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

What Jason Kenney calls the virus-versus-vaccine race is part of Alberta’s problem fighting COVID-19

Posted on April 03, 2021, 2:24 am
8 mins

According to Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s logic, Alberta’s doing a better job of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic than New Zealand. 

New Zealand, a country with a population roughly the same size as Alberta’s with a similar demographic makeup, is widely considered to be one of the few success stories in the global pandemic. 

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (Photo: Jacinda Ardern).

Alberta? Not so much.

Nevertheless, if we go by the premier’s sustained attacks on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, including at his final news conference on Thursday before the start of the Easter 2021 province-wide super-spreader long weekend, you’d think this was all about vaccinations.

Praising the U.S. state of Florida for opening business and social activities despite high COVID-19 infection rates, Premier Kenney told the news conference that “if our federal government didn’t put Canada at the back of the line for buying vaccines, we’d be where they are in those U.S. states.” (Emphasis added.)

“But if you think of the virus-versus-vaccine fight as a kind of race,” he continued, “well, federal dithering on vaccines gave the virus a huge head start in that race.”

That was a telling remark. Treating the response to COVID-19 as a race between vaccines and the virus illustrates exactly the approach taken by the United Conservative Government in Alberta and many other Canadian jurisdictions to the pandemic.

Mr. Kenney has long assumed vaccines can save him from the economic and political consequences of a lockdown. 

Responding to a reporter’s question on Thursday about why the government won’t implement more stringent restrictions to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the face of widespread defiance of the rules, Mr. Kenney said of Albertans, “if they’re not complying with the current restrictions, they’re not likely to comply with additional restrictions.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Photo: Justin Trudeau/Flickr).

This, of course, is only true if the government refuses to enforce the rules – which is clearly the policy of the UCP Government. 

Perhaps Mr. Kenney fears his anti-vaxx base, or the COVID denying MLAs in his own caucus. Even some cabinet ministers seemed to feel free to stretch the rules, if you go by their social media posts.

At the news conference, Premier Kenney speculated that “one of the reasons of lot of Albertans (have) kinda given up on all of it, given up on complying, is because they say, ‘Hey, they’re back to normal in a lot of U.S. states, why can’t we be?’

“And the answer,” he continued, “is it’s because they are far ahead of us on the vaccination program. In the race between the vaccines and the variants, the vaccines appear to have won in the United States. In Canada right now, the virus is winning because of the short supply.”

Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen meeting maskless – are the strategically placed burgers supposed to make it OK? (Photo: Facebook).

Needless to say, without defending the many flaws of Ottawa’s acquisition program, this is a tendentious interpretation of the situation.

So let us now return to the situation in New Zealand, where the population last year reached five million. Alberta’s is about 4.4 million. 

On March 31, the day before Mr. Kenney’s news conference at which he blamed Alberta’s problems on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, New Zealand reported four new COVID-19 cases. The same day, Alberta recorded 875 new cases, which were reported on April 1. (Yesterday, Alberta reported another 1,100 new cases!)

Since the start of the pandemic to March 31, New Zealand had reported a total of 2,591 cases and 26 deaths from COVID-19. 

In the same period, Alberta recorded 149,207 cases and 1,994 deaths. 

So, obviously, New Zealand is doing something better than Alberta, notwithstanding some significant advantages experienced by that island country – among them the fact it’s isolated in the South Pacific, has full control over its own borders, and isn’t next door to the a festering COVID disaster zone like the United States. 

So what could it be that New Zealand has done better than Alberta?

Well, it’s not vaccinations. 

Justice Minister Kaycee Madu having “a great time checking in on residents … to thank them for doing their part during this pandemic” – hopefully he wasn’t actually knocking on their doors. (Photo: Twitter).

As of March 31, New Zealand had vaccinated 52,183 of its citizens with at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine. That’s about 1.04 per cent of its population. A total of 14,113 New Zealanders have been completely vaccinated with two shots – 0.3 per cent of the population. 

By contrast, Alberta has vaccinated 653,010 citizens, or 14.9 per cent of its population, with one shot; 103,926 of them, 2.4 per cent, with both shots. 

