Alberta Politics
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney at yesterday’s COVID-19 news conference (Photo: Winston Pon, Office of the Premier, Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

Premier’s news conference shows little change in Alberta’s inconsistent, indecisive, confusing, unsuccessful approach to COVID-19

Posted on April 30, 2021, 1:51 am
10 mins

If there was an obvious takeaway yesterday afternoon from Premier Jason Kenney’s announcement Alberta is reimposing “targeted regional measures to bend the curve,” it was that his government’s inconsistent, indecisive and confusing approach to COVID-19 will continue. 

With the third wave of the pandemic smashing Alberta infection records yesterday and leaving the province embarrassingly exposed as the biggest public health failure in Canada, Premier Kenney didn’t have much choice but appear to be doing something.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

A frightening 2,048 new cases were reported by Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw, speaking to the virtual news conference from home. It is the highest total since the start of the pandemic more than a year ago. Active cases soared to 21,385, compared with the previous record of 20,967 during the second wave last December.

But there was nothing in the premier’s message to suggest any change in the United Conservative Party Government’s constant flip-flopping from inadequate COVID-mitigation measures, inadequately enforced, to hurried reopenings after which infection rates spike again. 

On the contrary, with Mr. Kenney’s unwillingness to admit he was wrong, even about statements made only 24 hours earlier, and his repetition of old themes heard throughout the pandemic, it seems likely we’ll be rushing to reopen again in two weeks, with the same unhappy results.

And if Albertans won’t co-operate? Mr. Kenney threatens curfews. Remember “just knock it off” or something bad will happen? This is the same old, same old, and unlikely to lead to more aggressive enforcement. 

Indeed, by the sound of it, waiters will still be relied upon to enforce the rules in restaurants, and the UCP’s COVID Caucus will operate unimpeded as before.

Targeted regional measures? 

As for those “targeted regional measures,” this is a misleading characterization. 

“Targeted regional exceptions” would be a more accurate term. 

Dean Bennett of the Canadian Press (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

According to the government’s news release, “targeted restrictions will apply to municipalities or regions where there are at least 350 cases per 100,000 people and 250 currently active cases.” They will apply to Fort McMurray, the City of Grande Prairie, the City of Edmonton, Strathcona County (which includes the world’s largest hamlet, the city-sized community of Sherwood Park to Edmonton’s east), the City of Red Deer, the City of Airdrie, the City of Calgary, and the City of Lethbridge.

The combined population of these communities is a little under three million. The population of the entire province is 4.4 million. 

So while the measures are presented as an effort to target communities with more serious COVID rates, the intention seems more likely to target rural and suburban communities with strong UCP support to spare them from unpopular restrictions on business and other activities. 

St. Albert, Spruce Grove and Stony Plain – all city-sized bedroom communities included in the Edmonton metropolitan area – are not affected by the new restrictions. The same seems to be the case with Cochrane west of Calgary. Many seriously ill people in these communities are taken to hospital in the adjacent cities. 

Schools in those places will presumably remain open. Will kids from Edmonton who attend school in St. Albert be allowed to attend? It’s not yet clear. Activities banned a few blocks away will be legal. 

To say the least this is illogical and confusing. The plan cannot be described as well-thought out. Most likely it was sketched out on an envelope hours before.

Premier Kenney: as constant as the northern star

Mr. Kenney’s response to tough questions from Dean Bennett of the Canadian Press was illustrative of the premier’s modus operandi. 

Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1857 (Photo: Public Domain).

“In the last week, on Monday, you said you resisted restrictions, existing ones are fine, we just have to follow them,” the reporter said. “If we put in new ones, they probably wouldn’t follow them anyway,” he continued, paraphrasing the premier’s earlier remarks. “Wednesday you went even further … Now, 24 hours later, we’ve gone completely 180. Now we need these restrictions. Heck, we’ll even do curfews if we need them! … I’m sorry, Premier, I don’t understand where you stand.”

