Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

It looks like Drew Barnes calling the shots for Alberta!

By any measure, Jason Kenney is a pretty bad premier. But he’s not the worst we could have in the midst of a deadly global pandemic that just won’t quit. No, that would be someone like Mr. Barnes, the COVID-denying, separatist leaning MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat. 

Banff is one of Alberta’s COVID hot spots – but isn’t targeted by Premier Jason Kenney’s new “targeted restrictions” (Photo: Jasperdo/Flickr, Creative Commons).

So why is Mr. Barnes, along with the other 16 members of the United Conservative Party’s unchecked COVID Denial Caucus, now setting the province’s coronavirus-mitigation policy?

When Premier Kenney announced Thursday that the province would respond to the surging third wave of the virus by reimposing “targeted regional measures to bend the curve” until enough Albertans have been vaccinated, it was immediately apparent the measures were really targeted regional exceptions. 

Almost three quarters of the province’s people, including residents of Calgary and Edmonton, were subject to the supposedly exceptional measures announced by Mr. Kenney. The remaining quarter, however, were mostly found in the UCP’s rural power base.

So it seemed obvious that while the measures were presented by the premier as an effort to target communities with more serious COVID-19 infection rates, the true intention was to target rural and suburban communities with UCP MLAs skeptical of COVID mitigation to spare them from unpopular restrictions. At Thursday’s news conference, Mr. Kenney claimed this was “to prevent rural areas with small populations from being unfairly impacted.”

Never mind that it turns out more than 20 towns, counties and municipal districts in the areas being given special treatment by the premier have levels of infection per 100,000 population far higher than in Calgary and Edmonton, which are subject to the stricter rules. 

The provincial web page showing regional active cases of COVID 19 indicates Edmonton has an active case rate (per 100,000 population) of 411.5, Calgary of 550.5. 

Compare this to the scary numbers for some of the places unaffected by the new rules: Okotoks (a Calgary bedroom community south of the city), 643.1; Chestermere (effectively a suburb of Calgary), 656.7; Sylvan Lake (now a suburb of Red Deer), 692.7; Strathmore (the next town beyond Chestermere to the east) 754.2; Big Lakes County, 821.6; County of Warner, 828.6; Lacombe, 888.2; Olds, 916.9; Northern Sunrise County, 1,042.3; and Banff, 1,048.2.

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

Obviously, the metric used to decide which communities are in and which are out doesn’t focus on the highest infection rates or the best public health outcomes. It appears to have been implemented to appease as many as possible MLAs from the Gang of 17.

Not all. Whether for verisimilitude or some other reason, the city of Airdrie immediately north of Calgary with a rate of 560.5 was declared to be in, while the town of Cochrane, just west of Calgary with a rate of 530.9 is out. Perhaps this is evidence of the gang of 17’s disdain for cities and their citizens. Or maybe it was something that Airdrie MLA Angela Pitt, a founding member of the caucus, did or said. 

Whatever it was, even some Alberta conservatives appear to be skeptical. “If the UCP government was being truthful,” wrote Postmedia columnist Lorne Gunter on Friday, it would have said, “to prevent rural MLAs from revolting against the leader of their party, we are exempting their constituents from COVID restrictions even though that goes against the science.”

This is an astonishing commentary from a columnist normally sympathetic to the UCP who has called global climate change “hysteria” and “alarmism orthodoxy” while insisting “the world is not going to hell in a manmade-emissions handbasket.”

Postmedia political columnist Lorne Gunter (Photo: Facebook).

Clearly, given the numbers involved, a sounder and more scientifically defensible policy would have been to impose the stricter measures on the entire province and leave us to argue about whether they’re rigorous enough for the present fraught circumstances. (They’re not, but that’s another column.)

As for Mr. Barnes, de facto leader of the Gang of 17, he’s been complaining about province-wide restrictions for months. “My message hasn’t changed since the end of April when it was clear that regionalization could be a way to keep the economy going,” he said in January. 

Now that Premier Kenney has caved to his demands, he wants more. “While I am pleased to see the premier move to a more regional approach,” he said in a press release Friday, “I will oppose the government’s move to ban indoor fitness activities and children’s sports until such time as it provides statistical evidence that COVID-19 is being spread at such facilities.”

Doing what Mr. Barnes wishes might be lunacy, but what do you want to bet Mr. Kenney caves to him on that issue too, as soon as the current two-week time frame for the latest measures has expired? 

Airdrie MLA Angela Pitt (Photo: Chris Bolin, Creative Commons).

