Hastily made signs greeted many Albertans looking for their free COVID-19 test kits Friday (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

If the announcement last week of plans to distribute a half million free rapid COVID-19 tests to Albertans starting on Friday was supposed to give the Kenney Government a boost, the chaotic implementation may have had the opposite effect. 

If anything has become clear about Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party Government over the past two and a half years, it’s that planning is not its long suit. Indeed, as was the case on Friday, it often seems as if the UCP doesn’t plan at all. 

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney (Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

Throngs of Albertans lined up early in bitterly cold weather Friday to get the packages of free rapid antigen test kits only to discover that they had run out before they got there, weren’t delivered at all to many locations, or that the tool on the Government of Alberta website that was supposed to say which commercial drugstores and Alberta Health Services sites had supplies was wrong.

Only 400 kits were delivered to Lethbridge, the fourth largest city in the province, according to chatter on social media. Hastily printed signs in pharmacies in St. Albert advised that the tests were available nowhere in the city – drive to Edmonton if you want one. Well, at least it’s not a long drive to Edmonton from St. Albert, unlike the trek from Lethbridge to Calgary.

People seeking tests were turned away across the province. The impression left was that the decision to distribute the kits was made at the last minute, possibly to placate critics of the government’s choice to loosen holiday COVID restrictions just as the Omicron wave rolls into Alberta, and planning was a shambles. 

Were pharmacies even checking Alberta Health numbers before handing out the kits? Not in every case, judging from anecdotal accounts. Do the kits even work with the Omicron variant? Some say they don’t. 

Chaos reigned. Conspiracy theories proliferated. 

When a braggy meme about the program appeared on Premier Kenney’s social media accounts, it raised more questions than it answered for citizens worried about the Omicron variant of the virus and already angry about the botched distribution. 

According to the meme, 8.5 million tests have been distributed to Albertans. Seeing as so many people who wanted tests couldn’t get them, this raised questions about where the heck they’d gone. 

Another typical sign (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Not everyone was delighted to learn from Mr. Kenney’s meme-makers that more than 40 per cent of the kits had been donated to private industry and 40 chambers of commerce. 

Chambers of commerce? Say what? 

Almost two million had been sent to pharmacies, according to the meme. Alberta Health, the confusing name for the provincial health ministry, tweeted Friday evening 787,000 kits had been distributed. 

Albertans who are paying attention want an explanation of the difference between the number of test kits Mr. Kenney says have been distributed and the 13.3 million tests that the federal government says it has now given to Alberta to distribute. 

Meanwhile, the Alberta government says it will distribute more kits when it gets them from the feds. 

Right now, there are more questions than answers. Mr. Kenney has some explaining to do. 

CORRECTION: Lethbridge is the fourth largest city in Alberta, by a hair, not the third as stated here earlier. Red Deer, astonishingly, is the third. Lethbridge is a much nicer city than Red Deer, however, so it probably deserves to be the third largest. DJC

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23 Comments

  1. Or, blame Trudeau.

    The funny thing is ‘Resistance’ alumni Premier Doug Ford hasn’t said an ill word about the federal response. If anything, Ford has said that PMJT and Freeland are always available, ready to listen, and do offer good timely responses as circumstances permit. And then there’s Alberta Premier Crying & Screaming Midget. It’s likely when he calls Trudeau, it’s all about “obey my will or else” and “where’s my thousand-million-hundred-gazillion dollars”. Both Ford and Kenney are the same height, but Kenney just can’t stop showing off his Napoleon Complex.

    The feds delivered ample numbers of kits to Alberta, but when the UCP government decides that industry and chambers of commerce should get first dibs on the lion’s share of the kits, while the rest of the public must wait for the next round of supply to come in, it has to be considered if Kenney decided to create a crisis to serve his political ends?

    And there’s that meme that’s going around, supposedly from an audio recording, where Kenney said that the arrival of Omicron will assure that Alberta is in the endemic phase because “everyone will get infected”, once has to wonder if this is now going to be Kenney’s pandemic endgame.

