Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro at yesterday's news conference. Image: Screenshot of Alberta Government video

According to Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro, speaking at a news conference on another topic yesterday, Wednesday’s decision for Alberta to become the only jurisdiction on the planet to start treating COVID-19 as if it were the common cold was Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw’s idea.

Facing reporters more interested in the government’s COVID policy than the minister’s insignificant spending announcement yesterday, many of Shandro’s responses were shambolic at best, incoherent in places.

But he stayed firmly on message when it came to ensuring his listeners understood the decisions to stop requiring COVID-infected Albertans to isolate, or even inform anyone of their illness, were made by Hinshaw.

“It came from Dr. Hinshaw,” he snapped when a reporter asked him who was behind the decision. “This is work that was developed by those who are in public health.”

This would seem to defy credulity, seeing as Hinshaw is an accredited medical doctor with a specialty in public health, but since she didn’t race to a microphone or telephone a sympathetic reporter to deny Shandro’s claim, I suppose we have to take him at his word.

The new policy also seems to defy the prevailing opinion among other medical and public health experts — judging from the extremely negative reviews it continued to generate yesterday, not to mention the widespread impression among the educated public that it was driven by politics, not best public health practice.

Indeed, the reaction was so harsh in some quarters that one wonders if in future Hinshaw will need to pursue her career in another branch of medicine or another field entirely.

“I now crown Alberta as the new ‘Florida of Canada,'” tweeted Eric Feigl-Ding, high-profile U.S. public health scientist and senior fellow of the American Federation of Scientists.

“Get a positive #COVID19 test? No need to isolate says new horrible rules by heinously irresponsible @CMOH_Alberta,” Feigl-Ding said of Hinshaw.

“We urge you to reconsider the lifting of these public health measures at this time,” the president and Alberta board representative of the Canadian Paediatric Society pleaded with Hinshaw in a letter sent yesterday.

“Children under the age of 12 are particularly vulnerable as they are still ineligible for vaccination,” said MDs Ruth Grimes and Raphael Sharon. “Policies and practices must reflect this reality and prioritize their health and well-being.”

“This will for sure have a ripple effect and for sure impact all of us,” said Andrew Boozary, executive director of social medicine at Toronto’s University Health Network, expressing his dismay at the decision of Alberta’s policy makers “to bury their heads away from the evidence and the science.”

“Let’s hope elected and public health leaders from elsewhere are able to convince Alberta to reverse course,” tweeted University of Toronto medicine professor Irfan Dhalla.

Well, good luck getting the likes of Premier Kenney to change his mind, whatever role Hinshaw played in making it up.

That’s just a sampling. I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot more of this kind of thing in the days to come as public health experts outside Alberta become aware of what’s going on here.

Count on it, though, that if as widely predicted things do go horribly wrong in Alberta, Shandro and Premier Kenney will be happy to let Hinshaw take the rap.

Even if we Albertans somehow manage to escape the fate predicted by many experts, distrust of Kenney’s United Conservative Party government is now so deep, and not just on its serial mishandling of the COVID file, that Thursday’s announcement is bound to be widely seen as a dangerous gamble with the lives of voters, not to mention those of their children who are too young to be allowed to receive the COVID vaccine.

In this context, consider the release yesterday by Elections Alberta of the second-quarter contributions totals for Alberta political parties, which showed the opposition NDP dramatically leading the UCP for the second consecutive quarter.

The Alberta NDP raised more than $1.5 million in the second quarter of 2021, compared to the $715,887 raised by the UCP in the same period. All this happened before Albertans knew what the government was going to do on the COVID file.

In the first half of 2021, the NDP raised $2.7 million, compared to the $1.2 million raised by the UCP — meaning the NDP raised more in the second quarter than the UCP has in the entire year to date. This continued and extended a trend that appeared in 2020, when the NDP raised more than $5 million and the UCP received contributions of about $4.7 million.

Among the smaller parties, only the Pro-Life Alberta Political Association broke into six figures, raising $124,000 in the first half of 2021. So Alberta’s anti-reproductive-rights party was able to raise more than the Alberta Party ($79,000), the Alberta Liberals ($57,000) or the Wildrose Independence Party ($45,000) in the first half.

Surely this indicates that most Albertans see the NDP and the UCP and the only political parties that can win in Alberta, and that many who are not die-hard New Democrats are still willing to open their wallets to try to ensure Kenney and the UCP do not return to power.

It likely also indicates the strong personal popularity enjoyed by Opposition Leader and former premier Rachel Notley.

Moreover, the low tallies collected by the UCP suggest many conservatives who can’t bring themselves to support the NDP are nevertheless unwilling to donate any more to the governing party as long as the likes of Kenney and Shandro are calling the shots.

Come the general election, of course, the UCP will still have far more access to dark money squirrelled away in political action committees.

PM appoints Banff Mayor Karen Sorensen to Senate

Jason Kenney may not have been available to comment on the province’s COVID-19 policy yesterday, but he did find time to prompt eyerolls by whinging about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s appointment of Banff Mayor Karen Sorensen to the Canadian Senate.

Complaining about the PM ignoring Alberta’s ridiculous upcoming “Senate elections,” the premier hyperbolically accused Trudeau of “flippantly disregarding our province’s demands for a fair deal in the Canadian federation and the desire of Albertans for democratic accountability.”

As has been said in this space before, if Alberta voters want Kenney to stop wasting money on constitutionally meaningless Senate nominee elections, they need to vote for Duncan Kinney, the Senate-abolition candidate, on Oct. 18.

Commissioner Allan’s homework is due today

Alberta Inquiry Commissioner Steve Allan’s homework is due today. One wonders if he had to pull an all-nighter to get it finished.

Assuming the commissioner’s dog didn’t eat the report, which would require him to seek a fifth extension to complete the project, we still won’t get to see what it has to say about “anti-Alberta energy campaigns” for 90 days while the Kenney government figures out what the heck to do with it.

Most indicators suggest the $3.5-million term paper will be more of an embarrassment to the government than a threat to its foes. Several environmental groups that have seen portions of the report have already publicly responded.

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: Screenshot of Alberta Government video

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...