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In ironic twist, Alberta's vaccine lottery to include Mexican vacation prizes

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Cancun: a destination prize offered to participants in Alberta's vaccine lottery. Image credit: Jorge Nava/Flickr.

If "the 'Open for Summer Lottery' is a once-in-a-lifetime response to a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic," as Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro put it in a news release about vacation package prizes for Albertans willing to get vaccinated against COVID-19, what does that make Premier Jason Kenney's $1.3-billion giveaway to TC Energy?

It's rude of me to ask, I know, but with the United Conservative Party's frenetic efforts to get its vaccine-hesitant base to sign up for COVID-proofing now approaching self-parody, it's hard not to wonder aloud about these cascading ironies.

Yesterday's Lotto Vaxx news release, which proclaimed that "Albertans who get fully vaccinated with two doses of an approved COVID-19 vaccine now have a chance to win vacation packages and other travel prizes from WestJet and Air Canada," seemed to be approaching peak irony.

"This is the perfect opportunity to make some of those travel dreams a reality while encouraging more Albertans to get vaccinated," Shandro exclaimed in his canned press-release quote.

Shandro's feel-good sentiment about the benefits of travel was backed up by a vice-president of Calgary-based WestJet, which with Air Canada is providing the travel prizes.

"We look forward to stimulating recovery by once again reconnecting Canadians to their friends, family and loved ones from coast to coast," said Andrew Gibbons in a statement anodyne enough to show WestJet is co-operating with the UCP without actually offending anyone.

Air Canada government relations director David Rheault's quote was a little bolder, enthusing about that "long-awaited beach vacation" and "exploring more of what the world offers."

Not without a government-issued vaccine passport, you won't!

Not, at least, if foreign governments like those in the European Union have been paying attention to the suggestion that one in five vaccine-hesitant Canadians would happily lie about their unvaccinated state if that's what it took to get them on an airplane out of the country.

As the spokesperson for the travel insurance association that commissioned the survey observed, no one should be surprised by this when faking negative COVID-19 tests is already becoming a "cottage industry."

Since principal prizes offered by both airlines are a vacation package for two to Cancun, Mexico, it's not entirely clear how this is supposed to help the local economy, but then tourism is a give-and-take sort of thing. What's more, Cancun is supposed to be a favoured vacation spot for Kenney's pal Calgary-born Texas Senator Ted Cruz! Plus, with COVID-19's Delta variant doing the rounds, there may be an opportunity for local hotels to pick up some additional quarantine business when the lucky prize-winners return to Wild Rose Country.

As it happens, many Albertans' travel dreams seem to involve getting the hell out of the province and not coming back. This is particularly true of physicians if disturbing reports from Lethbridge and environs are anything to go by. Sample headline"Doctor shortage becoming health care crisis in Southern Alberta."

To be fair, I'm sure Shandro and his boss have other, better explanations for this exodus of doctors. Like, say, summer vacations.

Getting back to the government's vacation-prize news release, it quoted Doug Schweitzer, the minister of jobs, economy and innovation -- a portfolio that has no clear job description -- chirping that "with partners like WestJet and Air Canada, we're ready to kick-start tourism in Alberta and start welcoming travellers from around the globe."

If you think about where most of Alberta's tourists are likely to come from, that may or may not be the comfort Schweitzer apparently intended.

As for that $1.3 billion, how much of it has left Canada is not entirely clear and may never be. TC Energy is theoretically a Canadian company, based in Calgary, but it casts a big shadow south of the 49th parallel.

Perhaps some of the cash found its way into the company's efforts to help South Dakota's state government trample on the First Amendment free speech rights of Americans inclined to protest against pipelines like the doomed Keystone XL project on which Premier Kenney bet so heavily and lost so much.

A once-in-a-lifetime chance for a foreign government to interfere in U.S. politics for a once-in-a-lifetime pipeline project, you might say. Kenney should probably be grateful that all President Joseph Biden did was pull the plug on the project.

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: Jorge Nava/Flickr.

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