    As far back as late summer, UCP mouth-breather Jason Stephan (If there’s too many Jasons, there must be a lot of stupidity going on. Just saying.) mused that the whole point of the Best Summer Ever was to make sure everyone gets infected with COVID. The notion of natural herd immunity has never been far from Kenney’s mind. Going back to the fall of 2020, Kenney was vigorously opposing any and all restrictions because “COVID was just a flu”. Oh, and defending FreeDUMB, of course. This nonsense went on for several months before Kenney realized that cowardice was the better part of valor. And he wanted to play Captain Canada because he still wanted to keep that shot at the PMO alive.

    At this point, no one should be surprised by Kenney’s shenanigans anymore. If he intends to depopulate Alberta, he’s doing a great job. Keep it up!

    The matter of Quebec’s Bill 21 has revealed some pretty strange aspects of Canadian politics. It’s an ugly and stupid piece of legislation that seeks to demonize one social group, Muslim women. I have yet to hear of any instances where Sikh men or Jewish men have to discard their turbans and kippahs or leave Quebec’s public service, so I’m going to presume that, either, they are not there or they are being ignored.

    None of the federal party leaders have spoken out about the bill, save for Blanchet, who is all for it. Trudeau and O’Toole are not about to ruin their chances of winning Quebec over a religion vs. secularism debate. But it appears that O’Toole’s CPC caucus has launched their own protest in defiance of O’Toole’s support for Bill 21. Is this a slight against O’Toole’s indifference to religious freedom? O’Toole has run afoul of the SoCONs in the CPC caucus over his promotion of pro-choice and pro-LGBTQ2+ positions. Looks like that the civil war with the SoCONs is still on. Funny thing is in 2015 Harpo’s CPC government were screaming about the ‘barbaric cultural’ practices of (usually) Muslims. So now, Muslims and their plight are the CPC’s cause célèbre. Who knew?

      1. Well, there’s Section 90 of the Constitution Act, 1867 — before 1982 known as the BNA Act — which confers the power of disallowance on the federal government over any provincial legislation. Most constitutional experts describe it as defunct, not having been used since 1943 — against a discriminatory piece of legislation passed in Alberta against the Hutterian Brethren https://www.constitutionalstudies.ca/2019/07/reservation-and-disallowance/. However it was not removed from the Constitution in 1982, and the courts have never actually ruled that it is null & void, so I’d love to see it used against Bill 21. Let a court dare to rule that abhorrent piece of legislation acceptable.

  2. Not sure the situation’s any better elsewhere. 400,000 kits disappeared in Nova Scotia in just three days last week. For some unknown reason the province decided to distribute them from public libraries. Whatever, each time I tried last week, the day’s supplies were gone by the time I got there, and I turned up mid-morning. 400,000 more are supposed to arrive this week from the feds, leaving one in the unenviable position of calculating whether it’s worth the risk of going out to try but then catching Omicron as a by-product. Seriously.

    We’ve been insulated from much previous Covid infection by common sense, high vaccination rates and much testing here, but Omicron has bust that wide open. We’re now at 500 new cases a day and rising, which would be 2750 equivalent in Alberta on a per capita comparison. Compare the 475 cases on Sunday Dec 19 to 111 on Dec 12. Quadrupled, plus all the close contacts isolating.

    We had 8000 total positives since the pandemic began up till November. There are now so many people in isolation directly for two weeks and others who may have had close contact and need to isolate for 72 hours before going out to get PCR tests, businesses are shutting down for lack of staff. Ponder that. Essentially it’s all happened in a week. And Omicron doesn’t care if you’ve had two or three shots, breakthrough is the name of the game. I wish us all good luck because it’s rampantly obvious we’re going to be in a dire situation here by Christmas Day, and I don’t think I’m exaggerating. Whether someone or other bungled rapid test kit distribution or not will mean diddly squat.

