Jagmeet Singh (left) meets with health-care workers in Edmonton on Aug. 19. Image: Jagmeet Singh/Twitter

The Alberta portion of NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh’s election campaign got off to an upbeat start in Edmonton yesterday with an enthusiastic outdoor crowd of supporters, a substantive policy announcement, and some fair shots at Alberta Premier Jason Kenney.

Singh’s visit to the Edmonton-Griesbach riding indicates party strategists have concluded candidate Blake Desjarlais has a decent chance to knock off two-term Conservative MP Kerry Diotte, a former journalist controversial for threatening to sue local critics and posing with a well-known white nationalist in social media posts.

Desjarlais is director of public affairs and national operations for the Métis Settlements General Council and in 2017 and 2018 served as co-chair of Alberta’s Indigenous Climate Leadership Summit.

Singh targetted Kenney for some well-deserved criticism of his United Conservative Party government’s attacks on physicians, nurses and other health care workers and promised that if the NDP forms a government in Ottawa he will create a $250-million fund to train and hire health care workers, including 2,000 nurses.

That may be a drop in the bucket compared to the 60,000-nurse shortage Canada is experiencing right now, but it’s certainly better than the UCP plan to eliminate 11,000 Alberta health care workers’ jobs, including those of about 750 Registered Nurses.

“Conservatives always cut health care, and while Justin Trudeau promised he would reverse the cut, he has not,” Singh said. “New Democrats will restore funding for health care and make sure it’s used to improve health-care services by hiring nurses.”

The NDP leader’s welcome may not have been quite as delirious as the enthusiasm that met Jack Layton on his last visit to Edmonton during the 2011 election campaign, but it’s still the early days in the 2021 campaign, called two-years prematurely by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Meanwhile, in Calgary, Trudeau dropped in briefly to do much the same thing, touring the city’s northeast Calgary Skyview riding with the Liberal candidate there, city councillor George Chahal, and taking a few potshots of his own at Kenney.

Like Singh, the prime minister assailed Kenney’s mid-pandemic effort to cut health care workers’ salaries and the UCP’s flawed response to COVID-19. “While Jason Kenney was making decisions that were hurting all of you and blaming people in Calgary Skyview for the pandemic, the reality is Erin O’Toole and the federal Conservatives weren’t there to fight for you,” Trudeau said. “He was too busy praising Jason Kenney to have your backs.”

Naturally, a few Conservatives complained about the NDP and Liberals targeting Kenney and his government, but strategists for both parties have rightly identified Kenney’s repeated COVID-19 blunders and his unpopular policies as a major liability for Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole and an opportunity to make gains at the Conservatives’ expense in Alberta.

Once beloved by Conservatives and employed on the campaign trail in their doomed 2019 effort to elect Andrew Scheer as prime minister, Kenney is now the country’s least popular premier.

The Alberta premier’s characteristic response has been to disappear from public sight. As political columnist Graham Thomson wrote in iPolitics yesterday, “during the federal election campaign, Kenney has kept such a low profile so far, you’d need a backhoe to find him.”

Of course, Kenney may be dodging questions about Alberta’s latest COVID statistics as much as he’s trying to stay out of O’Toole’s way.

For the third time, Kenney’s haste to reopen business and social activities and declare the pandemic over has backfired, with 817 new infections reported yesterday, the first time the province has added more than 600 new infections on consecutive days since late May.

There are now 6,367 active COVID-19 cases in Alberta, the highest level since June 1.

So much for the June 2 advice of Kenney’s “issues manager,” Matt Wolf, who crowed on Twitter: “The pandemic is ending. Accept it.”

I imagine we’ll be hearing a lot more about Kenney and his handling of COVID-19, and not just in Alberta, before the federal election on Sept. 20.

Right-wing Ontario MP Derek Sloan confirms intention to run in Banff-Airdrie

Meanwhile, in the town of Cochrane just west of Calgary, former federal Conservative leadership candidate Derek Sloan as expected declared his intention to run as an independent in the Banff-Airdrie Riding before a boisterous crowd of supporters in the local curling club.

The Ontario politician, who now claims to be a resident of Calgary despite still technically being the MP for the riding of Hastings-Lennox and Addington, will be campaigning under the slogan “Make Alberta Great Again.”

In a nice touch, he was introduced by former Calgary Conservative Rob Anders, for many years credited with being Canada’s worst MP. Anders, who nowadays is president of something called the Firearms Institute for Rational Education (FIRE, get it?), is scheduled to face tax evasion charges in October.

According to social media accounts, Sloan said he still needed 100 signatures from residents of the riding to sign his nomination papers.

Brian Jean assails the usual suspects, advocates new party, or something

Also yesterday, former Wildrose Party leader and unsuccessful UCP leadership candidate Brian Jean published a short screed in the form of 23 tweets assailing his former rival Jason Kenney, the UCP, the Alberta NDP, “public sector union bosses,” and Rachel Notley. Apologies to anyone I missed.

The key all-caps takeaway: “ALBERTA NEEDS SOMETHING LIKE THE SASKATCHEWAN PARTY.”

If Jean fails to persuade the Alberta Party to let him run for leader, I suppose he can always form the Saskatchewan Party of Alberta.

Premier Kenney’s principal secretary ducks out

Finally, The Globe and Mail reported yesterday that while Premier Kenney ducks reporters and critics, his principal secretary and sometime-interim chief of staff is ducking out of politics completely to serve as chief executive of Ducks Unlimited Canada.

Perhaps Larry Kaumeyer, one of the folks pictured at the table during the Sky Palace Patio Party, quacked under the pressure of the fallout from that notorious affair. He is scheduled to depart for the Winnipeg-based wetland conservation organization in October.

Kaumeyer is the latest in a parade of senior aides who have left Kenney’s service: principal secretary Howard Anglin, communications director Katy Merrifield, chief of staff Jamie Huckabay, and Invest Alberta Corp. chief executive and advisor David Knight Legge.

All capable operatives, Kenney’s tactics have not improved with their loss.

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: Jagmeet Singh/Twitter

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...