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

Jason Kenney edges closer to blaming Albertans for the province’s COVID-19 predicament

Posted on May 04, 2021, 1:43 am
9 mins

Considering his performance at yesterday’s COVID-19 briefing, it seems Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is working himself up to a look-in-the-mirror moment.

In Canadian politics, that’s not something that involves looking in the mirror and contemplating the mistakes you’ve made to get yourself into a mess.

The late Jim Prentice, Progressive Conservative premier of Alberta (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Premier Kenney wouldn’t accept the premise of that approach.

It’s the moment when a politician without a clue in a carload about how to solve a knotty problem turns to the TV cameras and tells the voters it’s all their fault.

Uttering that phrase may not have worked out very well in 2015 for the late Jim Prentice, briefly Alberta’s Progressive Conservative premier, but it comes quite naturally to public figures like Mr. Kenney, who appears congenitally incapable of admitting to a mistake.

Striving manfully in the face of feisty media questioning to avoid accepting any blame for Alberta’s appalling rate of COVID-19 infections, Premier Kenney emerged to make the point five times at yesterday’s pandemic briefing that while B.C. and Saskatchewan have taken similar measures to Alberta’s to control the spread of coronavirus disease, somehow, mysteriously, they are doing better.

Whatever could the difference be?

“There may be a number of reasons for that,” Mr. Kenney mused, listing average age, labour force participation, and even the weather in Texas as possibilities. “One may be a broader non-compliance. 

“We have a younger population and, as you know, younger age cohorts have been those most likely to be infected, right across the country,” he rambled on. “That’s not to blame anybody. It’s just a demographic reality. We also have a higher labour force participation, which means more people, a higher percentage of our population that’s out in the work force, publicfacing jobs. Climate may also have something to do with this. …”

Jason Schilling, President of the Alberta Teachers Association (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Apparently, though, it didn’t occur to the premier it might have something to do with Alberta being led by someone who has encouraged supporters to think COVID-19 is just “an influenza,” who suggested restrictions to control the disease are a serious infringement of civil liberties, or who tolerates a large COVID-sceptical faction in his own United Conservative Party Legislative Caucus that tells voters to decide for themselves whether they need a vaccine. Perhaps he never gave a thought to the possibility not enforcing restrictions might have something to do with large numbers of Albertans feeling they can ignore them with impunity. 

A reporter asked: “How can you not shoulder some blame for things getting this out of hand? You could have acted earlier, but you didn’t.”

Mr. Kenney’s response: “I reject the premise of your question.

“It has been effectively illegal for grandparents to have visited their children in this province for half a year,” he rolled on, omitting to mention that just weeks ago, when it suited him, he was denying we have ever had a lockdown in Alberta. “Sweeping, unprecedented restrictions have been in place, restrictions that have been effective in neighbouring provinces at flattening the curve of this third wave.

Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

“I’ve made this point repeatedly, that what matters is not the stringency of restrictions, but compliance with them,” the premier continued. “And if you have a compliance problem, as apparently we do here in Alberta, hammering people relentlessly with ever more stringent restrictions is not necessarily the optimal approach.”

As Mr. Kenney often does, he sounded sensible as he was saying this. He also sounded sensible, moments later, when he said “clearly what’s happening right now cannot continue. And that’s why we may be left with no tools left in the tool box apart from broader, tougher restrictions.

Huh? 

“Given the cases we saw this weekend,” he said, “we are developing a package of stronger public health measures which I expect to announce tomorrow.” That is, today. Presumably the so-called COVID Cabinet Committee was still arguing about them last night.

Anyway, the premier said, “it’s pretty clear with a public health policy very similar to our neighbouring provinces with growing (infection) numbers in Alberta but shrinking numbers in B.C. and Saskatchewan that there is a behavioural difference here.

In other words, Dear Albertans, this is your fault, not your government’s. 

Can the instruction to look in the mirror be far off?

