With more infectious new variants of the novel coronavirus now spreading in Western Canada, Premier Jason Kenney chose yesterday to advise Albertans that next Friday the province will ease the restrictions that appear to have been slowing the spread of COVID-19.
Alberta's new-infection numbers have been a little better lately and are trending in the right direction thanks to stricter measures very reluctantly imposed by the government in mid-December.
But no sooner did a few restaurants in small-town Alberta decide to openly defy the ban on indoor public dining earlier this week than the premier caved.
In a rambling presentation to Friday's daily COVID-19 briefing, Kenney claimed that the government is easing the restrictions on business and social gatherings "carefully, slowly and in a way that's driven not by opinions but by data."
It seems much more likely, though, that he's reacting to defiant hostility to the rules in the United Conservative Party's rural heartland and deeply entrenched COVID-19 skepticism and outright denial in his own cabinet and caucus. The latter was illustrated by the UCP MLAs who headed for the beaches of Hawaii and Mexico over the December holiday.
The premier spent a lot of time explaining a complicated new formula for gradual re-opening, seemingly more concerned about the people who might think we're not re-opening fast enough than the majority of Albertans still worried about COVID-19.
No need to trust me on that characterization of majority opinion in Alberta. Kenney cited polling presumably done by his own party indicating that while 20 per cent of Albertans are opposed to the current restrictions, 40 per cent support keeping them in place as they are and 40 per cent think the rules should be stricter.
In addition, it was only on Tuesday that Health Minister Tyler Shandro was gravely warning that the arrival of the faster-spreading COVID-19 variants could lead to exponential growth of the deadly respiratory disease that would "push our health-care system to the brink."
A day later, a dozen or so rural restaurants opened for indoor service in defiance of the rules, and so by yesterday the premier was saying restaurants and gyms would be allowed to open.
But we don't need to worry, he assured the news conference, because he expects Albertans to behave responsibly.
We've heard this song before from the premier and it hasn't worked out very well, especially for more than 1,600 Albertans for whom the impact of COVID-19 was fatal. But then, the UCP's response to the coronavirus has been incoherent from the get-go, and sudden policy flip-flops by Kenney are not unusual.
Kenney was repeating a familiar refrain yesterday, warning that if things start to get worse again, he'll consider reimposing tougher restrictions.
In other words, to ensure the new COVID-19 variants don't take hold in Alberta, we're once again going to be depending on the goodwill and personal responsibility of people who have proved they are most likely to behave irresponsibly.
Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw and Health Minister Shandro played their usual supporting roles in yesterday's briefing, with Hinshaw spending a few seconds trotting out the daily statistics and Shandro blaming Ottawa for the worldwide vaccine shortages now being felt in Alberta.
On the vaccine shortage, Kenney had some advice for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. He suggested that if the European Union is going to restrict vaccine exports, Trudeau should somehow make Pfizer ship its vaccine to Alberta from its Michigan plant. If the company doesn't want to, perhaps the premier can offer to call Michigan's governor "brain dead" again.
The fact the premier's instinct is to cave to the 20 per cent and ignore 80 per cent of the population's opinions is a very telling commentary on how the United Conservative Party thinks.
What business wants in this province, business gets, even if it kills some of us.
Alberta inquiry goes into triple overtime
What better time than the Friday before the so-called Public Inquiry into Anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns was supposed to be handed in to Energy Minister Sonya Savage for Commissioner Steve Allan to announce that he's been granted another extension to complete his report?
This will be the third extension of the supposedly public inquiry, which has been conducted entirely in private, sending the long-running tragicomedy into triple overtime. It was originally to have been delivered on July 2, 2020. Its most recent deadline was this Monday.
Maybe the purpose of the latest extension is to figure out what to do about the threat by Greenpeace to sue the inquiry if anyone so much as mentions the organization's name. At any rate, Commissioner Allan said in a statement published on the inquiry's website that "it has always been our intention to engage with persons who may be subject to a finding of misconduct or the subject of a materially adverse factual finding such that they be afforded an opportunity to respond.
"This extension allows us to undertake and complete the inquiry's processes in a timely and fair manner," Allan said. It won't result in an increase in the inquiry's $3.5-million budget, he added.
His staff seems also to have taken the opportunity to do a little scrubbing of the inquiry's website, removing three controversial reports commissioned by Allan. The three reports cost approximately $100,000 combined, and seem to have been commissioned to provide evidence for the conspiracy theory the facts of which the inquiry appears to have been created to prop up.
The inquiry is now due to submit its report to Savage on May 31, 2021.
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.
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