengeance while vaccines are slowly being administered.

The result was the usual awkward Kenney compromise – unlikely to be strict enough to be properly effective but too strict to satisfy the United Conservative Party’s pandemic-denying base, which gazes longingly at packed baseball stadiums in Texas and ignores the COVID carnage south of the Medicine Line. 

The return to so-called Stage 1 restrictions – which include a restored ban on indoor service in restaurants and lower capacity limits for retail stores, but continues lax rules for religious services and the government’s determination to keep schools open – mostly took effect at midnight last night. 

Along with another initiative, the Kenney Government now appears to be conducting its response to COVID-19 on a wing and a prayer, not necessarily in that order. 

On Monday, Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women Minister Leela Aheer sent emails the congregations of a number of churches, mosques and synagogues asking them to consider today to be a “Multi-faith Day of Prayer and Reflection” amid “the difficulties the COVID-19 pandemic has presented.”

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been uplifting to see how faith-based organizations continue to play an essential role in maintaining social connection, supporting mental health, and building resiliency among their communities,” said Ms. Aheer in the e-epistle revealed by sharp-eyed Lethbridge independent journalist Kim Siever. “This is vital work, and we are grateful to you for doing it.” 

Alas, some faith communities – like Pastor James Coates’s GraceLife Church in Parkland Country – seem to be doing a little too much to maintain social connection. So much, indeed, that they risk some social infection as well. Presumably, though, Mr. Kenney will continue his government’s policy of not trying very hard to enforce the regulations he has just reintroduced. 

GraceLife Church Pastor James Coates (Photo: GraceLife Church).

While Ms. Aheer didn’t quite ask for prayerful intercession, someone in the UCP strategic brain trust must have concluded it might not be a bad idea to enlist the assistance of the Almighty to help deal with the third wave of the pandemic, the government’s constant flip-flopping from inadequate circuit-breakers to hasty re-openings not having proved sufficient. 

Ms. Aheer’s effort was not, oddly, accompanied by one of the Kenney Government’s usual myriad press releases. 

Missing from Mr. Kenney’s news conference yesterday was the habitual Ottawa-bashing, likely because supplies of vaccines are now flowing to the provinces faster than the provinces can get them into their citizen’s arms.

This prompted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to volunteer yesterday to help the provinces speed up their vaccine rollouts. This is one federal offer Mr. Kenney is unlikely to take up, however, no matter what the cost of refusing to do so might be. 

The premier was also unwilling to accept a reporter’s suggestion he was wrong a week ago when he argued the lax measures then in place were strong enough. The reporter asked: “Is this announcement an admission that you were wrong and that we should have brought in stronger measures?”

No! I still believe that to be the case,” the premier insisted, explaining that it’s Albertans who won’t behave responsibly who are the source of the problem. He followed up with a rambling discourse on how “if everybody were to comply with the public health measures that were in place over the past few weeks, we wouldn’t be seeing the kind of huge exponential growth that we are right now,” while stating that “we’re never looking for 100-per-cent perfect compliance here.”

“We just hope people will make an effort, probably, to follow the guidelines,” he said. 

Unfortunately, that’s unlikely, probably, to be enough.

Naheed Nenshi, ground-breaking Calgary mayor, prepares to bow out

Naheed Nenshi, Calgary’s popular and progressive mayor, will not seek re-election in October. 

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

The first Muslim mayor of a major Canadian city, Mr. Nenshi announced yesterday that he will not seek a fourth term at the helm of Alberta’s largest city. 

A foe of expensive and uncontrolled urban development on the city’s fringes and a friend of public transit, Mr. Nenshi was loathed by a deep-pocketed group of Conservative developers known locally as “the Sprawl Cabal,” who have been planning an expensive campaign to replace him with a more sympathetic voice at City Hall. 

It will be interesting to see if, with a little help from Mr. Kenney’s UCP Government, they can restore the development gravy train and derail the approved but still-unbuilt Green Line LRT. 

Mr. Nenshi’s decision to depart, though, rather deprives them of the most obvious target for their effort. 

It will also be interesting to see who steps up to try to fill Mr. Nenshi’s shoes. 

A good story by CBC Calgary reporter Drew Anderson yesterday gives a good sense of Mr. Nenshi’s successes, failures, and legacy. 