The gaslighting continues

It can be dispiriting, even unnerving to make a transcript of Mr. Kenney’s remarks after one of these affairs. Writing this stuff down forces the reader to examine what the premier is actually saying and not just get carried away on the stream of his gaslighting.

Asked by a reporter why Albertans should have faith in his leadership, the premier responded: “One of the things I have found regrettable about COVID from Day One is the tendency to politicize it and turn it into a blame game.”

This from the man who has blamed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for the spread of the coronavirus at pretty much every news conference he has held since the beginning of the pandemic.

Kenney gets no respect

It’s probably a bad sign for a powerful politician when people start snickering at him, instead of paying tribute. 

One of Mr. Kenney’s good-news announcements yesterday was welcome word that schoolteachers, school support staff and child care workers would finally be allowed to be vaccinated, something the Alberta Teachers Association has been demanding for months. 

Other than the attribution, though, ATA President Jason Schilling’s formal reaction boiled down to two words: “About time.” 

Yes, the ATA has plenty of reasons to be angry at Mr. Kenney and his government. But this suggests they don’t fear him anymore. 

Rodeo says … something

Still smarting from the embarrassment of the no-more-lockdowns rodeo Saturday in Bowden, right in Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen’s riding, Premier Kenney told the news conference he was “heartened to see the association, representing rodeo, publicly disavow the event in their statement earlier today.”

But did it? Read the comment made by Canadian Professional Rodeo Association General Manager Jeff Robson in the government’s own release.

He says the association is trying hard to bring about the return of the sport. He says the association is focused on safety and the long term good of the sport. But what did he say that disavows the Bowden rodeo?

Brace yourselves, the covidiots are coming

Meanwhile, rebellious former supporters of the premier, egged on by his former friends and allies, plan to mob a Calgary grocery store for an hour of “mask free shopping” this week and hold a “save Alberta campout protest” next weekend. 

Anyone caught in front of one of these things is in for a super-spreader event whether or not they consent. 

Mr. Kenney let this genie out of the bottle. He’s going to have trouble putting it back in. 

22 Comments to: Jason Kenney edges closer to blaming Albertans for the province’s COVID-19 predicament

  1. Anonymous

    May 4th, 2021

    When will the premier (that’s debatable to give him the title), admit that he made major errors? That’s not likely to happen. The premier decided to shut down the Legislature sittings, so he he wouldn’t have to face any criticism for his botch job performance. Are Albertans going to continue to take this? If they had any smarts, they wouldn’t.

    Reply
  2. Dave

    May 4th, 2021

    If this were a movie, this would be the point where the character we already know to be deeply flawed and likely dangerous transitions from sounding reasonable to hopeful, then desperate, lashing out and finally out of touch with reality while giving a long tortured mostly monolgue to his terrified hostage. Of course this is not a movie, but it feels like Alberta is becoming the hostage here.

    It is at the point in the movie where that character has already lost some considerable power. In this case, where people no longer fear the strongman because they can imagine he may be gone. Some on the far right have been in open defiance for a while. One has to wonder when the conservative mainstream media will also start to criticize him more forcefully soon or whether they will stick by his side loyally to the end. In any even Kenney is now certainly no longer the golden boy of the right. Indeed everything he now touches seems to turn to chicken poop.

    I am surprised he didn’t somehow try and blame Trudeau for all the COVID problems here, but perhaps he still has enough sense to know how ridiculous that could sound. So, he is left to blame unruly teenagers – perhaps a fairly safe political target as they can’t yet vote. However, our Premier still rejects the premise he has any blame for those disregarding the rules. No, he just spent the last year talking about how onerous the restrictions are and about loving freedom, all the usual dog whistles and more.

    So, the difference between Alberta and its neighbouring provinces, other than we have a Premier that may be on the verge of a meltdown, is we had a government that was most ambivalent about restrictions. Mr. Kenney is now reaping what he has sowed, whether he wants to acknowledge this or not

    Reply
  3. Abd

    May 4th, 2021

    Woohoo, Galen Weston, is this mask-free shopping day your idea, kinda like seniors’ day? Are bonus PC points included? Asking for a few thousand definitely-not-my-friends.

