Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Richmond, B.C., yesterday putting Jason Kenney’s record at the centre of the last days of the federal election campaign. Image: Video still/David Climenhaga

So it’s come to this: Jason Kenney has become an issue in the federal election. 

All that effort keeping his head down for all but a couple of days over the past five weeks while Alberta’s health care system appeared to fall apart, and here we are.

Canadians are going to have to pay attention to that premier behind the curtain.

At a campaign stop in B.C.’s Lower Mainland, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pointed to federal Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole’s past enthusiasm for Alberta’s now clearly catastrophic approach to COVID-19.

“He thinks Jason Kenney is the model to follow on fighting COVID?” 

Trudeau paused disgustedly, twice, in that short rhetorical question to emphasize what he thinks of his challenger’s now-seldom-mentioned bromance with Kenney. 

“The approach in Alberta hasn’t worked for Albertans. It’s hurting the Alberta economy, and hurting the people who did the right thing in Alberta, and did get vaccinated, because they’re looking at more lockdowns, more restrictions.”

You can hear the call of a seagull as the PM pauses in a clip circulating on social media last night.

“And people think that it’d be a good idea to have Erin O’Toole sitting across from Jason Kenney when it comes to finishing this pandemic? 

“That’d be bad not just for Albertans but for everyone in the country!”

Here in Alberta — sensing the growing panic as mobs of anti-vaccine fanatics encouraged by some UCP MLAs assail hospital workers, ICU beds fill to capacity, and no leader emerges from Kenney’s paralyzed cabinet — it’s very hard to quibble with the PM’s assessment.

Well, but for one small point. We’ve never had a lockdown in this province. 

If Kenney, his incoherently babbling health minister and his chief medical officer of health had been brave enough to impose one, chances are good we wouldn’t be where we are now in this awful fall that has followed the Best Summer Ever the premier foolishly promised us last July. 

In a virtual meeting with Alberta doctors Monday evening, Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw confessed she deeply regretted her guess that while COVID cases propelled by the Delta variant might soar, we wouldn’t see the bodies piling up. 

Within a couple of weeks, she admitted in the chilly language of bureaucracy, “we weren’t seeing the decoupling we’d expected.”

“I deeply regret how that has played out,” she went on. “I do continue to do my best every day to provide my advice to the proxy decision makers for my patients, who are the elected officials.”

The proxy decision makers for my patients? Say what? 

Mount Royal University political science professor Duane Bratt, popular with Alberta media for his blunt commentary, spoke for a lot of Albertans when he suggested not just Hinshaw, but a whole herd of the feckless Conservatives she advised, including Health Minister Tyler Shandro, should hang their heads and resign.

“Alberta, based on ICU numbers, is being hit harder right now than at any time during the pandemic,” Bratt said yesterday in a tweet thread.

“Where is the policy learning? Why the cherry-picking of the most optimistic data and scenario?

“Having Hinshaw apologize is a step forward. But real accountability would be the Premier appearing in public to accept responsibility (instead of hiding). And changing the people who were making these bad decisions. Decisions that are killing people.

“Why hasn’t Hinshaw resigned? Why hasn’t Shandro resigned? Why aren’t members of the cabinet…resigning on a point of principle?

“Most importantly why hasn’t Kenney resigned after bungling the second wave, the third wave, and especially the fourth wave? Who demonized critics. Who took the most optimistic path. Who blamed others.”

Bratt concluded: “When is it enough?”

With these guys? Maybe never. Or maybe the divisions in the UCP cabinet and caucus, which met yesterday with no significant leaks, are deep enough now someone on the right side of public health will stand up on principle. 

Kenney was scheduled to travel to Fort McMurray today to address an oilsands trade show. That would have provided a public opportunity for him to respond to the prime minister’s comments with a defence of his COVID response, or to tell Albertans how his government plans lead us out of this mess it’s created. 

The premier’s travel plans have been canceled, his office said. 

Later this week you’ll be able to print out an unconvincing paper vaccination record

Much was made yesterday of Health Minister Tyler Shandro’s announcement that “Albertans can soon get their proof of vaccination on a new convenient card-sized printout through MyHealth Records.”

Still bobbing and weaving to avoid being accused of creating a vaccine passport by the UCP’s anti-vaccine base, later this week you’ll be able to print out an unconvincing looking piece of paper with your COVID vaccine record on it, the announcement said in the gee-whiz tones typical of Alberta government press releases.

That is, if you can manage to sign in to the MyHealth system, which by the sound of it was on the verge of collapse itself last night. 

The UCP, of course, plans to download the unpleasant job of enforcing sensible restrictions on unvaccinated people onto private businesses — which means there will be no restrictions at all.

“Work is also underway to make proof of vaccination available through a QR code,” the news release went on. “The QR code is expected to be available in the coming weeks.”

Does anyone remember Alberta TraceTogether, the barely functional contact-tracing app the Alberta government got someone to cobble together and released in May 2020?

No one ever fixed it. It’s now just a forgotten piece of digital history, lingering unused on a few smartphones.

As for the QR code, believe it when you see it. And don’t count on having your self-printed vaccination record taken seriously outside Alberta. 

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.

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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...