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Kenney sows confusion not clarity on pandemic travel

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Alberta Premier Jason Kenney at yesterday's COVID-19 update (Image credit: Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)

Travelling by air is safer than going to the grocery store, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney explained to yesterday's COVID-19 news conference.

But that doesn't mean you should travel by air. Or shouldn't go to the grocery store. Or something.

It's always a little dispiriting when Kenney steps up to the microphone at one of these daily pandemic briefings and attempts to reconcile his previous statements with his latest position on the same thing. If clarification is the intention, confusion is often the effect.

Sometimes, you'd almost think they were making it up as they go along.

"The position of our government has been to facilitate safe travel because travel is happening and it's best that when it happens, it be safe," Kenney said yesterday. Or, as some media put it, as he clarified.

That makes sense in a tautological sort of way. Safety is good, so if you're darned well going to travel, you might as well travel safely, no matter what happens when you walk out of the arrivals gate.

But is this consistent with the premier's statement that "Alberta has sought to support and facilitate safe travel during the COVID era"? (Emphasis added.)

Not really. But that was, like, ages ago, almost a week, when the premier was taking responsibility for "not having clarity" in the international travel guidelines he gave his MLAs about how they shouldn't travel during COVID restrictions.

This came up on Jan. 1 because some of Kenney's United Conservative Party MLAs, cabinet members and staffers had just been caught travelling anyway, to places like Mexico and Hawaii.

That was when he said there would be no consequences, which caused a certain amount of resentment among Albertan proles, locked down as they were here on the wintry Great Plains. On Monday he flip-flopped, and disciplined his globe-trotting colleagues.

Clarity. "Just don't leave town" would actually have been clearer. The premier feels bad about that now. And he says you have a right to be angry.

But if you are going to leave town, remember what he said on New Year's Day: you should take WestJet. They need the money and they're based in Calgary, and you can take comfort in knowing it's good for the economy.

As for Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province's chief medical officer of health who was also at yesterday's newser, she said "the advice that my team and I have provided is to avoid non-essential travel."

So is everyone clear on this now?

What was Premier Kenney actually doing at yesterday's COVID briefing? That's a different question.

I'm pretty sure it was to prove that he's still large and in charge after taking a time out in the former Sky Palace atop Edmonton's federal building, which is really a provincial building, another matter that could use some clarity. (Why don't they just give it a name? You know, like the Grant Notley Block, or something.)

And by the way, Kenney's issues manager insisted the day before yesterday that the premier's not hunkered down up there because of Hawaiigate or Aloha-gate or that #ResignKenney hashtag that's constantly zipping around on Twitter. He's just waiting out some office renovations in the legislature building. And fair enough. Nobody can work in the middle of a construction mess.

What better place could there be to prove you're still alive and in charge than at a virtual press conference where you can control which reporters get to ask the questions?

Kenney said he's going to impose "a much stronger culture of discipline" on his fractious caucus. That should be fun to watch. I wonder what Drew Barnes, the independence-minded MLA from Cypress-Medicine Hat will have to say about that?

Plus, we still "are all in this together," although it was Hinshaw who said that, so maybe the jury's still out on the concept.

If anyone's unhappy about the speed with which the COVID-19 vaccine is being distributed, Kenney said, "I'm not pointing fingers, but the government of Canada is responsible for procurement."

Oh, and schools will be reopening on Monday with no additional safety measures. Kenney insisted this would be safe. Not everyone is so sure.

None of the reporters who were allowed to ask questions thought to ask when teachers would be getting their vaccinations. Not anytime soon, presumably.

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 credit: Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta

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