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Lotto Vaxx: Can the Kenney government give away cash money without seriously messing up?

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Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro wilts in the sun as Premier Jason Kenney carries on about Alberta's vaccination lottery Image credit: Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta.

As a purely cynical effort to distract voters from the many failings of the Alberta's United Conservative Party government, it would be hard to top the decision announced yesterday to give away the first of three $1-million vaccination lottery prizes on the day the province drops most of its COVID-19 restrictions.

Better, the Kenney government's strategic brain trust must have concluded, to have the folks talking about the first of three big winners that day than speculating about how many of the 2,300 or so poor souls who by then will have lost their lives to COVID-19 could have been saved if Premier Jason Kenney hadn't been in such a hurry to reopen the malls.

After all, as George Orwell pointed out in his most famous work of fiction, lotteries are well known to capture the imagination of the proletariat. "The Lottery, with its weekly pay-out of enormous prizes, was the one public event to which the proles paid serious attention," he wrote in 1984. (The novel, that is, not the year.)

For his part, Premier Kenney carried on like a carnival barker at the outdoor news conference called to announce some of the details of the province's "Open for Summer Vaccine Lottery" -- or, as we prefer to think of it at AlbertaPolitics.ca, Lotto Vaxx.

Health Minister Tyler Shandro didn't look quite as enthusiastic, squinting into the blazing sun and wilting in the heat as he gamely tried to persuade the few reporters who turned up or called in that Lotto Vaxx "is an investment in Albertans and in our province's future."

The jury's still out on whether the scheme will actually get more people to sign up to be vaccinated than would get the jab without it, but it probably didn't help that Kenney seemed to admit that you don't actually have to get a shot to get your name in the draw. As the Calgary Herald's Don Braid pointed out, that's "really not much of an incentive to get vaccinated."

"Yeah, the cut, uh, at each stage, Don, the, ah, the eligibility cut-off to enter, the draw, will be about a week…before. Uhhhh, the … the draw happens. … And then … Good question … Tyler! What if they get drawn and then they run out to get proof of vaccination? I, I think we're going to allow that! The point is…" he gestured at Shandro, "Is that right?"

Shandro's answer, somewhat abbreviated: "That's a good question. We can get back to you on that, Don."

What this illustrates is that whatever is planned by Calgary-based Stride Management Corp., the company hired by the government to determine the winners and make sure everything's above board, the premier and the health minister don't have a very good grasp of it.

Except…prizes!

So, you have to ask, is the Kenney government capable of giving away cash money to anyone without seriously messing up?

Let's face it, Kenney has a track record giving money away, and it's not very promising.

On the other hand, it's only $3 million or so at risk here, not like the $1.3 billion he gave away to TC Energy Corp. for, well, nothing. So why break into a sweat? After all, as Progress Alberta's Jim Storrie observed in his weekly newsletter this morning:

"Jason Kenney could give away three million dollars again next year, and the year after, and for four centuries after that, and it still wouldn't add up to the $1.3 billion he handed to TC Energy shareholders in his awful Keystone XL deal."

Alert readers with really long memories will recall that when Ralph Klein's $400 prosperity bonuses were handed out to everybody in 2006, people from as far away as Ontario found ways to get a cheque sent along to them. The current general eligibility rules don't even say you have to have receive your vaccine in Alberta.

Mind you, the government website says the rules can be changed without notice.

This time, as when Klein was premier, the rules say you're supposed to be an Albertan. But I'm willing to bet that if you were an Ontarian whose mom lived in Calgary, you could probably get way with saying you lived in her basement to get your name in the draw.

If you feel like rolling the dice, the online form's simple to fill out, and it's found at vaccinelottery.alberta.ca/.

As for how well Lotto Vaxx works, Kenney didn't seem particularly concerned, as long as we can get the Stampede open on time.

"We've never been chasing after zero," he explained in his professorial voice.

"People will continue to contract COVID. There will be seasonal spikes. I guarantee you there will be one this fall, probably starting in mid-October. And some of those people will end up in hospital. And sadly some of those people will pass away. Just as we have dozens of people who die every year from the conventional flu, influenza."

The premier corrected himself a moment later, noting that COVID-19 is not an influenza, as he once put it. Still, give it a few weeks and see what he says.

Getting back to the imaginary lottery of Orwell's 1984, the author wrote, "the prizes were largely imaginary. Only small sums were actually paid out, the winners of the big prizes being nonexistent persons."

That's one important difference between Kenney's Alberta during the best summer ever and Big Brother's dystopian England, though.

Here we know who the big winners are: pipeline companies.

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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