Never mind the Omicron variant, Alberta, it looks like we’re going to have the Best Christmas Ever.
So brace yourselves. With unvaccinated Albertans now welcome at family gatherings, this could turn out to be a repeat of the Best Summer Ever.
Premier Jason Kenney didn’t actually use those words at his hastily organized news conference this morning, cobbled together after yesterday’s delays, to announce his government is relaxing some COVID-19 restrictions before the holiday.
“If the message here today was we’re cancelling Christmas,” he huffed at one impertinent reporter, “I think people would tell us to take a hike.”
In other words, why have rules if people are going to break them? This is a persistent theme with Mr. Kenney when it comes to COVID-19 restrictions.
In addition to dropping distinctions between vaccinated and unvaccinated participants in holiday gatherings, the rule relaxations include an end to the limit on the number of households permitted to take part in indoor holiday get-togethers, although they will remain limited to 10 people. Unlimited numbers of children under 18 are now welcome.
Dropping restrictions on unvaccinated Albertans will please the Mr. Kenney’s United Conservative Party base, which is rife with COVID skeptics and anti-vaxxers. It should worry the heck about anyone paying attention to the potential impact of the highly infectious Omicron variant.
To be fair, the premier, Health Minister Jason Copping and Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw gave lots of warnings to be cautious about Omicron. But the impact of their messaging added up to: Omicron is extremely dangerous – so let’s get together and celebrate!
Mr. Kenney also announced that free rapid antigen test kits will be available starting Friday at some Alberta pharmacies – until supplies run out. The government says it has 500,000 kits on hand, and they’ll be given away on a first-come, first-serve basis.
When the first media questioner asked Mr. Kenney if right now was really a good time to relax the rules, he responded chippily with another perennial Kenney favourite: “I don’t accept the premise of that question whatsoever!”
He also mentioned “personal responsibility” as an antidote to rule breaking, and complained about the rate at which the federal government was delivering vaccines. So, if you were looking to fill your bingo card with annoying Kenneyisms, the premier pretty well hit them all.
Mr. Kenney has tried to solve one of his serious political problems: He looked for a way to ensure there will be no Aloha-gate scandal this year.
In a memorandum to UCP Caucus members yesterday, MLAs craving a dose of tropical sunshine were informed that because there are no longer federal advisories against out-of-country travel, “where all Albertans are free to travel outside the province, Government Caucus members will be permitted to do so as well.”
No sooner did that happen, though, than Ottawa issued a new advisory against non-essential international travel.
Another of Mr. Kenney’s critical political problems also remains unresolved.
But fortunately for Mr. Kenney no reporters had questions about how he plans to deal with Brian Jean. The former Wildrose Party leader who hopes to unseat him was chosen Sunday by party members in the Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche riding to be the UCP standard-bearer in a by-election that must be held by March. There is speculation Mr. Kenney may disallow his nomination.
The only off-topic media question at today’s newser had to do with a report by former Alberta Treasury official Bob Ascah for the Edmonton-based Parkland Institute that called for governance changes to fix the Alberta Investment Management Corp., better known as AIMco.
Dr. Ascah’s recommendations included removing the Alberta government as sole owner of AIMCo, giving pension boards majority representation on the Crown corporation’s board, and eliminating AIMCo’s monopoly on managing provincial public pensions.
Mr. Kenney glibly asserted that the 460,000 Alberta public employees and pensioners stuck with AIMCo management have nothing to worry about because their defined-benefit pensions are guaranteed by the government.
Alas, this is untrue.
As the Local Authorities Pension Plan’s “Myth-Busters” page explains: “LAPP pensions are not guaranteed by government. They are backed by a pension fund in excess of $50-billion, owned by LAPP members and invested on their behalf.” The same goes for other provincial public pensions.