So by this measure – touted by the premier as the metric that matters – New Zealand is well behind Alberta.

The difference, of course, is that unlike Alberta, from the get-go New Zealand took the need to lock down seriously. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern described her country’s efforts last year as the strictest regulations in the world. And for those harsh rules, she said, she would “make no apologies.” The country locked down early, aimed for zero cases, and largely succeeded. And it has done so without seriously impacting the fundamentally democratic nature of New Zealand. 

Mr. Kenney, by contrast, was in a hurry to open the economy from the start. He was warned this would end up costing more, but he ignored that advice with the second wave, and he’s ignoring it with the third. 

The impact is clear in the rising numbers of COVID-19 cases that continue to plague Alberta. God only knows what will happen two weeks from now when the impact of the Easter weekend is felt. 

Mr. Kenney right about one thing, though. 

Vaccination is now of critical importance thanks to the province’s refusal to enforce the inadequate restrictions it has in place even as a frightening third wave rolls over us. 

Indeed, it’s our only line of defence. 

As for the claim this is all Ottawa’s fault, that’s obviously baloney. Mr. Kenney is going to have to wear his share of this disaster himself.

15 Comments to: What Jason Kenney calls the virus-versus-vaccine race is part of Alberta’s problem fighting COVID-19

  1. Anonymous

    April 3rd, 2021

    The UCP are ensuring that Alberta has the most per capita amount of people with Covid-19 in Canada. They are successful at that. Again, doctors in Alberta have called for another circuit breaker, as cases of Covid-19 in Alberta continue to escalate. Don’t expect the UCP to listen to the doctors. They didn’t in November, and the outcome certainly wasn’t good. Give it about a month, and the UCP will have to resort to other measures to deal with this, when things get really bad. This isn’t going to end well. What’s more, is that we have elected officials, like MPP Randy Hillier using a meme with Adolf Hitler, and comparing what’s happening with Covid-19 to it. That is detestable and very appalling.

    Reply
  2. Bill Malcolm

    April 3rd, 2021

    Forget about NZ. If Alberta had responded like the Atlantic provinces to the pandemic, the place would be miles ahead of any US regional zone or state. With half the population of wonderful Alberta, there were about 20 confirmed cases yesterday in our Atlantic region. Your man kenney is so full of bullshit, he’s leaking it from every glib and unctuous pore.

    And that’s the meat of the matter. Zero leadership. So blaming his utter failure on someone else is all he has left to blather on about. Same with all the other brain dead premiers — Ford, Pallister and Moe. Ideological dunces one and all.

    Reply
  3. jerrymacgp

    April 3rd, 2021

    I’m a bit surprised that you’ve apparently bought into the notion — pumped up by the odious federal Conservative Party — that Canada has bungled vaccine acquisition & delivery. It is indeed true that last decisions by successive Canadian governments to allow the privatization & subsequent offshoring of a former Canadian publicly-owned vaccine producer — Connaught Labs — is a root cause of our inability to produce a made-in-Canada COVID vaccine. But it would have been well nigh impossible to correct that situation in time to have any measurable impact on the current pandemic. So, Ottawa has to deal with the status quo, thus relying on overseas manufacturers for 100% of our vaccine supply, in a time when “vaccine nationalism”, a sort of reverse protectionism, is dominating political discourse & government decision-making in countries where these vaccines are made.

    Canada quite rightly decided to rely more on European & other overseas suppliers when it came to signing vaccine procurement contracts, given the obvious (in 2020) unreliability of the United States as a potential source of vaccine — at least before the Biden Administration took office. That doesn’t mean there isn’t vaccine nationalism in the EU or India, but those governments at least can be reasoned with, and despite noises to the contrary, none of our vaccine supply has yet been impacted by export constraints imposed by European or Indian governments.

    It’s also important to realize & recognize that never in the over 300 years since Edward Jenner developed the first true vaccine, for smallpox, no vaccine for a new, emerging infectious disease has ever been developed so quickly — less than 12 months from the time the disease was first detected to the first vaccines in people’s arms. Given that (to use 2020’s most over-used word) unprecedented achievement, it is inevitable that there would be bumps in the road.