    In the meantime, “folks” (as we are called by the cowpoke-and-colloquialist-in-chief) will be watching the presser later today when “The Rodeo Song” is declared Alberta’s official anthem. That’s it. That’s the dreaded pandemic measure we’ve been warned about. That oughta show “a kind of influenza” who’s boss.

    Later on, Big Jay will saddle up his sorry nag and meet the posse that will escort him and his mangy herd of reprobates to the Saskatchewan border.

    “Whoopee ti yi yo, git along little dogies
    It’s your misfortune and none of my own…”

    Oh, wait, it was all a nightmare that woke me up at 2 a.m. Or was it?

    Reply
  4. Bob Raynard

    May 4th, 2021

    “I reject the premise of your question” That seems to be proving to be a very convenient phrase for Mr. Kenney lately. I wonder if Premier Notley will be tempted to use it if Jason Kenney is still leader of the UCP after 2023.

    Thanks for mentioning Devin Dreeshen, David. I saw a billboard from the Alberta government a few weeks ago that said ‘The Covid 19 Vaccines are Safe’ When I read it, all I could think about was Mr. Dreeshen tweeting that he had spent an hour assuring Cargill workers that it was safe to go to work. A few days later the plant was shut down. The government now telling me the vaccines are safe would do nothing for me if I was vaccine hesitant.

    Mr. Kenney is right in implying there is something in Albertans’ mindset that makes them reject public health laws. While it is definitely true that Mr. Kenney tapped into that mindset during his ascendency to the premier’s office, and certainly stoked it early in the pandemic, I would argue it was there long before, as we saw with how long it took the former PC government to bring in seatbelt laws. I wonder if anyone has suggested increasing an emphasis on BS detection in the revised school curriculum.

    Reply
  5. Carlos

    May 4th, 2021

    Never in my life did I think I would have witnessed an idiot of this magnitude in a position of power like premier of Alberta. I think a march asking for his resignation might be needed right now to cause the next needed step in his awful career.
    Where is the AUPE and The Alberta Federation of Labour? It is time to act, you have the resources to call a march.

    Reply
  6. Athabascan

    May 4th, 2021

    Kenney is right.

    Everything wrong with Alberta is indeed caused by Albertans. All of this could have been avoided, or at least mitigated had Albertans re-elected Rachel Notley.

    There is no way our province would be such a basket case if Notley was premier. So, yes it is Albertan’s fault for kicking her out of office.

    Let’s not make the same mistake again.

    Reply
  7. Simon Renouf

    May 4th, 2021

    DC, great column as always. Speaking for myself, I never did like Jim Prentice misappropriating – and attempting to reverse the meaning of – a good Michael Jackson song:

    “I’m starting with the man in the mirror
    I’m asking him to change his ways
    And no message could have been any clearer
    If you want to make the world a better place.”
    Take a look at yourself, and then make a change

    Reply
  8. Fleming Neil

    May 4th, 2021

    What continues to be left unsaid is that Mr Kenney’s entire caucus, including the 17 Covid deniers, were hand picked by Kenney during his 2 year drive around the province. Clearly they would have all been allies in his corporatization agenda but apparently not so much in a pandemic. This is all of his own making.

    Reply
    • Comment

      May 5th, 2021

      I agree that some were handpicked – but not all. I always got the impression that there were 2 distinct camps in the amalgamation – Kenney & his gang in one camp and the old Wildrosers (supporters of Brian Jean) in the other – and it was Kenney’s handpicked inner circle who were the kingpins. The ‘united’ part was to defeat Notley. Beyond that? I’m not so sure. My MLA was a Wildrose MLA first – he, and others like him, never made it beyond the backbench in Kenney’s caucus. Now? It seems like those old Wildrosers are flexing. Kenney is reaping what he has sown in more ways than one.

      Reply
  9. Keith McClary

    May 4th, 2021

    Kenney was also loudly blaming China for Covid , until, I suspect, someone pointed out to him that he needs China to buy our bitumen, gas and coal.