“What I’ve always said is that I’m open to bringing in additional targeted measures if we deem them necessary,” the premier glibly responded. “I’ve also been consistent from Day 1 that we view restrictions that can have a real damaging effect on our broader social health as a last and limited resort. I’ve been clear from Day 1 that Alberta’s approach is not indiscriminately to damage people’s lives and livelihoods, but rather to seek a balance between the protection of lives to avoid large scale preventable deaths, to protect our health care system while minimizing the negative impact of restrictions on our broader society…” 

When Mr. Bennett reminded the premier about COVID-denying UCP MLAs who are undercutting the official message, the premier accused him of inaccuracy. He insisted the government changed policy because the threat level changes as does the virus itself. (But in 24 hours?)

“I don’t accept the kind of premise of your question, which is that policy is only credible if it’s frozen, or if it’s set in stone,” Mr. Kenney rolled on in full gaslighting mode. “Our policy will not be governed by a foolish kind of consistency,” he told Mr. Bennett. 

It is worth remembering that Ralph Waldo Emerson, the 19th Century American essayist and philosopher whose words Mr. Kenney obviously recalled, had this to say: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”

Readers interested in listening to the entire exchange between Mr. Bennett and Mr. Kenney can find it at about 21.30 on the Youtube video of the news conference. 

Finally, what the experts say 

“For those who argue for COVID Zero and lockdown all the time,” Mr. Kenney told another reporter, “that is not necessarily the most effective policy.”

Let us close this long post with what the Lancet, the famous peer-reviewed Transatlantic medical journal founded in Britain in 1823, has to say about that. 

“SARS-CoV-2 elimination, not mitigation, creates best outcomes for health, the economy, and civil liberties,” says the headline on an article published by the Lancet Wednesday.

After comparing COVID elimination and mitigation measures in the countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the world’s major economies, the authors concluded that “there is mounting evidence” the elimination strategy neither threatens civil liberties nor harms economies. 

“Evidence suggests that countries that opt for rapid action to eliminate SARS-CoV-2 – with the strong support of their inhabitants – also better protect their economies and minimise restrictions on civil liberties compared with those that strive for mitigation.”

“Early economic and political gains made by countries aiming to eliminate SARS-CoV-2 will probably pay off in the long run.”

NOTE: The previous record for active cases was last December. For some reason, mysterious to me, I wrote September when I composed the third paragraph in the wee hours this morning. It has been fixed. DJC

19 Comments to: Premier’s news conference shows little change in Alberta’s inconsistent, indecisive, confusing, unsuccessful approach to COVID-19

  1. Anonymous

    April 30th, 2021

    The premier of Alberta lacks any ability to use common sense. He babbles platitudes, goes around in circles, and dithers. Covid-19 cases in Alberta are at record highs. Alberta is in a place where it is, with Covid-19, because of the UCP’s shortcomings. Your previous article on this, mentioning the ranking of Covid-19 cases in Canada, on a per capita level, shows that Alberta is on top. This isn’t a particularly good statistic. Covid-19 has more variants, and age is not bound by the virus. Anyone, at any age can suffer. The UCP’s inability to properly address the situation isn’t helping. Albertans need to send the UCP into oblivion. The UCP are a sad excuse for a government.

    Reply
  2. tom

    April 30th, 2021

    Conservatives love to evoke Winston Churchill, but one wonders how the current crop would govern during the blitz with their half-measures and their obsession with choice (ie. Individual Albertans need to do their own research and decide for themselves whether to participate in the blackout.)

    Reply
  3. Robert Bott

    April 30th, 2021

    David,
    You cite Emerson (Self Reliance, 1841): “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”

    Emerson’s oft-quoted aphorism is actually somewhat ambiguous, depending how much emphasis you put on “foolish”; and it’s also hard to tell whether “little” refers only to statesmen or modifies all three. The rest of the quote gives it a richer context:

    >…With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. — ‘Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’ — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.

    Perhaps you underestimate the premier’s depths. Nah.

    Reply
  4. ayeamaye

    April 30th, 2021

    I heard a news report from India yesterday that said the Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared Covid “beaten” and fully opened the economy. These right wing leaders in the world ( Trump,Bolsanaro,Modi,Orban etc.) have the worst records of dealing with the Pandemic. ” Lives and livlihoods ” makes for a catchy slogan. That’s the most important thing in Alberta right now…a catchy slogan…optics.