While he may be finished with Calgary City Hall, it wouldn’t be a surprise to learn Mr. Nenshi isn’t quite done with politics. 

UPDATE: AHS, Mounties fence off rogue church that defied COVID-19 health orders

RCMP personnel fenced off GraceLife Church in Parkland County southwest of Edmonton this morning for repeated violations of COVID-19 public health restrictions.

The scene at GraceLife Church southwest of Edmonton this morning (Photo: Twitter).

In a statement, Alberta Health Services said it has “physically closed” the church and would prevent further access to the building until church officials “can demonstrate the ability to comply with Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health’s restrictions.”

AHS said that between July 10 and April 6 it received 105 complaints from the public about the church’s activities and that since July 10 AHS health inspectors conducted 18 inspections at the site since and violations were observed at each visit.

“With COVID-19 cases increasing and the more easily-transmitted and potentially more severe variants becoming dominant, there is urgent need to minimize spread to protect all Albertans,” the statement said.

AHS also said it has tried to work collaboratively with the church for several months to address the public health concerns. Steps taken included:

  • An order by Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw requiring the church to close
  • A Court of Queen’s Bench Order on Jan. 21 requiring compliance with the previous order
  • An order on Jan. 29 requiring the church to be closed until compliance with restrictions was attained
  • An invitation to Pastor James Coates to meet virtually to discuss the risks presented by COVID-19 – to which the church has not provided dates to meet.

While it’s hard to believe AHS and the RCMP made the move without consultation with Premier Jason Kenney’s cabinet, right-wing media, culture warriors in the United Conservative Party base, and the lawyers who represent groups like GraceLife Church can all be expected to be busy.

Proof of whether the government really has its heart in this will come on Sunday, if the fences are still up around the church.

9 Comments to: On a wing and a prayer, Alberta reluctantly adopts stricter measures to counter frightening upswing in coronavirus variants; AHS fences off GraceLife Church

  1. Dave

    April 7th, 2021

    Once again behind most of Canada in the lockdown race is Mr. Kenney pulling up the rear and flagging a horse looking increasingly tired and exhausted by all of this.

    Of course, being Kenney, he also seldom admitts he was wrong, although I am not sure who he thinks he is fooling anymore. A bit of humility would be nice for a change, but I guess we will probably just get more lectures on our personal responsibility instead.

    I suppose Mr. Nenshi will be missed by the sprawl cabal and the rest who liked to demonize him and hoped they could finally beat him this time. I believe Nenshi may pop up somewhere else politically after a bit of a break. He is a thoughtful person, adept at social media before Trudeau or Trump embraced it. He often comes across as thinking he is the smartest person in the room which can irk some. At least he seemed to do better in dealing with the challenges facing his city than the other supposedly clever politician currently running our province.

    Reply
  2. Anonymous

    April 7th, 2021

    Within a month, the UCP will have to put in stricter rules to cope with the rising Covid-19 cases in Alberta. Alberta is in the top spot once again, for the per capita amount of Covid-19 cases in Canada. The UCP caused this to happen.
    The UCP refused to listen to the doctor’s in Alberta. As for Naheed Nenshi stepping down as Calgary’s mayor, it’s not a good idea to have one of the UCP followers in Calgary’s City council to replace him. They’ll bring the very pricey UCP type shenanigans to Calgary. Nobody needs that.

    Reply
  3. Abs

    April 7th, 2021

    Summary of yesterday’s news conference:

    *best summer ever*
    *Stampede seems like a good idea*
    *natural immunity by contracting the virus/dying/getting long-term health consequences is the new herd immunity*
    *Schools? What schools?*
    *This pandemic is almost over anyways, so let’s go half-heartedly into the void*

    Also:

    *One of the P1 spreaders spread this at a personal services provider, so obviously personal services will remain open. None of you will need to drive to Wales at high speed for a haircut*

    Let’s go back to one of the pivotal moments in North American public health, at the beginning of the 20th century, just south of the border in Spokane, Washington, shall we? A decade later, there was this headline:

    https://www.spokesman.com/stories/2020/mar/10/100-years-ago-today-in-spokane-absolutely-pure-wat/

    This was when public health was in its infancy. The 1910 typhoid outbreak had been beaten back after almost a decade, during which time another public health crisis occurred in the form of a more-famous viral pandemic.