There may not actually be that much light between what Mr. Kenney and Mr. Barnes think about measures to suppress COVID-19. But as premier, Mr. Kenney has to worry about the silent majority of Alberta voters growing impatient with the UCP’s inconsistent, indecisive, inadequate, confusing and obviously unsuccessful approach to COVID-19.

Just as obviously, though, he’s more worried about what the COVID Denial Caucus in the UCP’s midst thinks.

That’s why it seems like Mr. Barnes is calling the shots.

This is an unhealthy situation, politically and, for increasing numbers of Albertans, literally. 

Alberta reported 2,433 new cases yesterday. That is the highest daily count since the start of the pandemic. The provincial positivity rate is now north of 12 per cent, also for the first time. There are now 22,504 active cases in Alberta, another record. The province continues to lead all other Canadian provinces and territories for the rate of infections over the previous seven days. Indeed, it now leads all U.S. states as well!

Join the Conversation


  1. Alberta has by far the worst covid numbers in Canada. And getting worse.

    Jason Kenny and the UCP cannot escape that fact.

    It seems to me that we have a complete absence of leadership in our Province. And not just on covid.

  2. Anyone in their right mind simply cannot trust the UCP to do the right thing. Not with job creation, the economy, financial matters, or with Covid-19. The UCP are splintered like a rotten fence post. The UCP are doing a horrible job of managing the Covid-19 pandemic in Alberta. The statistics are alarming, and should serve as a wake up call for the UCP. Despite this, there are still people who think the UCP are marvelous. I don’t know how they can come to this conclusion. Alberta has the greatest per capita rate of people with Covid-19 in all of Canada. The UCP caucus is not united on this matter, but divided. Lives are thereby put at risk. The UCP really has to get a swift kick in the behind. People who didn’t heed warnings from those who said that the UCP aren’t good, should feel ashamed of themselves. It is just like Ralph Klein, who the UCP think is wonderful. Despite Ralph Klein being an abysmal premier, Albertans let him continue to do damage, and for far too long. If Albertans allow the UCP even just one more term, Alberta will really be in a sorry state. When will Albertans ever learn?

  3. Today is 4 weeks since Easter, when people who were tired of Covid restrictions decided to get together anyway. Then, when they first felt their minor symptoms, they ignored them, again because they are tired of all this Covid nonsense. Thus the post event surge is a few days later than expected, and the positivity rate higher.

    I agree that Jason Kenney does have to think about a bigger picture than Drew Barnes; in addition to how the general population thinks about him now, he might also want to consider his legacy. If Alberta fares significantly worse than the rest of the country, historians are not going to remember Drew Barnes.

  4. The Government’s website sets two measures that must be met in order to fall under the new restrictions.

    “Targeted restrictions are in effect for hot spot regions – municipalities or communities where there are at least 350 cases per 100,000 people and 250 active cases. “(

    I suspect Jason Kenney is hoping his rural constituencies, with small populations, won’t reach the target of 250 active cases. This appears to be the reason places like Banff, Cochrane and Okotoks don’t fall under the new orders.

    The City of Medicine Hat is not too far off both of these target numbers. When their numbers increase and they have to implement the targeted restrictions, Drew Barnes will write another letter because these targets are not the right targets for businesses in his city. When he says he supports regional measures, what he really means is he supports no measures being implemented in his region.

  5. Thanks for providing the link to Lorne Gunter’s column, David.

    Mr. Gunter makes a very valid point about how communities being required to have a minimum of 250 cases, as well as a high case rate, does effectively exclude a lot of small places from ever having restrictions. The provincial page you posted the link to (thanks for that, too) can be viewed as a speadsheet, so I played around with the numbers, on a dreary Sunday morning. Of the 142 communities on the list, there are 20 that, because of their low population, by the time they have the 250 cases necessary to have restrictions kick in, more than 5% of the population will be infected.

  6. Wow. Just wow. When even Lorne Gunter, the apologist’s apologist, is calling out the UCP on blatant manipulation of infection rates—oh boy, Kenney’s lost just about everything.

    The Gang of 17 are preventing the one thing that might control Wave #3, and that’s a circuit-breaker lockdown. Those bedroom communities all have commuters who go back-and-forth to the big cities. That’s why they’re THERE! And it’s a great way to spread the high infection rates from small-town Oilberduh to the cities.

    Barnes seems to be positioning himself for a run at the leadership of the Unhinged Conservative Party. May God help us all, since Jason Kenney can’t anymore, and Drew Barnes certainly won’t.