    The lockdowns aren’t the problem, it’s the re-openings.What number of infections is low enough to have a SAFE re opening… ZERO. Anything else just keeps extending the pandemic thereby causing more economic pain and loss of life. Death from a thousand cuts. Bite the bullet, lock it down, keep it locked down until covid is done and for the love of Mike…quit waffling.

    Reply
  5. Bruce Turton

    April 30th, 2021

    Why is it that Kenney et al are unable to learn, unable to listen, unable to see the results in New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Taiwan? I know that their creation of the ‘mell of a hess’ we inhabit in Alberta will continue well into the fall. Vaccines are not the final answer to getting the SARS-Cov-19 virus and its increasingly dangerous friends out of here.

    Reply
  6. Abs

    April 30th, 2021

    In maritime tradition, the captain goes down with the ship. What we are seeing here is the captain going down, and taking the ship with him. It’s an important difference.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_captain_goes_down_with_the_ship

    The national CBC radio report on these confusing half-measures did not acknowledge that many of the junior high and high schools were already closed prior to this announcement. Perhaps that was the goal: at the national level it looks like he’s doing something, while doing as close to nothing as possible locally.

    These closures don’t appear to affect a well-known private school favored by the Calgary’s wealthy for their children, and located conveniently between the city limits and Okotoks. Nor do Okotoks and High River seem to be included. Okotoks is a bedroom community for Calgary. Many residents commute into Calgary for work. Conversely, Okotoks is close enough to Calgary that residents on the city’s south end shop for groceries and more in the town’s big box stores. We should not forget that many workers at the High River Cargill meat packing plant live in Calgary and carpool to work in the town.

    https://www.macleans.ca/society/health/cargill-covid19-meat-plant/

    It’s like thinking only parts of the ship will sink.

    Some have also questioned why school closures will be extended, if as Kenney says, schools are not a significant contributor to the spread of Covid. Why close at all unless they are, in reality, contributing to the spread? Mixed messaging or what?

    At least people will be allowed to go to bars and restaurant patios as usual, where the sketching of things on cocktail napkins can continue. How else would wise choices about Alberta’s future be made?

    Reply
    • Dave

      April 30th, 2021

      Bars will be open because the province is the wholesaler for all liquor in the province.

      Reply
  7. Mike J. Danysh

    April 30th, 2021

    Kenney has used “a foolish kind of consistency” from Day 1. Downplay the problem, suck up to the Base, pander to business owners (especially the noisy ones) and–most important–ignore professional advice.

    Kenney’s made every possible mistake in mishandling the Covid-19 crisis. What’s inconsistent about that?

    Reply
  8. Kingsley

    April 30th, 2021

    The “best summer ever” will happen when Kenney resigns!

    Reply
    • Rocky

      April 30th, 2021

      Consider the phrase “Premier Nixon” before you put any money on that prediction.

      Reply
  9. Brockland A.T.

    April 30th, 2021

    Kenny s making the willful mistake of locking down to appease leftist progressives and weak conservatives; masking and lockdowns have just never worked save in the same kind of dishonest mathematical modelling the U.K.’s disgraced Dr. Neil Ferguson made famous.

    His refusal to take a stand for civil rights and freedoms he was elected to defend is a rejection of the core conservative base that will likely lead to the return of Notley.

    Florida and South Dakota are just fine; the virus burns through but doesn’t encounter swathes of immune-deficient shut-ins who haven’t figured out vitamin D is needed by their immune system either from pills or sunshine.

    America’s Faucci has even admitted to supplementing up to 6000 IU of D3, but good nutrition is never his core message. But at least he mentions useful advice in passing before returning to the official narrative. Meanwhile Canada’s Amy Tam is completely useless in all respects.

    The same polarization against progressives that has grown up in the ‘States in reaction to liberal totalitarian government exists in Canada. Only by nerfing themselves do conservative politicians fail to take and hold power.

