CALGARY – Alberta passed Ontario, but it was a win nobody wanted.
On Monday, the province recorded 1,549 cases of COVID-19, bringing the total number of active cases to 13,166 – the highest in the country. A day earlier, Alberta had for the first time posted a higher daily total than Ontario, a province with three times the population.
But as social media has erupted in the wake of a recent outbreak that propelled the United Conservative-led province almost to the top of Canada’s COVID-19 indicators, Albertans have been left free to dine out, make shopping as they wished and getting together in groups of 15 or weddings in the presence of 50 people.
Prime Minister Jason Kenney, long known to be one of the hardest working people in politics, has taken an unusual approach to the pandemic, especially in recent weeks, experts say.
At a press conference 11 days ago – the last time he spoke to a COVID-19 presser – he again urged residents to exercise personal responsibility to curb the near-uncontrollable spread of the virus . A few weeks earlier, he had declared Alberta the “freest” province in the country.
Indeed, as Ontario returns to lockdown and British Columbia and Manitoba introduce new restrictions, Albertans have remained relatively free. Kenney has repeatedly emphasized the need to keep businesses open and the economy running. He announced the latest targeted measures on November 12, which forced bars to close at 11 p.m. and halted group fitness classes.
“COVID-19 challenges us and we have to rise to the task,” he said at the time, calling outbreaks in long-term care homes in particular “very disturbing” .
But experts say the measures have not met the need and that Alberta will now pay the price.
As cases explode, the question may be: does provincial freedom come at a cost?
Kenney, whose second period of isolation due to COVID-19 exposure ended on Monday, was due to attend a cabinet meeting the same afternoon with the specific intention of discussing the action. New measures are due to be announced on Tuesday, but what they will look like remains unknown.
“Jason Kenney tends to stick with what he thinks makes sense, whether that’s determined by his ideological perspective or simply by feeling like he’s right and knows what he’s doing,” notes Lori Williams, professor of political studies at Mount Royal University in Calgary. .
“But I think things are now getting to the point where practical realities only confront Albertans, in general, and that requires a different kind of response.
Some doctors fear that it is already too late.
Two weeks ago, Dr. Noel Gibney, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Critical Care at the University of Alberta Faculty of Medicine, was among dozens of physicians to write to the Government of Alberta and propose this which is now known in other countries as a “circuit breaker”, in which the province is closed for a short period of time in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19 and save time for the health system.
Gibney said he received a note that the letter had been received and then saw cases continue to grow steadily. He is hoping for meaningful action on Tuesday.
“In two weeks, the system is going to be absolutely faltering, if not over the abyss. And if he doesn’t do it tomorrow, I mean, the consequences, I can’t imagine. They will be absolutely catastrophic for care in the province.
When the new figures were released on Sunday, Kenney retweeted Dr Deena Hinshaw’s plea for people to “continue to monitor public health measures,” a call for public compliance that has played on a loop across the province for weeks. , but remained silent. The #WhereIsKenney hashtag was still trending on social media Monday.
Unlike Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who shows up at a COVID-19 press conference and answers questions most of the time, Kenney hasn’t attended since Nov. 12.
“How weird is that?” asks Dr. Joe Vipond, an emergency physician in Calgary. “During the Calgary floods, during the Fort McMurray fire, our media executives spoke to Albertans every day. That’s a higher magnitude than all of these events in terms of the human toll, and yet, nothing.
In an email, a spokesperson for Kenney said the province’s goal from the start was to protect “lives and livelihoods.”
“The Premier has been at the center of all major announcements related to the pandemic, including on November 12 when he announced targeted restrictions, and Albertans can expect to see him again tomorrow after the Cabinet committee meeting today, ”the email said.
But in what some critics see as an attempt to downplay the pandemic, Kenney pointed to the advanced age of those who have died – “The average age of death from COVID in Alberta is 83, and I will call home that the average life expectancy in the province is 82 years, ”he told the legislature in May.
Likewise, last week, Alberta began publishing a list of the number of people who have died from COVID-19, but also suffered from other health problems.
“I saw several deaths,” Vipond said in response. “I saw people who lived in the house quite happily died in front of me. It is foolish to think that these people, whose deaths could have been avoided, are nothing but cannon fodder.
Kenney likes to compare his province to more populous provinces like British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec to cut spending. But unlike British Columbia, Alberta hasn’t released any modeling since May, and as the foreclosure threshold debate rages in Ontario, officials in Alberta have resisted calls to clarify what, exactly, would encourage action.
Ford, in particular, contrasts with Kenney. A Conservative colleague, he played a more public role in his province’s response to the pandemic, a strategy that has not gone unnoticed in the West.
“The only huge contrast between Ford and Kenny is that Ford seems to really feel the impact this situation has on the people of Ontario. He appears to have empathy, to be emotionally connected and concerned about the impact of the pandemic, both in terms of health care and on the economy, ”Williams said.
“Jason Kenney is a lot more intellectual in his dealings with things,” she says. “He doesn’t seem to be feeling in any way the impact that many Albertans are feeling.
Along with Alberta’s ‘inexplicable’ battle with doctors over compensation during a pandemic – after negotiations failed, government rescinded its deal in February and rolled out its own – and government rejection from the federal exposure notification app in favor of its own version, which last week had been used for just 19 cases, Williams says Kenney’s image has suffered.
“I guess that makes sense in terms of Jason Kenny’s attitude towards government, in that he thinks government should be a little more distracted and the responsibility and initiative of individuals should be. defended, but that doesn’t seem to align with reality.
Albertans were the most dissatisfied with their province’s response to the pandemic, according to a Leger poll released last week, with 59% saying they were very or somewhat dissatisfied. By comparison, 31% Per cent of Ontarians said the same thing, as did only 13 per cent. 100 of the people of Atlantic Canada.
Whatever action is taken Tuesday, Gibney says, Alberta is already locked in a trajectory of more cases and deaths.
He compares Kenney’s emphasis on personal responsibility to the rhetoric adopted by some Republican leaders in the United States and says that, rightly, infection rates and critical care cases in Alberta are also starting to look a lot like to the American situation.
“There is no doubt that we are going alone. Our numbers are starting to look a lot more like Wisconsin, Texas. And a lot of the Midwest, ”he says.
“It has in my mind put us on a course where we’re going to have unnecessary deaths that shouldn’t have happened.”
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