Alberta’s new labour minister, former health minister Tyler Shandro (Photo: Chris Schwarz, Government of Alberta).

VICTORIA – Say what you will about Jason Kenney, he never fails to disappoint.

When the buzz hit social media yesterday morning that Alberta’s premier would attempt to shore up his shaky perch atop Alberta’s government with a post-federal-election cabinet shuffle, the assumption was natural that he was about to make Health Minister Tyler Shandro walk the plank.

Alberta Health Minister Jason Copping, until yesterday the labour minister (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

This was said definitively by a number of astute observers of Alberta politics – your blogger not among them as he was helpless in an airport waiting lounge gazing at a computer with a flat battery.

There was speculation aplenty about who might replace Mr. Shandro and what other dramatic comings and goings could take place. 

In the event, like a bad joke, the only deck chairs to be shuffled aboard the SS Kenney as it steamed through the darkness were the ones occupied by Mr. Shandro and Labour Minister Jason Copping.

Mr. Shandro, having presided over the meltdown of the provincial health care system, will be shuffled to the labour portfolio. There, he can continue Mr. Kenney’s war on health care unions, the technical details of which were worked out on Mr. Copping’s watch. 

Mr. Copping, having introduced unconstitutional legislation intended to make it difficult for labour unions to operate in Alberta, will be shuffled into the health portfolio, to go down with the ship, I suppose.

That is all! That is all! Cocktails will be served in the captain’s lounge at four bells!

Readers must forgive me the maritime metaphors. I am in a seaport town, attending to some family business.

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

So, all that excitement, and all we got was a job swap?

A job swap, moreover, between two lawyers with little evidence in their potted biographies that would suggest an understanding of the complexities of the health care system?

So it would seem.

Both men are political lightweights, with little experience when they were elected in the 2019 provincial election. There is no evidence either has the political chops to cope with a major crisis, let alone an unquestionable disaster like what’s happening in Alberta’s health care system now. 

Mr. Copping does at least have a background in labour relations. Mr. Shandro’s legal career seems to have involved sitting on a lot of boards, although he once acted as a lawyer who threatened to sue a blogger for a former Alberta premier.

None of this bodes well for the future. It’s hard to imagine that anyone could do a worse job in the health portfolio than Mr. Shandro has. This is reason to hold out some modest hope for Mr. Copping’s chances, I guess.

Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

What was needed for a job like this, if I may be so bold, is an old political pro like Ric McIver, now minister of municipal affairs in Mr. Kenney’s cabinet, to be sent in to get things under control. 

Mr. McIvor too was in the news yesterday – asking the new Liberal Government in Ottawa, almost exactly the same as the old Liberal government in Ottawa, for immediate help to save the province’s imploding health care system. 

In a letter yesterday, Mr. McIver asked federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair for help flying gravely ill patients to other provinces with ICU capacity and for Registered Nurses and respiratory therapists with ICU experience, like those on whom Mr. Shandro has been waging war, to help out in Alberta. Mr. Shandro did not sign the letter. 

The timing of the request was noted by many. Despite the desperate state of many Alberta hospitals, nothing was said until after Monday’s federal election, presumably for fear reporters would ask more difficult questions of Opposition Leader Erin O’Toole about his previous enthusiasm for Mr. Kenney’s disastrous approach to COVID-19.

Alberta NDP Opposition Leader and former premier Rachel Notley (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

“They put the politics of the Conservative Party at large ahead of the needs of Albertans and those front-line health-care workers who are working desperately in our hospitals to keep people alive,” observed NDP Opposition Leader Rachel Notley.

Early in the afternoon, assured of a broad public audience, Mr. Blair tweeted: “Federal officials have been engaging their counterparts in Alberta for the past week to offer help.” (Emphasis added.) “I have made it clear that when a request is received, it will be approved. We will work together to provide for the people across Alberta.”

Mr. McIver, I expect, will have the diplomatic sense to ignore this revelation and get on with the job. 

For his part, Mr. Kenney claimed that Alberta didn’t actually need the federal support it’s asking for, it’s just being prudent in case it does. That’s certainly not what health care workers employed in Alberta’s hospitals say. 

It would seem that for all his efforts to channel Churchillian toughness in a crisis, Mr. Kenney lacks the grit to do what sometimes must be done in a dangerous and deteriorating situation, as now exists in Alberta as the fourth wave of COVID-19 rips through the unvaccinated segment of the population, overwhelming the health care system. 

Mr. Shandro needed to be fired – sent to the backbenches for the good of the province and, arguably, for the good of the governing party as well. Mr. Kenney did not have the wherewithal to do that. 

