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Jason Kenney edges closer to blaming Albertans for the province's COVID-19 predicament

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Alberta Premier Jason Kenney at yesterday's COVID-19 news conference. Image: Screenshot of Alberta Government video

Considering his performance at yesterday's COVID-19 briefing, it seems Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is working himself up to a look-in-the-mirror moment.

In Canadian politics, that's not something that involves looking in the mirror and contemplating the mistakes you've made to get yourself into a mess.

Premier Kenney wouldn't accept the premise of that approach.

It's the moment when a politician without a clue in a carload about how to solve a knotty problem turns to the TV cameras and tells the voters it's all their fault.

Uttering that phrase may not have worked out very well in 2015 for the late Jim Prentice, briefly Alberta's Progressive Conservative premier, but it comes quite naturally to public figures like Kenney, who appears congenitally incapable of admitting to a mistake.

Striving manfully in the face of feisty media questioning to avoid accepting any blame for Alberta's appalling rate of COVID-19 infections, Premier Kenney emerged to make the point five times at yesterday's pandemic briefing that while B.C. and Saskatchewan have taken similar measures to Alberta's to control the spread of coronavirus disease, somehow, mysteriously, they are doing better.

Whatever could the difference be?

"There may be a number of reasons for that," Kenney mused, listing average age, labour force participation, and even the weather in Texas as possibilities. "One may be a broader non-compliance."

"We have a younger population and, as you know, younger age cohorts have been those most likely to be infected, right across the country," he rambled on. "That's not to blame anybody. It's just a demographic reality. We also have a higher labour force participation, which means more people, a higher percentage of our population that's out in the workforce, public-facing jobs. Climate may also have something to do with this. …"

Apparently, though, it didn't occur to the premier it might have something to do with Alberta being led by someone who has encouraged supporters to think COVID-19 is just "an influenza," who suggested restrictions to control the disease are a serious infringement of civil liberties, or who tolerates a large COVID-skeptical faction in his own United Conservative Party legislative caucus that tells voters to decide for themselves whether they need a vaccine. Perhaps he never gave a thought to the possibility not enforcing restrictions might have something to do with large numbers of Albertans feeling they can ignore them with impunity.

A reporter asked: "How can you not shoulder some blame for things getting this out of hand? You could have acted earlier, but you didn't."

Kenney's response: "I reject the premise of your question."

"It has been effectively illegal for grandparents to have visited their children in this province for half a year," he rolled on, omitting to mention that just weeks ago, when it suited him, he was denying we have ever had a lockdown in Alberta. "Sweeping, unprecedented restrictions have been in place, restrictions that have been effective in neighbouring provinces at flattening the curve of this third wave."

"I've made this point repeatedly, that what matters is not the stringency of restrictions, but compliance with them," the premier continued. "And if you have a compliance problem, as apparently we do here in Alberta, hammering people relentlessly with ever more stringent restrictions is not necessarily the optimal approach."

As Kenney often does, he sounded sensible as he was saying this. He also sounded sensible, moments later, when he said "clearly what's happening right now cannot continue. And that's why we may be left with no tools left in the toolbox apart from broader, tougher restrictions."

Huh?

"Given the cases we saw this weekend," he said, "we are developing a package of stronger public health measures which I expect to announce tomorrow." That is, today. Presumably the so-called COVID cabinet committee was still arguing about them last night.

Anyway, the premier said, "it's pretty clear with a public health policy very similar to our neighbouring provinces with growing (infection) numbers in Alberta but shrinking numbers in B.C. and Saskatchewan that there is a behavioural difference here."

In other words, Dear Albertans, this is your fault, not your government's.

Can the instruction to look in the mirror be far off?

The gaslighting continues

It can be dispiriting, even unnerving, to make a transcript of Kenney's remarks after one of these affairs. Writing this stuff down forces the reader to examine what the premier is actually saying and not just get carried away on the stream of his gaslighting.

Asked by a reporter why Albertans should have faith in his leadership, the premier responded: "One of the things I have found regrettable about COVID from Day One is the tendency to politicize it and turn it into a blame game."

This from the man who has blamed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for the spread of the coronavirus at pretty much every news conference he has held since the beginning of the pandemic.

Kenney gets no respect

It's probably a bad sign for a powerful politician when people start snickering at him, instead of paying tribute.

One of Kenney's good-news announcements yesterday was welcome word that schoolteachers, school support staff and child-care workers would finally be allowed to be vaccinated, something the Alberta Teachers Association (ATA) has been demanding for months.

Other than the attribution, though, ATA President Jason Schilling's formal reaction boiled down to two words: "About time."

Yes, the ATA has plenty of reasons to be angry at Kenney and his government. But this suggests they don't fear him anymore.

Rodeo says … something

Still smarting from the embarrassment of the no-more-lockdowns rodeo Saturday in Bowden, right in Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen's riding, Premier Kenney told the news conference he was "heartened to see the association, representing rodeo, publicly disavow the event in their statement earlier today."

But did it? Read the comment made by Canadian Professional Rodeo Association General Manager Jeff Robson in the government's own release.

He says the association is trying hard to bring about the return of the sport. He says the association is focused on safety and the long-term good of the sport. But what did he say that disavows the Bowden rodeo?

Brace yourselves, the covidiots are coming

Meanwhile, rebellious former supporters of the premier, egged on by his former friends and allies, plan to mob a Calgary grocery store for an hour of "mask-free shopping" this week and hold a "save Alberta campout protest" next weekend.

Anyone caught in front of one of these things is in for a super-spreader event whether or not they consent.

Kenney let this genie out of the bottle. He's going to have trouble putting it back in.

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: Screenshot of Alberta Government video

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