  7. Here we are, a day after learning about the worst Covid numbers ever in Alberta, a day after a superspreader rodeo event attracted 2000 in Bowden, and not a peep out of our Alberta premier or the CMOH. Covid fatigue is real, so they’ve all decided to take the weekend off. As we know, weekends are long weekends until Tuesday for Covid-related press conferences.

    If the premier lived a normal life like the peasants, he would know that there is a big box grocery store and shopping area on Calgary’s eastern edge, where the city’s hardest-hit Covid communities go to shop with residents of Chestermere and Strathmore. People from Strathmore and Chestermere also work in Calgary.

    Also, subscribers to a certain mobile service provider did not get the emergency alert, so does this mean they don’t have to follow the new rules?

    Carry on, Alberta. If you live in Calgary, it was still okay to head out a few minutes east of the city to Langdon’s parade of garage sales on the weekend, and yes, Langdon residents work in Calgary, too.

    “Some of you may die,” said Lord Farquaad, without a hint of irony. “But it’s a sacrifice I am willing to make.”

  8. It seems like Mr. Barnes is playing a game of chicken here – criticizing the the government ever more harshly regardless. If Kenney wasn’t so afraid of the rural rebel gang and making Barnes a martyr, he would have kicked him out a long time ago.

    All of this makes Kenney look weak and impotent. So for Barnes, if he has leadership ambitions, he wins either way. He stays in the party and continues to undermine Kenney from the inside or gets kicked out and becomes a martyr and potentially a leader of a break away group and takes on Kenney even more directly.

    At this point any leader that still had control of his own party would have taken action. I suspect Kenney is paralyzed in political fear. Perhaps he is afraid of COVID, but unfortunately for us I believe he is more afraid of Barnes and his rebellious gang.

  9. The only good news today is that if anyone from the urban centres is still looking for vaccine availability, the Twitterverse claims there is excess supply in the communities not under the new restrictions. So, for anyone with time and a vehicle, these communities are located in convenient proximity to the cities in the restricted zones. Call first to reserve ahead. Apparently, the “folks” in these areas are not keen on the vaccine, so appointments are going unfilled. You know what to do, urban dwellers. They’re just minutes away, and you probably spend more time in traffic on the drive to work.

  10. What’s bizarre is that in the Sun, on April 30, there was an article about Covid-19. It was an opinion piece co-authored by Tony Clement and Winston Wen-Yi Chen. Taiwan has lessons to teach the world about battling Covid-19. I still wouldn’t trust what Tony Clement has to say. He was in Mike Harris’s PC cabinet in Ontario. Mike Harris was basically doing Ralph Klein type moves, such as privatizing and deregulating fundamental things, such as water treatment, and put in private for profit long term care facilities in Ontario. In the CPC cabinet, Tony Clement, was also one who had a role in deregulating safety protocols. The listeria tragedy, and the Lac Megantic train disaster happened under the CPC’s rule. A CPC MP was making bad jokes about the listeria deaths.

    1. I am still horrified at the possibility I might run into Tony Clement’s junk somewhere on the Internets.

  11. When Ralph Klein was closing hospitals and cutting 5,000 nursing positions I helped nine doctors and at least two dozen nurses relocate out of this province. One doctor said “Why should I stay in Alberta and support my patients when they refuse to support me against Ralph Klein”.
    The big question is how many of our doctors and nurses will leave knowing they weren’t properly supported by Albertans and our government during this pandemic? Can you blame them? Deliberately dumping more and more covid cases into their laps to deal with is just plain stupid.
    As a retired doctor friend has said over the years Canadian doctors and nurses are very well respected and on demand and they can work were ever they want to anywhere in the world.

    1. ALAN K. SPILLER: The UCP certainly have in mind to do what Ralph Klein was doing with healthcare in Alberta. They want to have either American style healthcare, or what the United Kingdom has. Both are not great situations to follow. The UCP also had Janice MacKinnon on their Blue Ribbon panel. She was part of Roy Romanow’s NDP government in Saskatchewan. After the NDP tried to fix the financial mess Grant Devine’s PCs caused, Janice MacKinnon closed down rural hospitals in Saskatchewan, as she was copying what Ralph Klein was doing in Alberta. This is the goal of the UCP, just like their hero, Ralph Klein. Cut funding to healthcare, lay off nurses, fight with doctors, close rural, and other hospitals, so they can make the case for having private for profit healthcare in Alberta.

  12. Now, Alberta has another grim looking statistic. The province has the greatest per capita rate of people with Covid-19 in all of North America. Is Drew Barnes going to shrug this off? Will the UCP do the same? Alberta is in very deep trouble, under the leadership of the UCP.

  13. You know you’re in real trouble when … even Lorne Gunter agrees with the NDP. Wow.

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