Obviously, federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu didn’t expect to get a serious answer from Tyler Shandro, her Alberta counterpart, when she wrote the irascible minister to warn him the Kenney government’s “unnecessary and risky gamble” to drop COVID-19 testing, contact tracing and mandatory isolation will put children at risk.
In her letter to Shandro, revealed by The Globe and Mail last night, Hajdu asked the Alberta health minister, as the Globe’s reporter put it, “to explain the evidence and rationale behind the province’s changes” in the face of the rampaging Delta variant of the coronavirus.
Hajdu and her advisers have to know that raising the evidence issue is like waving a red flag in front of the proverbial bull, since most of the evidence points to the likelihood there wasn’t much evidence at all behind the changes announced last week by Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw.
As for the rationale, that’s a question even likelier to pique Shandro’s well-known temper. Surely even in Ottawa they understand the Kenney government’s rationale boils down to the desire to be able to say they opened first — fingers crossed that it doesn’t kill too many Albertans and make the United Conservative Party’s re-election chances even dimmer than they appear right now.
In other words, it’s another desperate bet by a government on the ropes as a result of its own missteps — brought to you by the gamblers who lost $1.3 billion by taking a flyer on the notion Donald Trump would win the U.S. presidential election last November.
And since someone went to the trouble of making sure the letter found its way to the media, and the respectable national newspaper of record at that, it’s pretty clear the federal Liberals don’t mind getting up Shandro’s nose, or that of his boss, Jason Kenney, either.
Why might that be? Well, the fact Shandro is more wrong and Hajdu is more right in this particular argument would be good enough for more of us to poke a stick at the Kenney government if we were in Hajdu’s shoes.
But obviously there’s some political calculation here, too. If Prime Minister Justin Trudeau really is going to call an election sooner than later, as is widely expected, it’s not a bad thing from a strategic standpoint to vividly connect the policy dots between Kenney’s unpopular government and the kind of things federal Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole might do if he became prime minister.
After all, it’s hard to believe Kenney, Shandro and their “issues management” minions will be able to restrain themselves and not respond to this mild provocation with childish abuse, even if doing so further reduces O’Toole’s already slim chances of victory.
If whatever happens next can translate into more Liberal seats in other provinces where voters are horrified by the risks being taken with the health of Alberta children too young to be vaccinated — who will be going back to school, unmasked, as per Hinshaw’s policy, which is the same as Shandro’s policy — that will certainly work for the Liberals.
If they can pick up a few more seats than expected in Alberta, so much the better.
If they feel the need to provoke the Kenney government further, Hajdu could always take a look at the letter she and the PM will by now have received from Alberta’s only non-Conservative member of Parliament, New Democrat Heather McPherson.
In her letter Tuesday, McPherson urged Hajdu and Trudeau for to provide federal support “to protect Albertans and mitigate the health consequences of the provincial United Conservative government’s decisions regarding COVID-19 public health restrictions, testing, and contact tracing.”
McPherson noted that 600,000 unvaccinated children under the age of 12 are scheduled to return to school next month while the Delta variant runs wild. Since Alberta has the most active cases of COVID in the country while it drops testing, tracing and isolation, she said “I fear this return to in-person learning will spark a deadly fourth wave of COVID-19 in Alberta with obvious implications for other provinces and territories within Canada.
“As Jason Kenney has demonstrated a complete disregard for the health and well-being of Albertans, I am calling on the federal government to intervene in Alberta to help prevent a fourth wave and protect vulnerable Albertans.”
McPherson, the MP for Edmonton Strathcona, suggested renewing Ottawa’s Safe-Return-to-School program and providing money to Alberta’s intentionally under-funded colleges and universities to upgrades their ventilation systems.
Citing the Kenney government’s efforts to cut the wages of Alberta nurses and other health-care workers, she also entreated Hajdu and Trudeau to work directly with Alberta’s health-care unions “to identify and support their needs.”
Well, that might risk making NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh even more popular than some polls say he already is in Alberta, but if more outbursts from the Kenney crowd are required, it would certainly do the job.
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: Patty Hajdu/Facebook