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Bafflegab aplenty but few answers for Albertans at Health Minister Tyler Shandro's COVID-19 news conference

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Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro at yesterday's news conference (Photo: Screenshot of Alberta Government video).

Albertans are dying, yet the Kenney government is paralyzed, a deer caught in the headlights.

Alberta is in crisis. Hammered by the fourth wave of the pandemic, our health care system appears to be on the verge of collapse. All elective surgeries in Calgary have been cancelled. The province leads the country with new and active cases of COVID-19. We have become the Typhoid Larry of Confederation.

Albertans are desperate for leadership. But the leader is missing in action.

Premier Jason Kenney, who declared the pandemic over in July and promised Albertans the Best Summer Ever, is nowhere to be seen for the second time in a month.

So when the going gets tough, Premier Kenney -- who likes to pass himself off as a Canadian Winston Churchill -- apparently gets going, but to an undisclosed location. Not quite what Churchill did, readers will recall, during the London Blitz.

Yesterday afternoon's news conference, presided over by Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw, should have been the moment when Albertans learned what our government's plan was to get us through this chaotic disaster.

But within seconds of the update's 3 p.m. start, it was evident there is no plan. There will be no decisive response to a crisis that is bringing the province's hospitals to their knees.

Oh, there were some announcements. Alberta will kick some patients out of acute-care hospital beds to make room for others sick with COVID-19, a majority of them vaccine dodgers.

The patients discharged early will be taken care of at home or in continuing care facilities, Shandro said -- hardly reassuring if you're a family member who will have to replace qualified health care workers, or if you've paid attention to the role of continuing care facilities throughout this pandemic.

Shandro also announced what sounds like a half-baked plan to recruit and train new health care and home care aides, to be paid minimal wages by private sector service providers. The province will devote $36-million to what sounded like a back-of-the-napkin scheme.

After that, Shandro, desperate to avoid giving any answer to repeated questions by media about what the government plans to do to control the vaccine refuseniks who are powering the Delta-variant-driven fourth wave, babbled incoherently.

Consider the final minutes of the exchange between Postmedia columnist Rick Bell and Shandro.

Bell: "… Some people want to know about government mandated vaccine passports, some people want to know about closing businesses. Are they on the table or off the table? Thank you."

Shandro:

"Well, uh, Rick, I think the question, or both those questions, was, 'How certain can we be of the future?' And, and, people are expecting certainty, and they want certainty now, they want us to commit to and answer to a particular question, and you had a couple there, and why can't we say the, the future is definitely, one hundred per cent, going to be one way or the other. And I know that's been a question that I've received, many times over the last 18 months, but it's also a question that people throughout the world have had of their governments. They've wanted to know, you said this was going to happen this way, and it didn't, uuuum, and it's been because this is a pandemic that quickly changes, and government responses have to quickly change, and I know that that's frustrating because you want 100-per-cent definite answers to, um, to the questions, um, and the future of the pandemic continues to change, um, so that means that it's difficult for us to say 100 per cent we know that th- th- the answer for the next, uhhh, X amount of time is going to be one way or the other …"

Enough already! There was never a clear answer.

For patient readers who wish to listen to the minister's entire, excruciating response to Bell's simple questions, the exchange begins at 40.30 minutes into the YouTube recording of the news conference and ends at 47.53.

Alas, vaccine refuseniks are the heart of the United Conservative Party's base, and a significant part of its Legislative Caucus. In other words, they are driving the train.

Hinshaw spun a comprehensive defence of her recommendations, which led to the premature reopening that set the stage for the fourth wave now overrunning our hospitals. Please, she told her astonished audience … "Kindness matters."

"A summary of the press conference," tweeted University of Calgary law professor Lorian Hardcastle soon thereafter: "Shandro serves up an incoherent word salad and fails to directly answer any questions. Hinshaw tries to justify her past mistakes and wants people to be respectful. No one is going to do anything. Hopefully not too many people die."

All the essentials in 40 words.

The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, in a plain-spoken news release, called the news conference laughable late yesterday. This would be true, were the circumstances not so catastrophic.

"Albertans expected the government to offer a serious response to the surging fourth wave," the union's release said. "Instead, Minister Shandro announced a band-aid solution and Premier Kenney did not even show up."

AUPE Vice-President Mike Dempsey dismissed the news conference as "an embarrassing exercise in deflecting attention away from Premier Kenney's decision to plunge Alberta into COVID chaos and his refusal to take responsibility for doing so."

"We are drowning in the Delta variant's fourth wave and Kenney doesn't even have the courage to address Albertans, and hasn't for a whole week,” Dempsey said.

This seems fair.

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.

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