Hastily made signs greeted many Albertans looking for their free COVID-19 test kits Friday. Credit: David Climenhaga

If the announcement last week of plans to distribute a half million free rapid COVID-19 tests to Albertans starting on Friday was supposed to give the Kenney government a boost, the chaotic implementation may have had the opposite effect.

If anything has become clear about Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party government over the past two and a half years, it’s that planning is not its long suit. Indeed, as was the case on Friday, it often seems as if the UCP doesn’t plan at all.

Throngs of Albertans lined up early in bitterly cold weather Friday to get the packages of free rapid antigen test kits only to discover that they had run out before they got there, weren’t delivered at all to many locations, or that the tool on the Government of Alberta website that was supposed to say which commercial drugstores and Alberta Health Services sites had supplies was wrong.

Only 400 kits were delivered to Lethbridge, the third largest city in the province, according to chatter on social media. Hastily printed signs in pharmacies in St. Albert advised that the tests were available nowhere in the city — drive to Edmonton if you want one. Well, at least it’s not a long drive to Edmonton from St. Albert, unlike the trek from Lethbridge to Calgary.

People seeking tests were turned away across the province. The impression left was that the decision to distribute the kits was made at the last minute, possibly to placate critics of the government’s choice to loosen holiday COVID restrictions just as the Omicron wave rolls into Alberta, and planning was a shambles.

Were pharmacies even checking Alberta Health numbers before handing out the kits? Not in every case, judging from anecdotal accounts. Do the kits even work with the Omicron variant? Some say they don’t.

Chaos reigned. Conspiracy theories proliferated.

When a braggy meme about the program appeared on Premier Kenney’s social media accounts, it raised more questions than it answered for citizens worried about the Omicron variant of the virus and already angry about the botched distribution.

According to the meme, 8.5 million tests have been distributed to Albertans. Seeing as so many people who wanted tests couldn’t get them, this raised questions about where the heck they’d gone.

Not everyone was delighted to learn from Kenney’s meme-makers that more than 40 per cent of the kits had been donated to private industry and 40 chambers of commerce.

Chambers of commerce? Say what?

Almost two million had been sent to pharmacies, according to the meme. Alberta Health, the confusing name for the provincial health ministry, tweeted Friday evening 787,000 kits had been distributed.

Albertans who are paying attention want an explanation of the difference between the number of test kits Kenney says have been distributed haphazardly and the 13.3 million tests that the federal government says it has now given to Alberta to distribute.

Meanwhile, the Alberta government says it will distribute more kits when it gets them from the feds.

Right now, there are more questions than answers. Kenney has some explaining to do.

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...