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Jason Kenney missing in action as Alberta's COVID cases soar

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Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. Image: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr

Where's Jason Kenney?

Alberta is in the midst of a pandemic emergency that grows more frightening by the day, but it's been days since the public has seen or heard from the premier.

There were 1,584 new COVID-19 cases in Alberta announced yesterday.

There were 1,534 announced in Ontario in the same 24 hours.

I don't need to remind readers of this blog that the population of Ontario is 14.6 million, compared with only 4.4 million in Alberta.

Ontario is heading toward a near total one-month lockdown today in the Metro Toronto area (population nearly six million) and the nearby Peel region (population 1.5 million).

Hair salons, barber shops, public dining, including outdoor dining, religious services, sports events and government services will all be shut down for a minimum of 28 days. Weddings and funerals will be limited to 10 participants, excluding the already departed, presumably.

Ontario's Conservative premier, Doug Ford, has been front and centre, pleading with Ontarians to obey the rules, not to panic.

But all we've heard from Kenney in the same time frame has been crickets. From his health minister, Tyler Shandro? Nothing much from him either.

Well, Kenney was spending a second two-week stretch in self-isolation after coming in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 on November 12. He's supposed to be free to walk about today.

He hasn't been seen by the public in any form for about 10 days now. We plebians last heard his voice when he defended his COVID-19 response on a radio show a week ago, on November 15.

Well, there's the occasional retweet on his Twitter account, mostly from the chief medical officer of health, plus one about Santas Anonymous this morning. Not very reassuring. Anyone behind the curtain can retweet stuff.

And there was talk he Zoomed into a couple of private meetings yesterday. Could be true.

Just the same, it's been long enough now that the Internet was starting to spontaneously combust yesterday.

People kept asking, has he got COVID? I haven't heard anyone wonder aloud if he's dead yet, but if he doesn't appear in the next 24 hours -- which I assume he will -- it's bound to happen.

Or -- another still unconfirmed rumour -- he's getting ready to announce a three-week lockdown starting Wednesday (so his government can go ahead with its scheduled fiscal update tomorrow).

Or is he just jerking our chains?

Whether Kenney is sick, prepping for a big announcement, or he's just taken a powder, so far that's been for him to know and us to find out.

How long should we wait before we send out a search party?

Well, we all know that when the going gets tough, this premier has a history of getting going -- usually somewhere where there's no one around to ask him tough questions.

When times are good, Kenney likes to go all Churchillian on us and talk about the challenges that await, urging us, like buffalos, to huddle together in the face of the cold wind. (Possibly not the best advice for a pandemic, but whatever.)

But at a moment that really calls for leadership, he's been missing in action! Or perhaps absent without leave is a better military metaphor.

This is not what Winston Churchill did. "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat," prime minister Churchill told the House of Commons at Westminster on May 13, 1940. "We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering."

Can you imagine the way Alberta's conservatives would have reacted if Rachel Notley had turtled like this during the Fort McMurray fire? I can tell you it wouldn't have been pretty.

Of course, Notley rose to that leadership challenge. Indeed, her performance as premier in that crisis was exemplary.

Kenney is a notorious control freak. But last week he left explaining his United Conservative Party government's passive and muddled response to surging COVID-19 cases to underlings like Associate Mental Health Minister Jason Luan.

Well, we all know now how that worked out.

Luan told everyone that the United Conservative Party government's criteria for figuring out when to bring in stricter measures to control COVID-19 "is measured against out hospital capacity to handle ICUs and hospitalizations; so we're waiting to see where that threshold will be pushed to by our limit, then gradually reduce more activities that way." (Emphasis added.)

After that made the rounds of social media and people started to think about what it meant -- waiting until intensive care units are already in crisis to think about doing something -- he recanted. Or was made to recant.

Still, one is left with the feeling that he was offering us a rare glimpse of what the UCP brain trust actually thinks.

The ensuring uproar suggests Kenney is right about one thing, anyway. If he wants anything done right, he'd better do it himself. Alas, even that's no guarantee!

Now the NDP wants an emergency debate in the legislature. Knowing this government's inclinations, that seems unlikely.

Still, it might be a good time for Kenney to stand up on his hind legs and give that blood-toil-tears-and-sweat speech he's been fantasizing about.

The UCP's anti-masker, anti-vaxxer base wouldn't like it if he gives in and orders a strict lockdown for a few weeks. I have a feeling, though, that most severely normal Albertans would be relieved.

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: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr​

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