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Alberta government's excuse for blocking federal COVID tracing app changes again

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Jason Kenney responds to journalist Emma Graney's question at yesterday's news conference. Image: Screenshot of Government of Alberta video/YouTube

Premier Jason Kenney issued a new explanation yesterday for why Alberta won't adopt the COVID Alert tracing app created by the federal government.

In a testy response to a question by The Globe and Mail's Emma Graney, Premier Kenney claimed the federal smartphone app isn't compatible with Alberta's coronavirus infection tracing capabilities.

Graney asked during a news conference about a provincial emissions reduction program why the province didn't embrace the federal app "and just kinda roll with it?"

"Well, first of all, we don't make these decisions based on rolling with things or embracing things or vapid talking points, Emma," an obviously irritated Kenney mansplained to the respected Globe journalist, who previously covered Alberta politics for Postmedia.

"We base them on their public health efficacy, and the Alberta Trace Together app connects to Alberta's contract tracing system which has led the country in terms of contract tracing," he continued. 'So it is, based on the advice that we've received, so far more effective as a public health tool."

Now, back on August 1, an Alberta Health spokesperson had blamed Ottawa for how long it was taking to fix Alberta's ABTraceTogether app, for which the province had paid $625,000 although it was based on open-source software. Albertans had not adopted the provincial app in great numbers, likely because it didn't work properly on phones with Apple's iOS operating system.

Tom McMillan accused the federal government of deliberately delaying an iOS update for the app by prohibiting Apple from working with the province to address the problem.

On August 9, however, Tyler Shandro's press secretary, Steve Buick, said the province had made the decision to adopt the federal government's COVID-19 notification app because it recognized a national coronavirus tracing strategy made more sense than Alberta going it alone.

Two weeks ago, Buick said Alberta was working with the federal government to transition "nearly 245,000 users" of ABTraceTogether to COVID Alert.

Last week, Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw and Shandro said COVID Alert still wasn't available in the province, though, "because there are still technical issues in transitioning current users of the ABTraceTogether app to the federal app."

It was about then that media, Opposition politicians, and Albertans frightened by a surge of COVID-19 cases and the government's apparent determination not to reimpose restrictions on businesses to control the spread of the disease, began to press the United Conservative Party to adopt what UCP house leader Jason Nixon calls "the Trudeau tracing app."

Now Kenney has provided his new incompatibility claim as the excuse for not doing so, while also insisting that iOS problem with the undersubscribed Alberta app has been fixed. As a result, he said, "we haven't made a final decision."

This is the case even though infection rates are even higher than when the ruckus over the federal app began. Every hospital in Edmonton now has a COVID-19 outbreak!

"Certainly when Albertans travel outside the province they can use the federal app in provinces that they might be visiting when they have signed up," Kenney added generously yesterday.

"And when Canadians are travelling to Alberta, they're more than welcome to download the Alberta Trace Together app," he added, apparently forgetting that Albertans are Canadians too.

UCP issues managers, MLAs, and online supporters need not be overly concerned. They should simply update their talking points immediately and consign any previous explanations to the memory hole.

In all seriousness, the kiss of death for COVID Alert in Alberta was almost certainly when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with an Edmonton radio station Friday to urge the province to adopt the federal app, and bluntly stated that the UCP government was blocking its use.

The only way for Albertans to use this COVID-19 tracing tool is for Ottawa to unilaterally introduce it in this province.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald.

Image: Screenshot of Government of Alberta video/YouTube​

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