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United Conservative Party politicians appear maskless in photo days after mandatory order introduced

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Left to right in background: Alberta Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard, Premier Jason Kenney and Justice Minister Kayvee Madu; In the foreground, Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw. (Image: Kaycee Madu/Twitter)

COVID-19 has now killed at least 790 Albertans.

It fell to Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw to break the dark news yesterday that 30 COVID-19 deaths had been reported in the previous 24 hours. While not all had taken place in that time frame, it was the largest toll to be reported in a single day in Alberta since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

"If anyone still needs reminding of the seriousness of this virus, of the importance of the restrictions that are currently in place, and the importance of doing everything possible to limit our interactions and break the chains of transmission, this is it," she said at the start of the daily COVID-19 briefing.

"Holiday gatherings with people outside of your household are not only against the restrictions that are in place, they are also the wrong thing to do right now," she continued.

"These orders are not recommendations," she added a few moments later. "They are legal restrictions. And for them to be effective, we need everyone to do their part." (Emphasis added.)

Well, maybe she needs to remind some of her political colleagues of that fact.

In what is fast becoming a notorious photo, on Wednesday night Justice Minister Kaycee Madu posted a photo of himself with Hinshaw, Premier Jason Kenney and Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard in a virtual meeting with representatives of 130 community groups in Edmonton to tell them about the United Conservative Party government's COVID-19 programs.

Despite the tougher restrictions announced by Premier Kenney the day before, which included mandatory indoor public masking everywhere in the province, not one of the three UCP politicians had bothered to put on a mask in the photo posted on Madu's Twitter account.

Hinshaw is wearing one, which is not very helpful if three potentially infectious people are ignoring the rules, presumably on the official grounds that one of them might be speaking.

What are we to make of this -- other than the common presumption that a rule is not a really a rule in Alberta if it's a UCP politician that's breaking it?

Are these not orders? Are they not legal restrictions? Pfffft!

Allard, of course, has already been infected with the virus, and has apparently recovered, so presumably she's not likely to be infectious. Even so, the only example she is offering to Albertans is that the rules are for them, not for the fortunate few who govern over us. That would be the wrong thing to do right now.

As for Premier Kenney and Madu, they are presumably still potential vectors for infection, and brazen lawbreakers to boot.

Blaise Boehmer, Madu's press secretary and a key player in the UCP's strategic brain trust, took to social media to mock commenters like CBC investigative reporter Charles Rusnell who dared to ask why the ministers weren't obeying the rules.

"Because it's a town hall," Boehmer responded sharply via tweet. "Perhaps some CBC reporters should switch to decaf rather than play face-mask hall monitor. And yes the good Doctor removed her face mask when she spoke. Good grief."

Good grief, indeed. This illustrates a certain attitude. Accordingly, it was bound to be dismissed as a tempest in a teapot by the Kenney government's army of issues managers, and as quickly as possible be consigned to the memory hole.

Still, one has to wonder if there was more to it than just the casual arrogance and sense of entitlement associated with Alberta Conservatives for several generations, but also a sly dogwhistle to Kenney's anti-masker, anti-vaxxer base. It certainly suggests a message to the UCP base that the premier's still OK, the latest restrictions notwithstanding, and his supporters can all feel free to break the rules as well.

After all, in the UCP heartland, COVID-19 is still considered just "an influenza," as the premier once put it, even if there are nearly 800 Albertans who would tell them otherwise if they only could.

So, just arrogance, or actual malice? It's hard to say.

Yesterday afternoon, CTV Edmonton reported that Premier Kenney said of the measures announced two days earlier that "it looks like we've flattened the curve." Well, in fairness, some of them were implemented eight days before the interview.

We all understand that the premier wants us all to get back to dining out and shopping as soon as possible, but anyone who has been paying attention to how COVID-19 spreads understands that the benefits of the tighter restrictions announced Tuesday won't show up for about two weeks, if they show up at all.

And they won't show up if Albertans are sent the message by their premier and his ministers that the rules Hinshaw calls legal restrictions are just unenforced window dressing to keep city liberals quiet as the holidays approach.

Two consecutive days of slightly lower, if still very high, numbers of reported new cases may be a vaguely promising sign, but for Kenney to jump to the conclusion that measures implemented a few days earlier are the reason suggests at best a serious lack of judgment.

But then we already knew that much. It's part of why things are now as bad as they are.

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: Kaycee Madu/Twitter

Editor's note, December 18, 2020: This story has been updated to clarify that Justice Minister Kaycee Madu, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Premier Jason Kenney and Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard met virtually with representatives of 130 community groups.

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