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Kenney uses harm-reduction argument to justify lottery for Albertans who get vaccinated

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Alberta Premier Jason Kenney at yesterday's COVID-19 briefing. Image credit: Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta/Flickr

It sort of makes sense that a fellow who gambled away $1.3 billion of other people's money on the U.S. presidential horserace last summer would like the idea of a lottery to get vaccine-skeptical Albertans to roll up their sleeves for a COVID-19 jab in sufficient numbers to justify opening the Calgary Stampede next month.

So it shouldn't have come as a complete surprise that Alberta Premier Jason Kenney raised the possibility at yesterday's COVID-19 briefing of a cash lottery for lucky Albertans who sign up to get vaccinated.

"I asked the Department of Health to come forward with options on incentives, including a possible lottery for people getting vaccinated, and, uh, work is ongoing with that," said Kenney, North America's biggest loser in the high-stakes 2020 U.S. election if you don't count Donald Trump and a few dozen of his supporters caught fomenting an insurrection in Washington on Jan. 6.

"There's a lot of creative suggestions," Kenney cheerfully revealed to an inquiring reporter.

"I know that when Ohio led the pack on this, about three, four weeks back, there was a lot of, um, ridicule directed towards them, but they've actually seen, they saw an immediate and huge uptick in vaccination rates, particularly amongst parts of the population who right across North America have shown fairly low vaccine uptake rates.

"So I've asked that a little bit more research be done, uhhh, on that," he went on, saying that he expects Health Minister Tyler Shandro "will be coming back to our emergency management cabinet committee with options on that, uh, next Monday."

I don't know about you, dear readers, but listening to the recording of the news conference, it's hard to shake the feeling Kenney was just wingin' it.

Still, it was disconcerting to realize Kenney was using what amounts to a harm-reduction argument to justify the idea of giving citizens who don't want to take a life-saving vaccine a chance to win a big wad of cash provided by taxpayers. Anything to get the Stampede open, I guess.

"We just wanna make sure that the cost of that would be justified by, um, the uptake in vaccines, in part by observing how this has worked in the U.S.," he explained. (Emphasis added.)

Remember, this is the leader of the party that's always been opposed to harm-reduction strategies when the harm is being done by narcotic drugs, which killed more than 1,300 Albertans in 2020, compared with about 1,200 who died from COVID-19 in the same year.

"We see predictably low vaccine uptake amongst younger people, younger men in particular," he told the reporter.

"And I don't think that's necessarily because of vaccine misinformation. I think that healthy younger people just generally imagine that they're less vulnerable to disease like this. And they're right about that! But what we need to persuade them of is that they have a social responsibility to their parents, to the vulnerable, to the broader community." (Emphasis added.)

"And if one way of getting their attention to make that booking, or come in for the jab at a walk-in clinic, is to enter them in some kind of an incentive draw, then maybe it's worth doing," he said. "So we haven't made final decisions but we're giving it a serious look."

One wonders what supposed tax watchdogs at the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) would make of this? Probably nothing, given what the organization has had to say about that $1.3 billion their former CEO gambled away.

It was at this point that Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw stepped in to say that "if there is a choice to offer that, anyone who has their first dose can enter, so please don't wait if you're making a first-dose appointment. You are going to be eligible if a lottery goes ahead."

But … wait! Does this mean that if you've been a good citizen and already received or signed up for your second dose that you won't qualify for the big cash payout? Just asking.

And what will be done to protect Albertans from the scamsters like those fleecing Californians by telling them they've just won the state's vaccination lottery and if they'll just hand over their bank account numbers and passwords the money will be deposited right away?

Even more Californians will likely get such calls next Tuesday when the state is set to hand out 10 $1.5-million prizes.

Sticking with the premier's approach to harm reduction, perhaps we could expand this program to cut health-care costs by, say, using cash prizes to encourage those who don't particularly enjoy their annual prostate exam!

Inevitably, I suppose, Kenney soon moved on to a stirring defence of the big risk he took last year betting on Trump's success in November.

Responding to a softball question from one of the far-right online publications he is not threatening to sue, Kenney argued that the big gamble on TC Energy Corp.'s ability to complete the Keystone XL pipeline was a sensible response to those "foreign-funded green-left pressure groups."

"Had we not stepped forward with this investment I can tell you TC Energy would have pulled the plug on its project in the fall of 2019," he said. (If you wonder how that would have been a bad thing, I can't offer any help.)

"We believe that at certain strategic moments it's necessary, if we are going to have a future for our energy workers, it's necessary that sometimes the government steps in to 'de-risk' projects that have become too risky in the capital markets." (Again, one wonders what the CTF would make of this paean to governments picking winners and losers.)

"And there's pipe in the ground," he concluded. "And who knows what's going to happen in three years." (Uh-oh! Well, looking ahead, don't say you weren't warned!)

There's just nothing like a Jason Kenney news conference for cognitive dissonance.

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/Flickr

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