    Reply
  10. Just Me

    May 4th, 2021

    Should anyone be surprised at this point, concerning the ADHD-governance that the UCP has offered?

    Kenney is a hard-core, burn-baby-burn ideologue and has been his entire adult life. What else can one expect from someone whose entire life experience was formed reading the pages of Alberta Report magazine? He is the spawn of Ted Byfield feverish hyper-right wing dreams.

    Couple that with a gambler’s wild-eyed orgasmic head-rushes, you get the state of present day Alberta, an ever-expanding train wreck of a shite show, that will not stop until everyone is sucked into it.

    Considering Kenney spent much of last year pooh-poohing the pandemic, things have gone completely off the rails. Worse, the UCP base has decided to hold everyone hostage to their FREEDUMB revolution, body count be damned.

    When conspiracy crazy Jesse “The Body” Ventura calls anti-maskers “selfish idiots”, who likely wouldn’t lift a finger to fight off Hitler, you know this is all coming to a head fast.

    Getting more popcorn.

    Reply
  11. Abd

    May 4th, 2021

    Um, Galen Weston, it appears that last night’s nightmare was real!

    What are you going to do to protect your staff and customers from the anti-mask shoppers in your downtown Calgary store on Thursday? Please do not expect Calgary police to intervene. Two words: Chinook Centre. Pretty sure you’re on your own with this one. Any water cannons, tear gas canisters, gas masks, riot shields and batons in a back storage room? Maybe a light armoured vehicle or two? Or you could just close the store for the day. Thoughts?

    Reply
    • Just Me

      May 4th, 2021

      Galen Weston — billionaire Galen Weston — close a store for the day to protect the workers and patrons within?

      That’s sounds like a fever dream.

      Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      May 5th, 2021

      Abd: In fairness to Galen Weston, he is in no position to protect his staff and customers even if he were inclined to do so, having died on April 12. DJC

      Reply
      • Just Me

        May 5th, 2021

        Junior is still kicking around, raging against farmers’ markets, listeria outbreaks, and explaining away bread price-fixing…from his lair in tax haven Ireland.

        Reply
    • gk

      May 5th, 2021

      Maybe just call in a tip you heard that there are indigenous demonstrators occupying infrastructure at the same . You will have police clamouring to get there!

      Reply
  12. Scotty on Denman

    May 4th, 2021

    I sure know what I’d do if I was an employee at said grocery where an hour of “mask free shopping” is planned to protest what little restrictions there are in the Wild Rose city of Calgary: I wouldn’t show up for work— after phoning in, of course. If already at work, I’d immediately leave for my own safety—after telling the boss, of course. If the boss fired me, I’d sue. And I’d win.

    The only hard part would be naming the defendants. A couple spring to mind immediately (it would be unfair to saddle the grocer with the entire suit, but that’s up to him or her to decide whether to join my court action or file suit of their own against one of the other defendants), but one would not be Mayor Nenshi who has advised his citizens not to pay any mind to one of the defendants’ dismissive attitude toward the deadly pandemic but, rather, take safety measures into there own hands and not expect any help from their provincial government. Psephology must take a back seat to epidemiology at this critical point (but it will come in due time—a voter need only survive until then).

    Doing the right thing is getting clearer and clearer in Wild Rose country. Good luck and all the best, my Alberta friends! You can weather any government; we’re rooting for you! Above all, stay safe: vengeance can wait.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      May 5th, 2021

      Scotty: If you were a member of a labour union, as Superstore grocery clerks mostly are in Alberta, you wouldn’t have the option of suing your employer for wrongful dismissal. Under the provincial labour code, your union would represent you, probably more effectively in my opinion. Admittedly, I have a dog in that fight. If your union failed to represent you properly, you could legally sue it. This is the law in most, if not all, Canadian jurisdictions. DJC

      Reply
      • Scotty on Denman

        May 5th, 2021

        Right you are, DJC, although I’d certainly hope my union wouldn’t be representing me in a posthumous capital filing. I would definitely (if I survived) appreciate my union’s help with the workers’ compensation board, too.