    Here we are, one century and many epidemics and pandemics later. Lessons learned? No, not in Alberta. The longer we wait, and the less we do about it, the longer we will have outbreaks. In for a year, in for a decade, it seems.

    While we sit on about 450,000 vaccines (about 300,000 of which have been sitting in storage since at least Holy Thursday according to the premier; Holy Thursday being one of the most important days in Holy Week) and many of the pharmacies responsible for vaccination still can’t get *any* of the stuff, people are put on waiting lists. Anti-science protests continue. It would have been a real shame to disrupt an important religious celebration by saving lives through vaccination during the worst public health crisis in 100 years. Maundy Thursday and Easter come every year, for anyone who does not know. WWJD? Not this, I think, not by a long shot.

    Reply
  4. Bob Raynard

    April 7th, 2021

    “it’s Albertans who won’t behave responsibly who are the source of the problem”

    Jason Kenney is probably correct about this, but really that just begs another question: what is he going to do about it? As long as he refuses to enforce the rules, which could quite easily be adequate, the problem is going to linger, and probably get worse.

    While restaurants and bars were open, they were supposed to prohibit people from different households to sit together. The reaction from servers, who would be hoping for a tip from that table of 6 people, was ‘its not my job to enforce that rule’. The thing is, though, they already enforce a very similar rule: no liquor service to people under 18. They enforce that rule because the establishment could be shut down by AGLC if they don’t. For the health rule, however, the restaurant/bar that does enforce it simply watches the party go across the street to a place that doesn’t.

    The government reopened restaurants a few days after a few restaurants got fed up with closures and reopened anyway. The Whistle Stop in the hamlet of Mirror not only reopened, he essentially challenged the government to come after it, and urged other restaurants to follow his lead. I will be curious to see what the restaurant will do on Friday, but I am not hopeful they will comply. It isn’t hard to imagine that little place being the vanguard of a large scale refusal to comply if the government does not act.

    https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/whistle-stop-cafe-alberta-covid-orders-1.5926106

    Reply
  5. Athabascan

    April 7th, 2021

    Behold, Kenney’s base revealed in their full glory.

    We know who voted for him. Next election, let’s make sure reason triumphs over fanaticism.

    Reply
  6. brett

    April 7th, 2021

    This is exactly what the Pastor of Grace Life wants. It has never been about practicing one’s faith. The vast majority of faith groups have been successful in following AHS guidelines and PROTECTING the health and well being of their congregants.

    The Pastor has achieved his goal. Popularity, Media exposure, and false martyrdom through his jail term and now forced closure.

    The big puzzle in my mind….how on earth did he get so many people to place the health and well being of their children and their grandparents at risk by attending these disgraceful services??

    Reply
  7. Lars

    April 7th, 2021

    “We just hope people will make an effort, probably, to follow the guidelines”.

    Sure. And if everyone obeyed traffic rules, there’d be no need for traffic cops.
    You have to hand it to Kenney – cloaking his reluctance to do anything effective behind a screen of respect for personal responsibility.

    Reply
  8. Just Me

    April 7th, 2021

    I have no doubt that some FREEDUMB loving patriot will back their uber-powerful pickup truck to that fence, attach a cable to the post, gun the powerful Hemi-engine, and pull that fence down. Thus, another blow is struck for FREEDUMB and another nail has been pounded into Premier Crying & Screaming Midget’s coffin.

    And it should be noted that an open-letter signed by fourteen UCP MLAs, among them Drew Barnes and Miranda Rosin, declaring that the reimposed measures are an unwarranted “attack on the livelihoods and freedoms” of Albertans. This maybe the first sign of the swelling revolt against Kenney’s leadership.

    Kenney did promise to refuse to sign the nomination papers of any UCP MLA that refused to tow his line. It can be only speculated that if he does make good on his promise, there will an wholesale exodus from the UCP caucus. Kenney’s dilemma is he can put on his brave face and oust any and all rogue MLAs from his caucus. Or, go along with the will of his caucus, declare the pandemic over, open up 100%, and declare Alberta is like Texas.

    Reply

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