Instead, Mr. Kenney lauded Mr. Shandro at a COVID-19 briefing yesterday afternoon, saying, interestingly, that he had accepted his resignation as minister of health. The next chapter in this saga, it is now assumed, will be an effort by members of his own UCP Caucus to push the premier out the door for their own preservation.

Mr. Kenney implied at yesterday’s COVID news conference that he has no intention of going down without a fight.

Yesterday, 29 people died from COVID-19 in Alberta. There are now close to 21,000 active COVID cases in the province. There are 996 COVID patients in hospital – a record, of course – and 222 of them are in intensive care. 

So perhaps it’s no wonder Mr. Kenney was reluctant to appoint Mr. McIver as health minister because his services may soon be required to step in as interim premier as the party’s Calgary and rural anti-vaccination factions figure out who will replace the foundering leader of their ironically named party. 

A mandatory, in-person, UCP Caucus meeting is scheduled to take place today. 

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  1. Yeah, Kenney is a bit desperate. Desperate enough to get rid of his loyal minister, in a manner of speaking to cut off his left arm to save, well himself. So, the Shandro shuffle, still in cabinet, but out of the hot seat. Shandro probably doesn’t actually mind the change. It is sort of a soft landing for a loyal aide.

    However, it would be better if Kenney actually put someone in charge who knew more about, you know, health, or had a more conciliatory demeanor.

    I feel this is all a big smoke screen, a distraction to keep the wolves at bay or momentarily confuse them, to give Kenney some breathing room to plan his next move.

    Personally, I don’t think Kenney has much room left to manoeuvre, but he is a slippery one and you never know what he is doing behind the scenes. So I wouldn’t count out him planning some Houdini like escape, but then it didn’t work out so well for Houdini in the end.

  2. These pretend conservatives and Reformers don’t know what they are doing, and are bungling things up with their display of incompetence. Albertans are paying for this – and with their lives too. Had Albertans listened to people who said that the UCP are no good, we wouldn’t be in this current state of affairs. It was the same way under Ralph Klein. At least Canadians were smart enough not to get Erin O’Toole and the CPC, or Maxime Bernier and the PPC put into power. That would be a very scary thing on the national level.

  3. “A mandatory, in-person, UCP Caucus meeting is scheduled to take place today”: it’s a pity viruses don’t have a sense of poetic justice.

  4. “Mr. Speaker! I propose we change the spelling of “caucus” to “cauc-up”! I resent the fact that some of the opposition members have suggested it should have been spelled “hair-ball” all along!

  5. Moving Shandro out is like the homeowner who sees the shingles blown off his house and fixes the problem of the subsequent leaking by installing a good quality pump in his basement.

  6. Kenney’s UCP; three swings, three misses. The Shandro/ Copping job swap: mere optics. McIvor’s Tuesday letter: too little, too late. Minister Blair’s reply to McIvor: a whole week before Kenney (McIvor is just a mouthpiece) finally swallows his pride? Disgusting.

    But that’s the Twitter version of Kenney & the Klowns. Disgusting. Not surprising.

    1. Now that they have asked Blair for assistance, wait for Kenny to blame any more deaths on the feds because they didn’t send enough help or fast enough.
      can hardly wait to see Kenny stomp his tiny feet blaming the COVID deaths on Blair and Trudeau and of course Horgan because B.C. wouldn’t take any Alberta COVID patients.

  7. Enough is enough. Mr. Got to Go has got to go. Politics over people is his motto, even with 29 deaths a day. He is not “a real good guy”, as one caller to a radio morning show said today. He has blood on his hands.

  8. “Mr. Shandro needed to be fired”

    Is that all. even as the decision to declare “the pandemic is ending” and announce the “best summer ever” celebration was enacted? To apologize would be a public admission of responsibility, “Kenney shot back, “I don’t apologize for the decision to relax public health restrictions in the summer.” Instead, “He blamed the latest COVID outbreak on unvaccinated Albertans for displaying “unpredictable patterns of human behaviour” when in fact a fourth wave among the unvaccinated was predicted by a growing chorus of health experts over the summer.”

    I suggest that , given the public availability of the known facts, that Mr. Kenney, Mr. Shandro, and Ms. Hinshaw should all be charged with criminal negligence. Why would that need to be the case? A quick summary of what is factually known serves as the tentative outline:

    1. “The precautionary principle is one of the central concepts of modern environmental policy. While having many
    definitions, the principle essentially states that complete evidence of a potential risk is not required before action is taken to mitigate the effects of the potential risk.” And, noting carefully that, “Nevertheless core concepts within all interpretations of the principle include advocating anticipatory action to protect against a potential harm before definitive evidence of the harm materializes and shifting some of the burden of proof to proponents of a potential harm to prove its safety.”

