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Alberta government's pandemic mishandling draws criticism from overseas -- and the Starship Enterprise

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Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. Image: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr

Space, the final frontier ... they even think Jason Kenney and his United Conservative Party government are an interstellar disaster at Starfleet Command!

Well, in fairness to the Alberta premier and his out-of-its-depth government, William Shatner was never a real Starfleet commander, he just played one on TV.

Still, it's symbolic of the shambles the UCP is making of responding to the global pandemic that the guy who was James T. Kirk, captain of the Starship Enterprise to a generation that grew up on the original Star Trek series in the 1960s, came back to earth long enough yesterday to publicly roll his eyes at the way the Kenney government is mishandling COVID-19.

Responding to a Health Canada tweet about the federal government's COVID Alert app -- which is still being denied to Albertans by their government -- the 89-year-old Canadian actor who now resides in the United States tweeted:

"Now you just need to get Alberta on board I've heard that certain people have an issue with the app because they have their own app. I guess if you block off Alberta there (sic) app may work but people do travel. It's Bizarre & dangerous, imho. What do I know? I'm just an actor." 

Shatner will be lucky if seldom-seen Alberta inquiry commissioner Steve Allan doesn't add his name to the government's roster of environmental actors slated for bad reviews and ask for three more months and another million dollars to investigate him.

While the UCP's refusal to take adequate COVID containment measures to keep its friends in the bar, restaurant and casino businesses happy may not yet be quite an interstellar challenge, word seems to be getting around.

Video clips of Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott responding to a question in the Ontario legislature at Queen's Park in Toronto were all over the internet yesterday. "You want to speak about who is in crisis, have you taken a look at Alberta where they're doubling up patients in intensive care units? We're not doing that in Ontario," she heatedly said. (Emphasis added.)

In Canada's northern territories, meanwhile, legislators were also taking note of the state of Alberta's COVID response.

"People in the health field say the health system in Edmonton and Alberta is under significant strain and, if this continues, it's going to collapse," Frame Lake MLA Kevin O'Reilly told an MLA committee discussing the N.W.T.'s COVID-19 response on Tuesday.

He asked, reasonably enough: "At what point do we stop sending people to Alberta for testing or whatever?" After all, he noted, COVID-19 is so bad in Alberta the province may soon "reach a critical limit where they may not be able to support their own residents," let alone residents of the N.W.T.

"I think we need to recognize this is a real possibility that could happen in weeks, because Alberta is not doing what it should be doing," O'Reilly said. (Emphasis added.)

Abroad, readers in the COVID-racked United Kingdom were alerted to the situation on the Canadian Prairies, especially Alberta, by The Guardian newspaper last week.

"Alberta's ability to respond to the pandemic has also been hindered by cuts to social services and health care by the province's conservative government, which has faced a steep economic downturn in recent years," The Guardian reported on Friday.

"The outbreak in the Prairies mirrors a similar trend in rural American states such as Wyoming and South Dakota, where the virus has overcrowded health care systems," The Guardian's story continued. "For months, the Alberta government has touted 'personal responsibility' as a key tool in its fight against the virus."

Being a serious newspaper, the Guardian dispensed with the eye roll emoji at that point.

Still, Alberta under Kenney is making itself known throughout the world if not quite yet throughout the cosmos, for its willingness to disastrously go where no Alberta government has gone before.

Alberta talks to Ottawa and Red Cross about emergency tent hospitals 

The Alberta government, meanwhile, has asked the government of Canada and the Red Cross to supply it with emergency field hospitals to deal with its overstretched health-care system as coronavirus infections keep multiplying, the CBC reports.

Quoting "a federal source with direct knowledge of the situation," the CBC said the province would likely receive four field hospitals, two from the federal government and two from the Red Cross.

It must be embarrassing for the government of the richest province in one of the richest countries in the world to have to reach out for help like this, which may explain why Premier Kenney and Health Minister Tyler Shandro tried not to give straight answers when reporters asked them about it during yesterday afternoon's COVID-19 daily briefing.

Anyway, they were there to tout their plan for distributing coronavirus vaccines starting as early as January, and the virtual news conference format made it impossible for reporters to ask pointed follow-up questions.

While not denying Alberta's been talking to Ottawa and the Red Cross about field hospitals, both men insisted it was just health officials planning for the worst case. Both also did their utmost not to mention the federal government.

"This is conversations about a contingency plan," Shandro insisted. "This is a conversation that was had with Red Cross to understand if that was even possible." Never mind that he himself was scheduled to speak with his federal counterpart, Patty Hajdu, last night.

Well, this kind of sly evasion is pretty much what we have come to expect from Shandro and his boss, as was the way Kenney opened the news conference by pandering to the UCP's anti-vaxxer base, vowing that Alberta would never, under any circumstances, ever make anyone have a vaccination they didn't want for any reason.

"We don't live in a country where government can inject you with something against your will," he said.

"In fact," he promised, "Alberta's government will soon amend the Public Health Act to remove that power of mandatory inoculation that has existed in law since 1910." Well, that ought to settle down the UCP's QAnon-inspired right fringe!

Senior civil servant Paul Wynnyk, deputy minister of municipal affairs and the premier's favourite retired lieutenant general, has been deployed to lead the province's "COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force," Kenney said. He didn't mention if leakers will now face military justice, but it does look as if most of us won't get access to the vaccine until next summer.

There are now 17,144 active cases in the province, 1,685 of them identified in the previous 24 hours.

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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