        But I have wondered where the union movement has been in the Wild Kenneydemic Rising province. It’s so different there than here in BC—or, at least, they way it used to be. At risk of sounding a bit ‘in-my-day-sonny,’ I have felt the comparison in person.

        I started paying dues to the International Woodworkers of America union as a teenager, Somas sawmill. In the proverbial seven years I was a member, the base rate (greenchain, cleanup, tree-planter, &c) went from $5 to over $15. Port Alburnout was the highest paid community in Canada for much of this time, every sort of retailer from cars to department stores filled the town (even a four-storey Woodward’s store). I was the only witness (I liked to make my lunch before a few hundred loggers trampled through the lunchroom) to the grumpy old faller who discovered a contractual infraction which became known as “No Pie No Work” —and which picketed off about 7,000 IWA and Pulp Workers for the day (a Thor’s Day, I recall, because we had to hang around in camp—no cook shack, mind—to marshal for Freya’s Day. Or drive the rough logging mainline to town and watch the spectacle— and to get back somehow). Our local (1-85) was notoriously militant in this heady time, sending “flying pickets” to operations throughout the Big Island on the slightest pretence. If unionized tree-planters thought the nursery stock smelled funny, our local would take immediate action to protect us from fungicides (although paying juvenile-spacers a $3/hr saw rate was rejected by our committee which was composed entirely of fallers who rather wanted their own special rate to apply to falling trees less than 8-inches diameter). Of course that party ended in ‘81 when, after striking all summer, settling for 15% over three (can you imagine!), then picketed out by pulp mill unions for another month, 4,000 M&B employees were laid off immediately the pulp union settled (all the car dealerships left within a week, some the very same day as the layoff notices; within four years the fire marshal ordered abandoned chain stores torn down, giving the once vibrant downtown a toothless boxer look). I, naturally, resorted to my usual sojourn to Alberta to find work.

        Are there flying pickets in Alberta? That grocery would be a no-brainer—I mean, ‘back in my day’… (union membership in the BC forest is now less than a quarter what it was, and I don’t think there’s been anything but low, single-digit or zero raises ever since ‘81! I was cruising timber in a mid-Coast camp a few decades later, in my forties, and, looking around the cook shack, realized I was the youngest guy there. The IWA was in full decline (it eventually rolled in with the Steelworkers).

        I was also a member of the Northern Alberta Brotherhood of Dairy Workers in the decrepit Palm Dairy plant in Edmonton during one of my sojourns, late 70s. We made ice cream, popsicles and whipped cream pressurized with laughing gas—and thus, were considered essential service, not permitted to strike but always happy. I had to earn acceptance as the only male on the production line to wear a hairnet —I more than doubled production of the dogger I replaced (he had a bad back), something that the IWA would never approve of (and let you know, in no uncertain terms, by unofficial communique). Most of the workers on the line were elder Ukraine women who’d worked loyally at the plant since they immigrated many years before. They explained to me that we were ‘essential workers’ because babies need their milk—and, presumably, the sugary junk food this plant was 100% devoted to, as well. The ladies brooked no criticism of the spineless union situation. One day I saw a new woman in the lunchroom: she looked out of place but sat with me because I was generally shunned with my long hair n all. She was curious, educated—and Jewish. And I thought, what on earth is she doing here in this bastion of scarcely-veiled bigotry and matronly conservatism? ‘Bout a month later the Teamsters raided the loading dock to sign up the all-male NABDW employees there—which caused quite a commotion in the lunchroom, a spiteful, ethno-gender-ideological cult-war—but my interesting lunch partner had suddenly quit. I always wondered if she was a mole staking the joint out for the JimmyHoffians (my romantic streak showing). Or if any of my erstwhile “Brothers” in dairy ever did a real job action, Teamster or otherwise. I never stuck around to find out. Riding the city bus home after my last shift (the nice little Babas served me a cupcake at last coffee break for the occasion), guy sitting next to me says: “You must be a butter-maker—you smell like butter.” And I said: “I was.” Essential worker for the babies.