    I will, however, join in the widespread criticism of public communications from various federal agencies, from PHAC to NACI to Health Canada, on the evolving evidence around vaccine safety, efficacy and appropriateness, especially as it applies to the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. The mixed messages around this particular vaccine are likely to contribute to vaccine hesitancy and have the potential to prolong the pandemic as a result. The facts on this vaccine appear to be as follows:
    – while the initial Phase III clinical trial that led to its approval did not include a statistically significant proportion of seniors, and so it was underpowered to demonstrate efficacy in that population, post-marketing surveillance from jurisdictions where it was rolled out much earlier than in Canada, such as the UK, suggested there was good evidence that it is indeed effective in preventing the most serious outcomes of COVID-19 in seniors
    – the blood clot issue is concerning, but the benefit of this vaccine still far outweighs the risk: people are far more likely to die or suffer a serious outcome from the virus than from the vaccine, by a factor of at least a thousand
    – the logistical ease with which this vaccine can be distributed, when compared to the mRNA vaccines (Pfizer & Moderna) with their stringent deep-freeze storage requirements, means that it has to be a key part of the vaccine armamentarium if we’re going to get the entire adult population immunized this year

    Finally, many of the hiccups in vaccine distribution at the population level are related to decisions by provincial, not federal, governments. For instance, while NACI recommended vaccinating immunizers, but Alberta did not do that; and then we saw a recent case of folks at an AHS immunization clinic in Calgary being exposed to a nurse who tested positive. In Ontario they have seen very high case counts in communities where a large proportion of the population work in warehouses and manufacturing in close quarters, & live in high-density housing with many multi-generational households; and yet, they have done nothing to target those neighbourhoods for mass vaccinations, nor have they done anything about employment standards to mandate paid sick leave.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      April 4th, 2021

      I did not say and do not believe that the Liberals have bungled the vaccine rollout. I said it could have been better. We were late to the procurement of COVID vaccines, and that has caused some problems down the line. And because of problems with vaccine procurement, some of which were domestic in origin, many not, rollout is slow in all parts of Canada, which can’t be blamed on Jason Kenney. That said, it’s been OK and is getting better, so I would give it about a B+. Mr. Kenney is full of baloney, as stated, when he tries to blame it all on Ottawa. Wonder of wonders, I think substantial numbers of Albertans actually get this. We know now we can’t rely on our Americana and European “partners,” so there is no excuse for not rebuilding Canada’s vaccine capability. In other words, it’s time for the government of Canada to pick some winners and losers, a job for which governments are uniquely suited. DJC

      Reply
  4. Carlos

    April 3rd, 2021

    Jason Kenney needs a lobotomy if he has a brain. If not close him up

    Reply
  5. Political Ranger

    April 3rd, 2021

    Thes UCP buffoons are completely out of their depth; they have consistently bungled everything they’ve touched.
    It’s costing lives!
    It’s costing livelihoods!

    They have to go – NOW!
    Our largest trading market (the USA, for those don’t know) is about to spend $Trillions on energy products and services. Something that Alberta should have a major advantage in.
    Who in their right mind thinks these goofs, these nincompoops, these absolute losers will do anything but screwup?
    Get rid of this garbage!

    Reply
  6. Bob Raynard

    April 3rd, 2021

    As case numbers continue to climb, it seems almost inevitable that hospitalizations will as well. When hospitalizations were coming down, the government set 450 as the necessary benchmark to bring in Phase 2 of the reopening. I am wondering what the government will do if/when hospitalizations go back up over 450. Compounding the issue is the fact that the government did not fully implement Phase 2 until their base had howled for a week.

    I totally agree with DJC’s comment about the government’s refusal to enforce the rules it puts in place. Last Sunday (Palm Sunday) I went past an evangelical-type church in my neighbourhood, and the parking lot was almost full. I was tempted to phone some enforcement body, then decided not to just because the Grace Life issue has made it clear nothing would be done anyway.

    Reply
  7. Keith McClary

    April 3rd, 2021

    “if they’re not complying with the current restrictions, they’re not likely to comply with additional restrictions.”

