Peace River MLA Dan Williams. Credit: Alberta Newsroom

Peace River MLA Dan Williams’ member’s statement in the legislature last Thursday attacking Alberta Health Services leadership for trying to require employees be vaccinated against the disease that has caused the deadliest pandemic in a century will sound to many like a bizarre rant.

Williams got up on his hind legs during the afternoon session of the legislature to imaginatively assail as “rapacious and reckless” an AHS plan to place health care employees who refuse to be vaccinated against COVID-19 on unpaid leaves of absence.

Still, as nonsensical as this sounds, it’s worth listening to Williams because the MLA for Peace River often says what Jason Kenney really thinks.

Now, Williams must have the least informative official biography of any Alberta MLA. To read it, you’d almost think he never did anything before running for office but work in the gravel pit in La Crete, the northwestern community he and his wife call home. 

It’s not that simple, though. Back when Kenney was minister of defence in Stephen Harper’s cabinet in Ottawa, Williams was a political aide in his office. 

Both men share extreme anti-abortion views. But, unlike the premier nowadays, Williams still wears his on his sleeve. 

In 2019, Williams participated in the controversial March for Life in Edmonton, where students of publicly financed Roman Catholic Schools are bused into Edmonton on the taxpayers’ dime to protest against the reproductive rights of other Albertans.

The same year, he introduced a private member’s bill to reopen the debate about physicians’ ability to assert religious “conscience rights” if they don’t want to refer patients to doctors who will provide abortions, contraception, or medically assisted death. He denied the bill was a back-door manoeuvre to undermine access to abortion and contraception, claiming he was just trying “to protect the Charter rights that individuals have.”

Earlier this year, Williams published a video attacking AHS for throwing up a fence around an Edmonton-area evangelical church that refused on multiple Sundays to obey provincial COVID-19 restrictions. He called the public health measure an attack on freedom of religion. 

He even seems to have gotten the nomination in Peace River using hard-ball tactics reminiscent of Kenney’s own leadership campaign — leastways, an opponent complained that party polling stations ended up in locations that made it hard for her supporters to vote, and three candidates dropped out of the nomination battle.

It’s hard to believe the stuff Williams says doesn’t have a discreet nod from his mentor and former and current boss, Jason Kenney. Late last month, Kenney appointed Williams parliamentary secretary to the minister of culture.

Judging from his member’s statement, Williams and Kenney even seem to share a penchant for faux professorial pontification. 

So here’s what he said in context, courtesy of Hansard:

“Since August tens of thousands of Albertans have been waiting to see if their hospitals, doctors, nurses will be told by Alberta Health Services’ leadership that they’re not wanted anymore,” he asserted. “Dozens of Alberta communities have been wondering if this rapacious and reckless plan would move access to life-saving health care even further away.”

Now, while that first sentence is pure pish-posh, it is true that the town of La Crete is a hotbed of rural anti-vaccine sentiment where AHS may very well have been concerned about being able to find enough vaccinated personnel to keep the doors of the community health centre open.

The timing of Williams’ statement was peculiar, since two days before, the Kenney government had taken steps to overrule AHS’s sensible policy and require the health authority to suspend its mandated vaccination policy in vaccine-resistant rural communities.

At a news conference on Nov. 29, Health Minister Jason Copping said that despite the objections of AHS leaders, vaccine refuseniks in places like La Crete will be permitted to keep working and AHS must provide them with “frequent and targeted COVID-19 testing.”

In his member’s statement, Williams lauded the government for that move — which will cause many problems for AHS. “By forcing AHS to allow rapid testing, the Minister of Health’s directive is saving many communities from health care oblivion,” he claimed.

“AHS leadership has held a knife to the throat, every day for 91 days, of many of my remote communities,” he continued hyperbolically.

“AHS leadership has abandoned Albertans. In an absolute act of shame their plan was to abrogate their obligation to the sick and dying Albertans and instead concentrate themselves with legal liability, crass ideology, capricious authoritarianism, or who knows what.”

The young man who once whinged that: “even if you’re not interested in leftist politics, leftist politics has an in interest in you,” also complained, typical of the anti-vaxx right, that “so much moralizing has gone on from the world’s public health authorities during this pandemic, but most of its smugness has been directed towards constituents like mine.”

He ended his jeremiad about AHS with, “Shame on them.”

This brought a sharp riposte from the Opposition NDP, which like Williams’ comments was ignored by mainstream media.

“At a time when health care workers are already facing harassment and threats of violence from the UCP’s extremist anti-vaccine fringe, this kind of rhetoric is extremely dangerous,” NDP health critic David Shepherd said in a news release.

“This is a shocking new low in the UCP’s shameful history of undermining efforts to boost vaccination rates in Alberta,” he added. 

“Williams must immediately and unreservedly apologize to Alberta’s front line health care workers who have already been pushed to the brink by the UCP government’s gross mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Shepherd concluded. “Jason Kenney must also immediately condemn this incendiary and grossly irresponsible statement from his UCP colleague.”

But the premier won’t be condemning anything, of course, because he and Williams are singing from the same song sheet. Williams is just singing a little louder.

Rob Anders tax evasion trial moved to June 6

For those of you have been wondering what happened to former Calgary West Conservative MP Rob Anders’ tax evasion trial, originally set to start on October 25, it has been rescheduled. 

Anders faces five charges under the Income Tax Act that are now scheduled to be heard in Provincial Court in Calgary, commencing on June 6, 2022.

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...