        Other sojourns, these times instead to the now-cosmopolitan arch-corporatocracy of the Bow, taught me that Alberta is well-practiced at labour relations. My acquaintances, sprinkler-fitters, high-steel workers, and sundry heavy construction labourers in a very busy town related manys the tale of their unions getting slapped down and kicked backwards, decertified or raided by, essentially, fake “unions.” Meanwhile, out in the bush (I was a faller, mostly), it was a matter of tricky negotiation and pseudo-union-card trickery to figure out what union you were supposed to belong to in which camp. “This’d never happen in BC!” I’d pronounce, posing with a caulk boot up on a freshly cut stump. To a couple other work refugees from BC. They’d concur in typical, expletive fashion.

        Since then, I’d often wondered if a pervasive sort of incessant, anti-union dog whistle was playing in Alberta like undifferentiated background noise and eroding collective subconsciousness. I mean, one that only unionized British Columbians could hear in contrast with the more discernible moose-call of unionism back in BC. Both, apparently, had their charms. At least back in the day.

        Yes, things a sure changed since the good old days. I felt it coming on when I started seeing Alberta Report appearing in the toilet stalls in logging camps up and down the Coast—then it’s near-twin brother, BC Report. I watched the gun registry gin tens of thousands of once loyal Dippers into voting Reform and Socred. And an era of ambivalence about trade unionism ensued, usually only appearing as Judy to the profiteers’ Punch. My take-away, in my dotage, is that sometimes—used to be all the time, back in my day, sonny—job action is essential, and if it doesn’t want to look like partisan political posturing, it has to at least show up when workers’ lives are being put directly in the path of danger.

        Thnx for the reminder. I really hope unions show up more in this Covid crisis. It won’t be over soon and I still believe we need them to. If I were a unionized grocery worker threatened by scofflaw Covidiots, I know I’d expect them to. My experiences have been somewhat mixed over the years, but I still think trade unionism is needed—especially when it comes to worker safety, for heaven’s sake!

        Be safe!

        Reply
        • David Climenhaga

          May 6th, 2021

          I have a few fond memories of Port Alberni myself. In my student newspaper days, there were no web offset presses in Victoria, strange as that might seem now, and the nearest options were Port Alberni or Comox, so each Thursday someone had to make a run up Island to get the pages to the press, then drive the 5,000 tabloid papers back. Slow, but always a pleasant trip. Once the road was closed because of a mid-Island snowstorm, so we chartered a float plane, for an astonishingly low price, and flew the pages to Port Alberni. The road was clear enough the next day to get a truck through. Those were the days, if only we’d known it at the time. DJC

          Reply
  13. Sandy McLeod

    May 4th, 2021

    Would somebody please start a recall petition for Jason Kenney and his United “Covidiot” Party?
    There are more of us who would sign this than attend a rodeo or attend a mask protest.

    Reply
  14. Jimmy

    May 4th, 2021

    As pointed out the rodeo took place in Minister Dreeshen’s constituency. I am not aware of any comments emanating from him regarding this. His latest Facebook post shows a two-year-old happy smiley photo op with Grade 1 students.

    Silence is the preferred practice of the central region’s members of Parliament. Mr. Dreeshen senior, whose constituency encompasses the Bowden rodeo site appears to have offered no comment on the rodeo. His social media site continues with more of the well worn and increasingly churlish and infantile pattern of Federal/Libera/Ottawa bashing. The Facebook page of Blaine Calkins, the MP whose constituency includes Mirror’s Whistle Stop Cafe, posted an almost five-minute-long ramble regarding a defunct gun registry on May 2nd. Mr. Calkins is seen wearing a vest with the word ‘rodeo’ prominently displayed.

    Silence cannot be assumed to be tacit assent to those who chose to flout Covid regulations. Clarification would be welcome.

    Reply

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