    Remind us why we need Bill 1.
    _____________________________________________________________________________________
    “if our federal government didn’t put Canada at the back of the line for buying vaccines, we’d be where they are in those U.S. states.”

    Did anyone else hear Kenney saying that Israel got plentiful vaccine because Netanyahu phoned the Pfizer CEO 17(?) times (he learned this from a Jewish friend whom he named)? His implication being that he would have done that if he was PM.

    Reply
  8. Dave

    April 3rd, 2021

    In Kenney’s world, the default strategy when other things fail is to blame Ottawa. So, he will ignore COVID cases, which Alberta can be compared to other Provinces and at times found wanting, and focus on vacinations which rests more on Federal procurement.

    The problem with this approach is two fold. First, as you pointed out, international comparisons don’t actually support Kenney’s arguements either. We can have more vaccinations, fewer restrictions, but higher COVID rates like the US or fewer vaccinations, more consistent restrictions and lower COVID rates like New Zealand.

    Second there is a short term thinking in this approach. Yes, there were problems earlier with the vaccine roll out earlier on in Canada, but now things are ramping up. By June or July is anyone going to care anymore about the initial start up difficulties? Much like taking the carbon tax to court seemed like a good short term strategy, but failed in the longer term.

    I don’t know who was behind the supposed more clever strategic thinking of the Federal Harper Conservatives when they were in power, but I doubt it was Kenney. I suppose at this point every day is about political survival for Kenney, so he may not be looking much past that.

    Reply
  9. Abs

    April 3rd, 2021

    Remember kids, Jason Kenney’s goal is not to be a hero and take the epidemic to zero. He said so himself. Truth.

    Reply
  10. Mike in Edmonton

    April 3rd, 2021

    Here we go again. Neocon politician sucking up to small (and big) business owners, scared of his “base” (in both the “foundation” and “vulgar” sense of the term), using idiot-logical justifications for “protecting the economy” instead of protecting lives. He then either makes excuses for the basest among his supporters, or blames non-supporters for not doing ENOUGH of the right things to compensate for his base.

    Early in the pandemic, somebody thought to ask historians what people did during the 1917-1920 Spanish Flu epidemic. The lessons were clear. Prevent the spread of the virus by using face masks and by washing your hands (we call it masking and sanitizing); avoid contact with people you don’t know (social distancing); close down all non-essential businesses (“lockdown”). Wait for the disease to disappear. Then watch for any resurgence, and do it all again if you must.

    It ain’t rocket surgery, my friends. Our great-grandparents figured this out in 1917. They also had front-row seats for the inevitable failures. Then as now, there were loud protests by business owners afraid of bankruptcy–they had reason, more so then than now. There were the inevitable deniers, the guys (mostly guys) who figured they were invincible or “it can’t happen to me”–until it does. Then, exactly as now in Oilberduh, pro-business politicians caved in to demands to “open up the economy.” They opened it, all right. They opened the economy to multiple waves of Spanish flu and God-knows-how-many needless deaths.

    Fast-forward to 2021. We’ve had a whole year to learn Covid-19 kills and our only defense is to hunker down, keep our 2 meter distance, and wait for vaccines (or “herd immunity,” a harmless-sounding phrase that really means, “kill off the vulnerable and hope you personally are not”). Jason Kenney has almost learned from the mistakes he made before the second wave, when he ignored Dr. Hinshaw’s warnings and dropped his (our!) guard too soon. This time, at least Kenney had the moral courage to NOT reduce restrictions. But he’s still too scared of the all-powerful “Base” to tell them, “Suck it up and put on a damn mask.”

    Reply
  11. Brett

    April 3rd, 2021

    I believe Kenney continues to put his position within the UCP above the health and welfare of Albertans.

    We have a serious covid issue. It grows worse each day. Physicians and health experts have pleaded with Kenney to lock down the Province.

    Very risky business. IF this goes pear shaped Kenney will get the blame. His UCP supporters will run, not walk away from him.

    And Albertans simply will not buy the blame Trudeau BS any longer.

    Kenney could well be in a box on this.

