With COVID-19 case counts in Alberta marching higher by the day, now closing in on 8,000 active cases, the chorus of grumbles about what's become of Premier Jason Kenney is increasing in volume.
Kenney was last seen on Aug. 9 at a press conference called to announce expansion of an Edmonton brewery that promised to create 25 jobs. That may not sound like a lot, but you crow about what good news you're handed in times like these. At least Labatt's gave the premier a free beer, or something, to drink.
Since then, though, with the Delta variant of the coronavirus cutting a swath through Alberta, Kenney's been nowhere to be seen.
We haven't gotten quite to the point where they're putting the premier's portrait on milk cartons, but the internet memes have been getting funnier, media reporters have been getting crankier, and the premier's staff have been nervously insisting he's on holiday, he's fine and he's in charge, albeit remotely.
"The alarm bells are ringing, yet the lights are off in the premier's office," NDP health critic David Shepherd said in a news release. "Albertans deserve more than Jason Kenney's out-of-office replies."
In truth, I imagine that the Opposition isn't all that unhappy the premier's gone missing. It gives them the opportunity to make the point, in Shepherd's words again, that Albertans "deserve a strategy for finishing the fight against COVID-19 so we keep businesses open, protect our kids in school and keep the economy going. It’s time for the UCP to show up for work."
Theories, many of them insulting, abound. The simplest explanation, it seems to me, is that Kenney's hiding out in the Conservative Party of Canada war room, plotting strategy for federal Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole for the rest of the fall campaign that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau may or may not be regretting, depending on how you interpret the still murky returns from recent polls.
Occasionally Kenney appears up in a social media video published by his staff -- but so far they haven't resorted to showing him holding up a copy of the day's newspaper to prove he's still alive.
Nevertheless, Kenney will need to resurface soon, or darker theories will begin to circulate.
I can't help but recall the time in late 1988 The Globe and Mail decided to send me to Finland to fill the pages of a business section on that country's industries and I got the OK for an interview with Kari Kairamo, Nokia's high-profile chief executive.
But when I got there, "the Lee Iacocca of Finland" was nowhere to be found. Two exceedingly nervous Nokia PR flacks summoned me to a very nice restaurant on Helsinki Harbour and informed me regretfully and uncomfortably that Kairamo was indisposed.
I feigned outrage and said I was returning to my hotel room to call the editor who had sent me all the way to Finland for the interview -- which was not strictly accurate, but readers will understand the bargaining tactic.
They handed me a cellular phone the size of the Yellow Pages (for those of who still remember that bulky document) and I made the first cellular telephone call of my life to a puzzled early morning copy editor who wasn't in on my bluff.
Long story short, by the time I'd arrived in Finland, Kairamo had committed suicide. The problem was, the company hadn't yet informed its shareholders while the board figured out what the hell to do about it.
I sincerely hope it wasn't the prospect of an interview with a Canadian reporter that drove the poor man to despair. He had nothing to fear. The story was broken by someone else long after I'd left Finland.
Readers are expected to know who Lee Iacocca was. If you don't, you can look him up yourself.
I'm not suggesting, of course, that Kenney is anything but hale, hearty and full of beans. I expect the premier will resurface shortly, if only to tell to the good doctors of the Alberta Medical Association why they are wrong to plead for mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations of health care workers.
As Kenney is sure to explain when he emerges from his vacation, refreshed and well rested, we don't do that in Alberta, especially when it risks splitting the United Conservative Party caucus asunder.
Alberta reported 629 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday, raising the total of active cases to 7,931. Seven more people died from the disease. Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw hasn't been heard from since Aug. 13 and Health Minister Tyler Shandro since July 28.
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: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr
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