    1. Bill: I was surprised, given the record, that Nova Scotia botched this release. But you have had a change in government since the last major decision on this file, no? Nice to see support for public libraries, though. They’re a “special interest” her in Alabamberta. DJC

  3. Free kits were distributed in Ontario exclusively through LCBO stores (the provincial liquor stores). The supply was depleted within hours and began selling online at inflated prices. What were the odds that provincial governments like those of Jason Kenney and Doug Ford would be in power during a pandemic? Pretty good, actually.

  4. It is hardly surprising that the Premier Bumbles and crew can’t do any planning around critical issues that affect the well-being and prosperity of the province. About the only thing that Bumbles appears to be good at is changing the rules to suit his own personal Xmas plans for his family, appease his anti-vax and Covid-denying base, and stave off challenges to his control of the UCP to keep his grip on power. He is smart, but only in a very narrow sense, and
    a good political organizer and operative. That said, it should be obvious to most by now that neither he nor his party have any talent for governance. It does not matter whether we are talking about destroying mountains and ruining a significant portion of the watershed for the dubious benefits of coal mines; changing the education curriculum to make our children and citizens less informed, less able to think critically, less successful, and less able to adapt to the complex demands of the 21st century; or dealing the various health care crises caused by a very real and dangerous pandemic. The qualities that have allowed Bumbles to ascend to and hold on to power are of absolutely no help to the citizens is supposed to govern and look out for.

    Consumed by their own selfish objectives, informed by ignorance and a contemptuous desire to hold on to power at any cost and a twisted-free enterprise and faux freedom-oriented ideology, of course they think it a clever idea to waste kits on various chambers of commerce. What are these beacons of business interest to do with them? Do they have an infrastructure to distribute them to the public? Or, do they just give them to their friends and neighbors? Bumbles should go round the kits up and get them to pharmacies that do have an infrastructure to distribute them to those who need them.

    So, Bumbles and crew want to relax the rule to allow the unvaxxed to mix and to mix with the vaccinated over the holidays. This is an incredibly stupid and short-sighted rule change that the audience of this blog likely know. But, for this policy to have any kind of chance, however remote, of not overwhelming our hospital system or of turning the province into the most notorious Covid super spreader of confederation, testing is key. If Albertans can’t get the test, there are going to be lots of people taking unnecessary chances and attending Xmas parties without knowing if they are infectious or not.

    Testing and vaccination are not the only way to get out of this mess, unfortunately. We need a strong government capable of making decisions that are in the best interests of all the province, not a weak, pusillanimous government that cowers in fear of its base to the point where it costs needless lives and causes unnecessary suffering.

  5. There are, apparently, 5 tests in each kit, so 8.5 million tests would be only 1.7 million kits, for a province of 4 million people.

    When my wife went to our local independent pharmacy, they had her write her name and AHC number on a clipboard. They were also happy to let her put my name on the clipboard, and give her a second kit for me. She didn’t have my health card, so ‘on file’ was sufficient. Presumably the pharmacy collated the information and passed it on to AHS, but there didn’t appear to be anything preventing my wife from going down the street to another pharmacy and getting another kit.

    It certainly does feel like the pharmacies were paid x dollars to distribute the kits, so the faster they handed them out, the faster they earned their stipend. As well, from a business perspective, there doesn’t seem to be any reason to disappoint customers by refusing requests until all of the kits have been passed out.

  6. A more logical approach would have been to distribute one test kit to each school child last September. This should have continued before each school holiday. With Omicron, kits should have been distributed with instructions to test before returning to school in January, and continue testing on a schedule. The same should have been done with post-secondary students.

    Likewise, seniors and health care workers should have had access much sooner. Then distribution could have been broadened.

    But no! Corporations and businessmen matter. Ordinary citizens do not. Those at higher risk of getting the disease, or at higher risk of becoming severely ill from it, simply do not matter in Kenney land. Let the peasants fight over the scraps like feral dogs.

  7. It seems like Kenney and the UCP can’t seem to get much right related to COVID. The bad news for them is it doesn’t seem to be over yet.