    “A Canadian Framework for Applying the Precautionary Principle to Public Health Issues”

    “On July 27, 2021, CDC released updated guidance on the need for urgently increasing COVID-19 vaccination coverage and a recommendation for everyone in areas of substantial or high transmission to wear a mask in public indoor places, even if they are fully vaccinated. CDC issued this new guidance due to several concerning developments and newly emerging data signals.”

    “Delta Variant: What We Know About the Science”

    2. “In July, Deena Hinshaw, the province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, essentially declared the pandemic over. In her judgment, COVID-19 had been reduced to an “endemic,” similar to influenza.”

    “Premier Jason Kenney promised Albertans the “best summer ever.” He celebrated reopening earlier and more completely than other provinces. His director of issues management tweeted: “The pandemic is ending. Accept it.” ”

    3. “Modelling released by the province outlining the reasoning behind the Canada Day reopening and later moves to eliminate testing, contact tracing and mandatory isolation suggests it was relying on data from the U.K. while ignoring conflicting data from south of the border.” Suggesting that the entire charade was simply a partisan political tactic aimed at reviving ‘popularity’.

    “Speaking to CBC News last week, Dean Karlen, a physics professor and expert in modelling at the University of Victoria, who is a member of British Columbia’s independent COVID-19 modelling group, said you don’t choose just one jurisdiction, let alone one with the most optimistic outlook, in order to make your decisions.”

    The mixed messaging and careful eqivocation by Dr. Saxinger notwithstanding, because, even, “Saxinger thinks the U.K was a bad case study for Alberta, in part because of the geographical differences in vaccination rates in the Prairie province compared with the island country.”

    “Dr. James Talbot, a former chief medical officer of health for the province, said even 70 per cent of eligible Albertans with two doses likely wasn’t sufficient given the rise of the delta variant.”

    4. A significant and rising death count due to COVID 19 for the month of September 2021 in the Province of Alberta.

    5. Again, noting carefully, “To be guilty of a crime, a person must do something that is against the (criminal) law. But something has to make them responsible for what they’ve done. For many crimes, responsibility is based on meaning to do something wrong. But for some crimes, a person can be responsible even if they don’t mean to do anything wrong. In these cases, a judge will compare what the person did to what a “reasonable person” would have done in the same situation.”

    Case in Brief: R. v. Javanmardi

    6. In the same situation, given all of the available known facts at the time, would a ‘reasonable person’ have followed the same course of action as Jason Kenney, Tyler Shandro, and Deena Hinshaw?

  9. How more incompetent can a party be than Jason Kenney’s UCP?
    How more dysfunctional can a party be than Jason Kenney’s UCP?
    How more embarrassing can a party be than Jason Kenney’s UCP?
    It’s almost like they had it planned to make Albertans the laughingstock of the land.
    How more embarrassingly, incompetent and dysfunctional can a party be than Jason Kenney’s UCP?

  10. Considering that shifting Shandro out of Health into Labour means that he will be free of conflict of interest allegations when Alberta mysteriously begins to slip into private for-profit health care. Kenney was already alluding to an expanded private option already, so we can expect even more savaging of the public health care system soon. Putting another Jason in the Health portfolio just makes Alberta’s pandemic response sound more and more like a “Friday the 13th” movie.

    As for Kenney just packing it in, with no other acceptable options, like the big chair in Canada’s PMO, waiting for him, I suspect we may see an election rather than Kenney quietly departed, with as little scorched earth as possible. Nope. He intends to nuke the whole thing and everyone with him.

    All this reminds me of the final days of the Third Reich. Accounts tell of Hitler dispatching orders to his broken armies and demanding that they defend HIM at all costs — even their lives and the lives of all others — for this was their oath to the Fuhrer. As much as Kenney wants to believe he is the Dear Leader and all fanatics will be loyal to him until the end, fat chance of that happening.

    I suspect that the more rational ones in his government will simply walk away. There will be those who see a chance of a good career move of joining in the defense of Kenney’s administration, in the faint hope that, maybe, his luck will turn for the better. But seriously. Kenney’s streak of bad luck is not only long lasting, it’s been legendary in its scope of destruction.

    So, as Kenney’s final hours at the Sky Palace begin to wind down, and it becomes more apparent than ever that the end is nigh, I’m sure will will plow into that mountain of cough syrup and drown all his sorrows.