    Reply
  12. Just Me

    April 3rd, 2021

    I find it interesting that CONs continue to beat on New Zealand, regardless of its clear and obvious success in managing their side of the pandemic. Of course, New Zealand is an island, with a capable and community-minded populous, as well as having a national government that guides policy for all of New Zealand’s jurisdictions. In other words, not only was it easy to get their shat together, they got it together from the go. And if anyone got out of line, there was enforcement — real enforcement. Any politician who uttered conspiratorial nonsense effectively saw their careers immediately destroyed. New Zealand took the pandemic seriously, but Alberta never did.

    Of course there are those who wonder PMJT and the feds didn’t go with national restrictions, but that’s a dumb criticism in the first place. If there are plenty who will not, for whatever reason, follow local restrictions, what on earth is the likelihood that any of these goof-offs are going to go along with a, likely, unenforced national directive? Slim to none.

    Reply
  13. Scotty on Denman

    April 4th, 2021

    In spite of NZ, I still think Anglo-Saxmania has been a significant factor in how the nations of Greater Anglo-Saxony (hint: Canada is one) have dealt with Covid. What made the Kiwis different, despite their predominantly Anglo-Saxmaniacal hue and cry, is, as pointed out, the things which happen to contrast almost totally with Canada: our trade is one of the largest in the world, certainly bilaterally with, as it happens, another Anglo-Saxmaniacal nation, the United States of America—next to which the Kiwis’ is a drop in the bucket; they have no land border with any state while we have the longest binational land border in the world (a sharpie might even claim the longest in history), again with the world’s sole super-spreader power; Canada of course has a huge and hugely diverse traffic of multinationals—not simply immigrants or wannabes, but business people of all kinds attracted like moths to the brightest flame of commerce and one of the richest endowments of resources on the planet. We do have a very large immigrant demographic which has steady intercourse with relatives in homelands around the globe, making us much more like Americans than Kiwis whose ethnic profile is far less colourful or cosmopolitan. These are all reasons why it’s been much harder for North American Anglo-Saxmaniacs to fight Covid. To a lesser degree, the same might be said of Australia: low-pop, remote, tiny trade, no land border with any other nation.

    It was much easier for NZ and Australia to impose stricter Covid protocols. As to the suspected Anglo-Saxmaniacal gene which, in North America and the Mother Kingdom, provides a steady supply of anti-government conspiracy theorists and rugged individualism which refuses to comply with epidemiological correctness, it’s a reliable characteristic Canadian politicians fear and a certain American presidunce ginned for his own, personal celebrity (making it more fearsome than ever even after said brat was sent to his room). One might argue that, because of Southern Greater Anglo-Saxony’s natural advantages, it could get away with a stricter lockdown because, as authorities correctly forecast, it would be short—short enough to obviate that rankled obstinance the world-dominating cult is known for.

    (Not to begrudge, I give Prime Minister Ardern’s political skill and NZ’s proportional electoral system a nod, too: she’s popular, her government is stable, and citizen’s are willing to cooperate—but, I hasten to add and reiterate: the country is naturally blessed with respect fighting pandemics.)

    Thing about Alberta is its exceptionally close identification with one of the most Anglo-Saxmaniacal nations in the world. Why did so many Canadian conservative politicians ape the tRumpublican playbook so faithfully? In my view, it has a lot to do with sharing the joy of neo-right hegemony, doubled, and the subsequent grief of decline, halved. Conservatives throughout the Western World are in trouble—and they can’t hide it anymore. It’s an existential, decorum-be-damned situation and, it its throes, the political right—or neo-right (traditional Tory parties highjacked by globalizing neo-liberals in the 80s) has no shame, will stoop to any depth, and speak to its moribund base in the tongues of absurdity. It is reduced to praying into the corner of its rabidity, tail raised, energy centre set to skunk, ready to auto-spray the full 90º sweep of its shrinking, stinking horizon.

