Jason Kenney at his Sept. 30 press conference. (Video still)
Jason Kenney at his Sept. 30 press conference. (Video still)

All direct employees of the Alberta government will now be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or provide regular negative test results, Premier Jason Kenney announced yesterday.

Umm… That’s it. 

Of course, that’s not just it.

As the fourth wave of COVID-19 has grown more severe in Alberta, with startling daily death tolls and a growing sense of profound public unease, and as the United Conservative Party grows more obviously disunited over what approach should be taken to getting the situation under control, a troubling pattern has emerged with Premier Kenney’s increasingly incoherent, ill-prepared and rambling news conferences. 

First, in the morning, rumours begin to circulate on social media that a major announcement will be made by the government that afternoon. Seemingly well informed individuals confidently predict what will be discussed. 

Yesterday, it was rumoured Premier Kenney would announce tough restrictions on social and business interactions to finally get the crisis under control, to take effect on Monday. 

Then we hear that the Cabinet, the UCP caucus, or the Cabinet COVID Committee — which for some reason the premier insists on calling the COVID Cabinet Committee — is meeting. The meeting goes on and on.

Yesterday it was a meeting of the C3 Committee.

With bated breath, we sit down at our computers at 3:30 p.m. and await the news with hope or despair, depending on which side of the culture war wracking Alberta we occupy. 

Then comes the announcement, and it is something completely different from what had been anticipated. The premier’s delivery seems shifty. There’s a lot of gaslighting, and many defensive statements in response to journalists’ questions. 

Yesterday the topic of the news conference was that the 25,000 members of the civil service would have to get their vaccinations if they wanted to come to work. Either that, or they could take a COVID test and pay for it themselves. None of this will be required until Nov. 30. 

In other words: Pfffffft! The crisis continues. The bodies, presumably, will continue to pile up. 

Some of the military, Red Cross and Newfoundland volunteers Kenney had just finished telling us wouldn’t be needed will be flying in after all. 

Queried by a reporter who seemed to think there really ought to be something more important, a cranky Kenney responded: “There are no other measures that are currently under consideration.”

Fatuous statements were made by the premier:

“We value our public servants and the important work that they do. That’s why we want to ensure that they’re operating in safe workplaces and that we’re doing everything we can to protect the millions of Albertans to whom they provide services.”

(So why not let them work from home, where they’ve already proved they can do their jobs?)

There are moments of unintended hilarity. “I’m not interested in the blame game,” says the premier, a man whose entire provincial career is based on blaming Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for everything that goes wrong. Except when he’s blaming “anti-Alberta energy campaigns,” that is.

Government employees who refuse to get vaccinated or produce up-to-date COVID tests will be put on unpaid leave, explains Public Service Commissioner Tim Grant. No one will be fired, the former major general promises.

Some reporter asks the premier if politicians should have to play by the same rules. This is a clever question, because who in Alberta doesn’t know about the large covid-denial caucus among the ranks of the government’s MLAs? Last spring, 19 MLAs refused to say if they’d had their shots, or would ever get them. Of those, 18 were members of the UCP. The other was an Independent, who has since been readmitted to the UCP. 

These MLAs include some of the same people who if they’re kicked out just might form a new separatist party with UCP exiles Drew Barnes and Todd Loewen. They’d only need two more! (Angela Pitt, Jason Stephan, c’mon down!)

There’s a constitutional principle that elected members can’t be kept out of the Legislative Chamber, Kenney responds in his explaining voice. “We are trying to sort out how you apply a policy like this while recognizing that longstanding constitutional principle,” he lectures.

Say what? Yet the Speaker can bar any member from the House if they’re not wearing nice shoes or, if they’re a fellow, a necktie?

The NDP Opposition puts out a press release. “If Jason Kenney wanted to send a message, he would apply this mandate to his own MLAs and political staff,” it quotes Health Critic David Shepherd.

He challenges the UCP “to immediately bring forward a requirement to the Member Services Committee that all MLAs and political staff be double vaccinated against COVID-19.”

All 24 NDP MLAs and all 30 NDP staffers are fully vaccinated, the NDP release noted. 

Meanwhile, in spite of yesterday’s non-news event, there were another 20 new deaths from COVID-19 reported. There have been more than 200 in the past two weeks. Unlike the early days of the pandemic before there were safe and effective vaccines, many of the victims are young people. 

So what’s really going on? 

It’s difficult to know for sure, but the circumstances suggest the premier, who has obviously lost control of his caucus (last week members were seriously debating voting non-confidence in his leadership), is being whipsawed between two groups: an urban faction that wants tougher measures so members can stay elected, and a rural faction that wants no measures at all so they can remain in office. 

Agreements are made and news conferences scheduled. 

Agreements are broken and insignificant developments rolled out as big policy announcements.

There’s no time for preparation, and it shows. The premier defaults to gaslighting. 

The population grows increasingly frightened and divided.

Kenney prays the situation will fix itself. 

This is speculation, of course. Convince me I’m wrong. 

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...