Alberta Premier Jason Kenney in Calgary on July 12, 2021, the day he promised Alberta would never have a vaccine passport.

“Alberta’s legislature removed the power of mandatory vaccination from the Public Health Act last year and will not revisit that decision, period,” Premier Jason Kenney tweeted on Friday.

Just in case any Albertans were in doubt about what he really meant, Brock Harrison, Kenney’s communications director, tweeted the same sentiment about an hour later. “Not happening in Alberta,” he huffed, including a link to the premier’s tweet.

Both were responding to speculation by federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos earlier in the day that Canada’s provinces will likely introduce mandatory vaccination policies in the months ahead to help cope with soaring COVID-19 caseloads. 

“What we see now is that our health care system in Canada is fragile, our people are tired, and the only way that we know to get through COVID-19, this variant and any future variant, is through vaccination,” Duclos told reporters in Ottawa. “That’s why I’m signalling this is a conversation which I believe provinces and territories, in support with the federal government, will want to have over the next weeks and months.”

A mandatory vaccination policy would probably be quite difficult to implement as quickly as needed in the face of the slew of constitutional challenges that could be expected. There’s also a need to draft legislation creating space for people with legitimate medical reasons for exemptions. That doesn’t mean provinces won’t try to achieve the same thing by making life difficult for anyone who chooses not to be vaccinated. 

Meanwhile in Quebec, a new law requiring anyone who wants to buy legal booze or pot from government-run liquor and cannabis stores to prove they’ve been vaccinated starts next week.

Clearly both the Liberals in Ottawa and the United Conservatives in Alberta have concluded this is an excellent issue to shore up their core support, so everyone is playing to their bases when they make these kind of statements. 

Nevertheless, Albertans determined to remain unvaccinated shouldn’t be too confident Kenney will keep his promise, something the rest of us figured out long ago. 

Remember, Alberta’s premier was just as firm when he vowed that Alberta would never implement vaccine passports.

“We’ve been very clear from the beginning that we will not facilitate or accept vaccine passports,” he stated firmly at the premier’s annual Stampede Breakfast back on July 12, 2021, less than two weeks after the official Canada Day start of the now notorious “Best Summer Ever.”

Kenney reminded reporters then too that his government had amended the Public Health Act to remove the power to force people to be vaccinated, which had been on the books for a century. 

“These folks who are concerned about mandatory vaccines have nothing to be concerned about,” he stated.

Unsurprisingly though, it wasn’t long after that Kenney’s cabinet did impose a vaccine passport — they just called it something else. 

Alberta’s “Restrictions Exemptions Program” was announced on Sept. 15. It allowed patrons to enter businesses like bars and restaurants if they could prove they’d been vaccinated. Before long, the program even moved online, complete with a QR Code that could be loaded onto your smartphone — just like the vaccine passports in all those other provinces and countries.

The main takeaway from Kenney’s Friday promise is if and when Alberta has to concede to circumstance or public pressure and make vaccinations mandatory, it won’t use the words mandatory or vaccine.

The Immunization Incentive? Public Health Stimulus? Whatever.

Saskatchewan, of course, will do whatever Alberta does — about two weeks later. 

When it comes to Premier Kenney’s promises not to do something, never say never. 

David J. Climenhaga

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 with the Globe...