    Yeah, but Kenney stands out from the rest of the neo-right bunch. Bitumen, maybe? Then why does Saskatchewan’s Scott Moe rank as one of Canada’s most popular premiers? Less bitumen, maybe? Quebec and New Brunswick’s conservative premiers are fairly popular, despite imposing lockdowns like Ontario’s D’ohFo. Eastern Tories, maybe? Manitoba’s Premier Pallister is one conservative who’s down in the tank like Kenney? NDP Loyal Oppositions circling like sharks, maybe? Then there’s the speculative: of all conservative premiers, Kenney is the only one said to be aiming at the office of Prime Minister. Perhaps the calculation is: he feels he needs to stand out—but, like tRump’s method of celebrity maintenance, it needs to provoke constantly.

    The parallels between tRump’s Red-State America and Kenney’s Alberta are not mere coincidence. The question remains: given the tRumpublican regime was such a spectacular failure, why does Kenney not pull the hitch-pin on it? We know he had faith because he gambled over a billion dollars of Albertans’ money that tRump would win and the Keystone pipeline investment would pay off. Was the K-Boy shadowing the Orange One so nosily that he couldn’t see Covid was killing tRumpublican odds of winning and, thus, likely those of its flattering imitator? Kenney’s own dismissal of the virus’ seriousness was authentically performed, alright, but, even before tRump lost, the UCP’s piss-poor Covid response, tardy and halfhearted to make a partisan point (The Donald would have given full marks had he ever heard of Jason Kenney or Alberta), was already grinding the UCP’s popularity down from it impressive heights of only two years ago. The most puzzling things are that tRump was in campaign mode and could have done almost anything —that is, done almost nothing—to improve his own Covid response, but K-Boy was years from his own date with the execu—I mean, electorate. The perspectives had to have been totally different, but didn’t seem so then—and still don’t now. Why?

    Another way: tRump might have saved his re-election bid had he not been so like himself: he coulda simply smiled and nodded and agreed with whatever the experts said; he had the power of absurdity over his gullible base—we know that for sure; he coulda convinced them of anything like he did with his baseless, sour grapes, voting-fraud scam —and maybe even won the election. Sure, Kenney mighta had his nose too far up the gold-bowled twitter stump to gage the prevailing political scent, but surely he should have noticed his bromantic fellow Conservative, Ontario’s D’ohFo who once also rode a ways on tRump’s rhetorical cape. The difference is, D’ohFo abandoned that charade immediately when the pandemic hit, appeared to sincerely fight the virus for his citizens’ sake, shook hands with JT (K-Boy’s arch enemy) on federal-provincial Covid cooperation—and saw his popularity rating do the exact opposite of Kenney’s, going from one of the lowest of any premier in Canada to one of the highest, all past sins forgiven, including—almost incredibly—the broken “Buck-a-Beer” promise. Why Kenney stopped finishing Bro D’ohFo’s sentences when Covid hit is, I think, another example of American exceptionalism-envy on K-Boy’s part. D’ohFo looks like he feels Ontarians’ pain, Kenney like he chides Albertans’.

    Now, KeKangaroo Kenney is a calculating politician with a lot of achievements on his CV. He was a federal cabinet minister for nearly a decade and was elected first minister of Alberta after uniting the fractious factions of the Wild Rose right, beating the one-term NDP government after the longtime ProgCon regime was wiped out and the province was afflicted with one calamity after another. People said: “Jason’s gone be pram minster one day, y’all just wait n see.” The CV seems to portray a diligently plodding ambition that requires a steadfastly long view, in Kenney’s case, the singularity of his working life. It’s like the bright boy has reached peak learning—and, as they say: that’s all she rote.

    How could he be so dumb? It’s not the Pond Principle; it’s not the Lougheed Principle. Is it the Rabbit Principle? (I’m beginning to peter out…)

    Trying to figure what happened, why the myopia, the foolhardy confidence, the recklessness is the Alberta animadvert these days. It’s one of the most fascinating political dramas in all of Greater Anglo-Saxony. Euripides couldn’t make this stuff up.

    Reply
  14. Bret Larson

    April 5th, 2021

    Well, it is a vaccine vs virus race, with the score being based on not collapsing the healthcare system.

    Unless of course you happen to be an island in the pacific or have the luxury of being able to hide under your bed for a couple years.

    Reply

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