    Kenney has been ready for a long time to pivot from dealing with COVID to something else. However, every time he tries, to, it seems to fail. I suspect he neither has interest in, or any aptitude in dealing with matters of public health.

  8. Before actually doing something for the people of Alberta, one has to “care” about the people of Alberta.
    This just might entail that certain ideological bents would take second place, except that this is not the case!!
    The notion that “governing” means having control over the lives of people who are governed might need to be replaced by having “service” to the people as a predominant practice of those who are elected to ‘serve’. I know, I know… Such a silly notion by a naive old fart!!!! Must be that defective education system I was subject to!!

  9. Don’t expect these pretend conservatives and Reformers in the UCP to do anything right. They just won’t. Albertans will be bracing themselves for The Best Winter Ever, under the UCP. It will be really ugly. In typical fashion, they will blame someone else.

    1. Your repeated reference to pretend reformers suggest that these guys are somehow worse, but Harper had the northern alliance, a literal white supremacist gang, doing security at early reform party events. I’m kind of sick of this constantly being repeated. This is 150% who these people are, they aren’t mistaken, you are.

  10. The problem is communication. If Jason wants to do it right, he’ll hire Stevie Harper and the Vingt Cats to caterwaul a video for local media, musically informing the public where they can get free rapid covid tests. With Dad on keyboard and vocals and son Ben shaking the tambourine JK can’t help but get positive feedback for his marketing acumen.

  11. The roll-out of test kits seems incoherent in Alberta as almost anything else Kenney ever does these days—that is, in historical context—but my squeeze and I generally disapprove of the way these roll-outs are being done in every province and Territory, Alberta seeming the poster-child only because the UCP has already attracted so much attention to its deadly, Covid obstinance. All of these roll-outs appear to us a tad knee-jerk, a might too opportunistically assuaging Christmas-convenience anxieties by what we feel is trite in concept as well as, unsurprisingly, ham-handed in execution.

    We feel this particular pandemic tactic—‘tactic’ in the literal sense since testing is generally good in the strategic sense—takes a number of risks which might have been avoided had test-kits been rolled out better in better circumstances. No, we can’t blame Omicron’s timing like it’s just bad luck: the appearance of variants is as predictable as the now-annual ‘Thanksgiving-to-New-Year-Spike’ (comprising part of what we used to call the “annual flu season”).

    We’ve noted among family, friends and people in general a ton of misplaced complacency with respect vaccinations: too many people misconceive them (double- or, now, triple-vaccinations) as an ‘all-clear-good-to-go’ pass when, in fact, Covid immunity is known to fade within half a year since one’s last vaccination, and a significant proportion of the population is still insufficiently vaccinated, if at all. Now, with the new Omicron variant, we see too many people scrambling to acquire virtual dispensations, absolutions, and exemptions —everything from rationalizing having had and survived an earlier Covid variant, to vaccinations one, two and, now, three (the presumed cherry on the cake, so-called “booster” which too many misconceive as the ‘finale shot’), to so-called “passports” and, now, test-kits very likely to be misused and, in any case, likely to cultivate a false sense of security, despite their known inaccuracy—even barring misuse. A disturbing number of Citizens are getting as deaf to warnings about usual, elevated seasonal risk factors as they are getting way too bold in ignoring them. The way test kits have been snapped up, the diagnoses might just as well be called seasonal deafness: it has more to do with not missing a second Christmas than with cogent epidemiology.

    Authorizes seem to be balancing these elevated risks with the presumption that potentially Covid-swamped hospitals will be able recuperate capacity more quickly than they did during the last two springtimes, and against the potential of protocol-rebellion if citizens are deprived of the close-contact celebrations they missed out on last winter. And one can’t help but suspect that Kenney is also attempting to leverage reconciliation with his restless, anti-vaxxer base: ‘we got the test-kits out there, so no problem mixing vaxxed and un-vaxxed at close quarters—and ‘saving Christmas’ from being “cancelled” at the same time!’ And every kid wants to know how Jason gets that bowlful of jelly down so many chimneys on Christmas Eve!