    Reply
    • Rocky

      April 30th, 2021

      Dr. Ferguson was disgraced by his personal conduct, not by his mathematical modeling. There was nothing wrong with his math. If what you say about conservatism nowadays is true, society might as well make a concerted effort to wipe it from the face of the earth. Might have to. You’ve obviously become a bunch of Q-imbibing cultists, dangerous fruitcakes and a menace to the survival of humankind.

      Reply
  10. Just Me

    April 30th, 2021

    Now that Premier Cry & Angry Midget has decided to be a grown up, in the face of his decidedly immature and irresponsible voter base, he knows he’s going to pay for this in a big way. Unless he’s just using all his hot and heavy “knock-it-off” b.s. to present his Captain Canada image, we could see the pressure to oust Kenney grow that much more furious.

    I need more popcorn.

    Reply
  11. Alan K. Spiller

    April 30th, 2021

    Our family is now one of the ones in trouble , our son tested positive last Sunday. His boss brought it to their office after his son brought it home from high school. Although our son seems to doing okay to date it is still a big scare and you can’t help but wonder if Kenney had used common sense would we be in this mess.

    Reply
  12. David Bridger

    April 30th, 2021

    I guess they could find out what a total lockdown was like ( what could stay open if anything) by asking New Zealand if anything besides food sales were allowed. For example could a store like Wal-Mart sell only food and nothing else or could it sell anything in the store That other stores which were forced to close might otherwise sell?

    Reply
  13. Pogo

    April 30th, 2021

    “What I’ve always said is that I’m open to bringing in additional targeted measures if we deem them necessary,” So Jason Kenney joins the forever war. Only this time the opponent is real and mutates it’s tactics to benefit from the fecklessness of it’s target. George W Bush on a great threat: “The time of denying, deceiving and delaying has come to an end.” Why do we vote for these people? Is it true that the enemy are us?

    Reply
  14. Dave

    May 1st, 2021

    Premier Kenney is good at bluster and sometimes rousing a crowd, although these days not as much the latter. It seems almost everyone has issues about his handling of COVID and pleasing almost no one is not a way to long term political success or survival.

    So he is desperate not to further alienate those in his party who do not want COVID restrictions while trying not losing further support from those that do. At some point the gap between these different views becomes to big to straddle and one risks falling into the gap.

    Interesting that the ridings of those MLA signatories of the recent statement against COVID restrictions tend to be the ones outside the latest restrictions. Interesting that he tries to portray these restrictions as limited to a few specific areas, but those areas are a majority of the provinces population. It is quite possible that as you assert, the converse of what the Premier tries to portray is true. The exceptions are those areas with no more restrictions. Of course the Premier doesn’t want to appear to be caving to 18 or so MLA’s for many reasons, but in reality that may be exactly what is happening.

    At a certain point, Kenney can’t spin or talk his way out of things anymore. He just loses credibility and starts to look even more ridiculous.

    Reply
  15. jerrymacgp

    May 1st, 2021

    This silliness about declaring certain cities to be “hot spots” is ridiculous. The virus doesn’t respect municipal boundaries any more than it does national borders. Leaving aside the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo — which the rest of know as Fort McMurray, although the RMWB is actually far larger than just Ft Mac — every one of those cities is surrounded by bedroom communities & other quasi-rural areas.

    Take Grande Prairie, for example. The current case rate in the City is 586 per 100,000 population. In the County of Grande Prairie No. 1, which surrounds the City like a doughnut, the comparable rate is 592 per 100k. There are numerous residential neighbourhoods in the County that abut against City limits; does anyone really think there’s any separation between case transmission within & outside City limits? In addition, many industrial workplaces in the community are located in the County, but their workers live in the City — this is the underpinning of an longstanding & ongoing tension between the two municipalities over taxation, services & revenue sharing. So, high case rates in the City affect the County, & vice-versa. And yet, when the City brought in its mask mandate — some weeks before the province issued its own — the County did not. I’m sure the same or similar situation exists in Red Deer & Lethbridge.

    Reply

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