  11. With confluent crises still churning the real world, the pop-fizzle of Alberta’s UCP and flattening effervescence of its federal progenitor should not seem so anticlimactic—but somehow it does, kinda like the classic slow-mo movie-scream echoing down the darkening abyss: NOOOoooooooooºººººº…! I imagine comic book expletives drawn in shivery-goosebump orthography as supervillains are flung, vanquished, to their fate: EEEEEiiiiiii—Splat!! goes Shandroman!

    I’m pretty sure we deserve a break from the KaPowwwwieeeeee!! Biffff!!! and Whammmmmmo!!!! of that same Bat-politics on that same Bat-channel we’ve been watching for…uh…how long has it been?

    Covid changed everything, which means the last, tiny respite most of us political observers have had was probably during the Winter Holidays of 2019, right before Covid (whence it got its numerical handle, “19”)—very tiny respite, indeed, because Canadians, even at that intentionally distracting season, were transfixed by tRumpublican convulsions from no less than front row seats frightfully close to this appalling American gong show; and we hadn’t a clue yet how bad it was gonna get when the pandemic made its continental debut. Nevertheless, in the relatively tranquil wake of two remarkable elections in 2019, one federal, one provincial, we got a small taste of reactionary tRumpublicanism as it was churlishly adopted by the sore-loser, caterwauling Conservative Party of Canada and the victorious, crewing United Conservative Party of Alberta. The latter encouraged the former that it was a viable strategy; now, apishly applied to Covid for the last year and a half, both regret it.

    So do most Canadians, but we’re relieved at the turn the right has taken in the last few days. Possibly a salutary development, nemesis seems more likely now—as if we don’t have to fight so much, just let it happen. Two days ago, we didn’t even know that much; it comes not a moment too soon (well, except if you’re Erin O’Toole, now probably mortally wounded by Jason Kenney’s premature capitulation).

    Of course the fight isn’t nearly over, especially for Alberta’s healthcare workers worked to exhaustion as the retreating anti-vaxxer army swamps ICUs, not merely tired of restrictive protocols like the rest of us lucky enough to not need emergency care of any kind and spared daily exposure to the virus like nurses while they work to save the lives of those who so recently jeered and ridiculed them. Lest we forget, that fight was born way upstream, way before Covid and, for healthcare workers, it’s been an extra long struggle. Hopefully the events of the last few days confirms that a change is as good as a rest. A small relief, at least as yet, is magnified by how long, without a break, the public caring professions have been challenged by the dangerous caduceus of epidemiology and chauvinistic political partisanship. Like all non-Covid afflictions, that nasty illness will have to be deferred until ICU capacity is restored and the medical, as well as the political backlog can commence.

    It was disturbing enough that tRumpublican-style rabidity in Canada “The Good” warily swung its pendulant head in paranoid defensiveness much more brazenly after tRump’s surprise 2016 win than it had after the seminal defeats of Alberta’s forty-odd year ProgCon dynasty and the CPC’s nine year federal regime only a year earlier: the Orange One was, in this sense, as contagiously deadly as Covid itself. And then, just in the year of our last respite, the Western Reform faction started to foam at the mouth, the CPC again in electoral defeat, but, more disturbing yet, the UCP in victory.

    Worst of all, when Covid hit, the UCP’s barred teeth gnashed out at everything in maddened sympathy with the sickening American culture war, blowing precious public resources on pipeline, two-term-tRump, and Sasquatch hallucinations as it plied deep into its fevered heart of darkness.

    That’s why Monday’s election result, widely misconceived as no-change and frustratingly pointless, feels like a pressure release—even during a rising fourth wave of Covid likely to get worse before it gets better as we head into another difficult winter at close quarters. The knot of tRump fever appears to have been cleaved and, although anti-vaxxers still maraud about the institutions of public good like mindless zombies, and the Reformer faction of Canadian conservatism is poised to tear into its own greying meat, the path forward is now becoming clearer. The progress of viral pandemic was always predictable, but this recent break from Covid charlatanism feels strangely surprising, as well as refreshing. At least the sickness of the sickness looks to be in remission.

    It remains that recriminations won’t help us get through this winter, but as the right becomes more self-absorbed— and likely recriminatory within its own, withering husk for the next while—the remission of its interference with cogent pandemic policy should be a big help. Convalescence has to be up ahead somewhere.

    Be safe, my Alberta friends!

  12. Wonder if some voters are now unhappy they voted for Kenny and his posse? As I always say,, you voted for them, you can either learn to live with them or die because of it. Looks like more than a few Albertans are dying because of it.

    Kenny is responsible. The buck stops at his desk. He is the Premier. He is the one who decided it would be a good thing to make war on doctors and nurses. How stupid was that with COVID starting. Did he think COVID would be a version of the flu? what ever he thought he is too stupid or egotistical to remain as premier. His actions or inactions are killing people.

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