    We sympathize with the political difficulties authorities have to deal with as the world approaches the third year of Covid: they’re jammed right up against a wall where many citizens are starting to think that, if the pandemic isn’t over by now—or even getting worse—after all we’ve endured these last two years, then maybe that was all for nought and maybe protocols are ineffective and can be safely abandoned or, at least, amended. Anti-vaxxers will surely say, “we told you so!”

    And we know it’s a hard sell to warn that realistic epidemiology predicts a steady stream of Covid 19 variants like there is of seasonal influenza—that is, new vaccines and boosters annually for everybody forever, (naturally because over 85% of the world’s population has not been vaccinated for the Alpha variant, much less Omicron and beyond). But citizens don’t need to unbox that gift of the globalization right under the Christmas tree in five days from now. They just need to be reminded that we ain’t out of the woods yet and adding risky behaviour during these entirely predictable spikes is unhelpful (for healthcare capacity) and much more dangerous (for individuals) than taking extra precautions when risk factors are as high as they are now. That empty milk glass and cookie crumbs on the saucer will need to be thoroughly sanitized first thing Christmas Day.

    Citizens’ head-off rush to regain conveniences is also entirely predictable so governments ought to be extra careful about the downsides of Covid control measures like issuing test-kits as if Christmas cookies from Santa’s sack. Recommending that windows be left open to ventilate the house with sub-zero winter air so that gatherings —potentially of dozens of guests, quite legally (some unvaccinated, in Alberta, quite legally)—can happen more safely is just more hackneyed wand-waving and incantation-chanting to which seasonally distracted celebrants will likely anchor a sense of safety they don’t really.

    Unfortunately for our Alberta friends and family, Jason Kenney is gaming to and end ulterior to public health. We can only hope that everyone relies on common sense instead. Be safe. We’ll get through this inconvenient crimp on indoor germ-swapping soon enough, recuperate through January and February, and be ready the review the many successes we’ve had as Covid Year Two comes to a close in March, 2022.

    All the best, everybody!

  12. Well at least it’s not the fast food window of pink slime burgers inc. However, it would be better to have the pharmacy do all distribution. But you are correct, the Used Car government could not organize a tea party for a mad hatter.

  13. We live in a smallish northern community. My wife went to pick up kits for both of us and she had my AHS number and my written request that she pick up a kit for me. The staff at the Health Unit said they didn’t need my information and did not ask my wife for hers. They did ask how many kits she wanted and how many people would be visiting/getting together. My wife self limited to two kits.

    My sister lives in St Albert and as I can confirm (from her) they did not have any kits, anywhere in the community.

  14. Were are all the missing test kits that were given to AB from the feds?

    If a sociopath was in power, and he knew his time would run out in 2 years, then what would do you think his priority would be? Certainly, public safety wouldn’t be on that list. I expect it would be steal as much as you can, while you can for yourself and your friends.

    Well, actually they aren’t exactly friends, they are tools to help him after public office. When those tools are no longer useful the sociopath will set them aside, and look for new tools.

    Remember this fellow Albertans: Next time you have an educated, intelligent, competent, ethical and caring premier like Rachel Notley, don’t kick her out and vote for a person like Kenney.

    Do Albertans deserve what is happening to them, and what is about to happen? You tell me. Karma is a bitch as they say.

  15. As a Red Deerian of many years, I take umbrage with your parenthetical correction that Red Deer, though larger, is not as nice as Lethbridge. It is at least as nice as that fair city and before the last election, was home to two excellent MLAs. Yes, things have taken a precipitous fall in our representation since then, certainly we rank no better than Lethbridge-East now. Or were you referring to our lack of wind. It is so hard to decertify how people come up with criteria for these rankings.

    1. Having lived in Red Deer for almost 20 years I have observed that is seems to be a convenient central meeting spot for most of Alberta’s shall we say colourful groups. Unfortunately the causal observer tends to make a judgement based on this. Another point is that gasoline alley, what most travelling between Edmonton and Calgary only see, is not actually part of the city of Red Deer.

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