The richest, most self-righteous province in Confederation has been forced to go cap-in-hand to other provinces to beg for beds in which to park our sick vaccine refuseniks and health care workers to travel here and help us keep our hospitals open.
It wasn’t Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, of course, who had to step up to the microphone and do the begging. That nasty job fell last night to Alberta Health Services CEO Verna Yiu, who sounded as if she might choke up. But the humiliation belongs entirely to Kenney.
What a train wreck! The Best Summer Ever has now officially become the Worst Fall Possible.
God only knows what the winter will bring — presumably that depends on how badly the United Conservative Party base and its rural MLAs decide to behave now that some order has been reimposed to control the COVID-19 Delta variant rampaging through the province.
It sure would have been interesting to have been a fly on the wall at the nearly two days of non-stop meetings Premier Kenney had with his cabinet and caucus to figure out what they were going to do about the implosion of Alberta’s health care system under the weight of a fourth wave of COVID-19 victims, almost three quarters of them Conservative-leaning vaccine dodgers.
We found out what that was at 6 p.m. yesterday when Premier Kenney, on time for once, stepped up to the podium at a hastily organized news conference, executed a screeching smuggler’s turn on COVID policy, and declared a province-wide state of public health emergency to counteract the effects of his June 18 declaration that “the end of this terrible time is just two weeks away!”
So much for “open for summer.” So much for “open for good.”
So much for Kenney’s determination, come what may, to be open in July for the Calgary Stampede, the Conservative fundraising high point of the year and apparently the premier’s idea of apex Cowtown culture. “I guarantee you,” he sneered to journalists that day in June, “the promoters of fear will have lots of variants to come in the future.”
And so much for his rumoured promise to federal Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole’s campaign not to make any announcements until a day or two after Monday’s national election. (It says something about just how bad things have become in Alberta that he couldn’t wait till Tuesday to drop this bomb. The federal Cons are said to be furious.)
The stricter new rules as explained yesterday by Health Minister Tyler Shandro are complicated and confusing. There’s bound to be plenty of analysis of their flaws in the next few days. The CBC summarized them in point form.
Still, they’re an improvement of the frightening chaos of the previous five weeks, while Kenney hid out to avoid crashing the federal Conservative election campaign, and the provincial health care system neared meltdown.
There will even be vaccine passports, diplomatically labelled a “Restrictions Exemption Program,” something that last summer was anathema to the UCP. “We will not facilitate, or accept, vaccine passports,” Kenney said in July. The UCP used that promise to pry open supporters’ wallets.
What we don’t yet know is how the growing rift will play out between UCP MLAs from Calgary, watching their re-election prospects evaporate as their leader bungled the pandemic file with fatal consequences, and the merry band of rural COVID-deniers in the UCP caucus for whom nothing but a headlong rush for herd immunity would do.
Aftershocks over the next few days seem likely.
When the media got to ask a few questions last night, a startling new reality of Alberta’s politics was on display.
As CBC investigative reporter Charles Rusnell observed, the news conference may have been a watershed moment in Kenney’s political career. “Journalists have dropped any pretence of respecting or believing his various libertarian rationales for his failed leadership in this pandemic. He is being publicly flayed.”
Indeed, Alberta’s mild-mannered reporters have started hunting in packs, picking up on each other’s questions when Kenney tries to use the news conference format to avoid answering the tough ones.
The reporters obviously thought Kenney’s one-liner apology in his opening remarks — “it is now clear that we were wrong, and for that I apologize” — wasn’t quite up to the task yesterday.
After all, the body count worked out to an Albertan dying every hour. So they gave the premier an opportunity to augment his apology for throwing the doors wide open to the coronavirus in June.
As we all observed, even Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw had expressed her regret for her lousy advice on reopening earlier in the presser.
So, maybe he was “too enthusiastic” in June, Kenney conceded, but the evidence at the time supported his decision, he insisted. “So, no, I don’t apologize for the decision to relax public health restrictions in the summer.”
There you have it. Jason Kenney in a nutshell. Sorry. Not sorry.
It’s hard to see how a politician as badly damaged as Alberta’s premier now is can survive. But never say never. A week is a long time in politics.
As for O’Toole, he now has less than a week to put Kenney’s disastrous news behind him. We’ll see on Monday how that worked out.
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: Video still/Government of Alberta/David Climenhaga