The UCP board is the governing body of the organization and is made up of seventeen elected directors, party leader Premier Danielle Smith, and two non-voting MLAs who serve as Caucus liaisons. The two MLA spots, which are chosen through a vote of UCP MLAs, are currently filled by Camrose MLA Jackie Lovely and Lac Ste. Anne-Parkland MLA Shane Getson.
Half of the UCP director positions are up for election this year and the sweeping success of the slate of candidates backed by the social conservative Take Back Alberta group at last year’s AGM has fuelled a lot of speculation about what might happen in this election.
“The baseless claims made the UCP candidate for Lethbridge West do not represent the Lethbridge that we know and love,” saidLethbridge-West NDP MLA Shannon Phillips. “We are inclusive and respectful, and Ms. Tanner should take the time to learn more about the community she is hoping to represent.”
In response to the video, the UCP appeared to initially just ask Tanner to remove it from her social media feeds, but after pressure grew the party posted a statement from the candidate announcing her resignation.
“During the nomination process, I made a video that, at its core, spoke to my commitment to protecting children. However, it’s clear that my choice of words have distracted not only from the issue I was trying to discuss, but are being used by my political opponents to hurt our chances of winning across the province,” said Tanner in a statement posted online by the UCP.
“Tanner’s notice of resignation falls well short. She faults only her ‘choice of words,’ not the lies she embraced, and regrets only that they might hurt the prospects of the United Conservative Party in the next election,” Schilling said.
Tanner, who was also known from her role as a participant in an unsuccessful lawsuit against former Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw, defeated local business-owner Rick Dempsey in a nomination vote only a few weeks ago.
The southwest Alberta riding was home to one of the closest races in the 2019 election but a repeat of those results feels unlikely after this. It is expected that the UCP will now appoint a candidate to replace Tanner.
Tanner’s resignation was somewhat reminiscent of the “Lake of Fire” comment that helped destroy Danielle Smith‘s chances of leading the Wildrose Party to win the 2012 election. The incident was dubbed a “bozo-eruption,” a political term that has stuck in Alberta politics ever since.
Tanner’s video was an unhelpful distraction from Premier Smith’s other communications crisis this week – the 11-minute long video of her speaking to radical street pastor and then leader of the separatist Independence Party of Alberta, Artur Pawlowski, about speaking weekly to Department of Justice officials about their pursuit of charges against COVID-19 rule breakers. Smith continues to deny what she said in the video, claiming once again that her language was… “imprecise.”
(I am planning to write more about the Smith-Pawlowski video soon on the Daveberta Substack).
Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley was nominated as her party’s candidate in Edmonton-Strathcona this past weekend. Speaking to a crowd of more than 800 supporters gathered at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, Notley delivered an energetic speech that felt like a campaign kick-off for the former premier’s party.
Notley was first elected as MLA for the central Edmonton riding in 2008 and was re-elected in 2019 with 72.2 per cent of the vote. The riding has elected NDP MLAs since 1997 and the party previously held the riding from 1986 to 1993.
UCP choose Claresholm Mayor in ‘do-over’ nomination vote in Livingstone-Macleod
Town of Claresholm Mayor Chelsae Petrovic won the United Conservative Party‘s ‘do-over’ nomination vote in Livingstone-Macleod. Petrovic defeated Tanya Clemens and Don Whalen in a decisive first ballot victory. Petrovic earned 759 votes with Clemens collecting 469 votes and Whalen finishing third with 118 votes.
This is the UCP’s second time holding a nomination vote in the southern Alberta riding.
The riding was represented by former premier Jason Kenney from 2017 until his resignation in November 2022.
NDP members in the riding voted to select Venkat Akkiraj over Kim Wagner in that party’s nomination vote this week. Akkiraj is a law student and former organizer with the Ontario NDP.
City Councillor jumps into Grande Prairie UCP race
City Councillor Gladys Blackmore is the fourth candidate to enter the UCP nomination contest in Grande Prairie. Blackmore served on City Council from 2001-2010 before making an unsuccessful bids for mayor in 2010 and 2013. She returned to city council in 2021.
She joins Nolan Dyck, Larry Gibson, and Tayyab Parvez in the race to choose a UCP successor to retiring MLA Tracy Allard.
The UCP MLA for the neighbouring Grande Prairie-Wapiti riding, Finance Minister Travis Toews, has still not announced whether he plans to run for re-election. Toews is now the only remaining MLA who has not announced their plans for the May election.
Hinshaw critic wins UCP nomination in Lethbridge-West
Torry Tanner defeated Rick Dempsey to win the UCP nomination vote in Lethbridge-West. Tanner was a participant in an unsuccessful lawsuit against former Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw challenging Alberta’s COVID-19 public health restrictions.
The riding is currently represented by NDP Shannon Phillips.
Other nomination updates
Calgary-Foothills: The Alberta Party disqualified Shaoli Wang as a candidate after a series of embarrassing social media posts were revealed. Wang will instead run as an Independent candidate.
Cypress-Medicine Hat: James Finkbeiner and Justin Wright are on the ballot when UCP members vote to nominate a candidate on March 16. The riding is currently represented by Independent MLA Drew Barnes.
Edmonton-City Centre: Richard Wong is the UCP candidate in this downtown Edmonton riding.
Leduc-Beaumont: Heather Feldbusch, Nam Kular, Brandon Lunty, Dawn Miller, Dave Quest, and Karen Richert are running for the UCP nomination. A vote is scheduled for March 18.
Peace River: Nancy O’Neill is running for the Independence Party of Alberta nomination.
Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre: Former Clearwater County Reeve Tim Hovenwill run as an Independent candidate. Hoven was disqualified from running for the UCP nomination against Jason Nixon last year. It was widely believed that Hoven could have defeated Nixon, who was then serving as former premier Kenney’s chief lieutenant.
Former teacher and Executive Staff Officer with Calgary Public Teachers Dan Nelles was nominated as the NDP candidate for Airdrie-East.
Conservationist and author Kevin Van Tighem is expected to be nominated as the NDP candidate in Livingstone-Macleod on November 23.
Rajesh Angral is the third candidate to enter the NDP nomination race in Calgary-North. Angral joins Hassan Bokhari and Moses Mariam in contesting the nomination at a December 17 vote.
The Fitzhugh, the Jasper Local and the Whitecourt Star have coverage of the NDP contest in West Yellowhead where Fred Kreiner and former Yellowhead County Councillor Lavone Olson are seeking the nomination on December 8.
Former mayoral candidate Angela Wood and ministerial press secretary Melissa Crane are seeking the UCP nomination in St. Albert on November 26.
The UCP has scheduled a December 11 nomination meeting in Edmonton-South. Past candidate Tunde Obasan and accountant Karen Stix are seeking the nomination at a December 11 vote.
The Bonnyville Nouvelle has coverage of the UCP nomination in Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul, where MLA David Hanson, former MLA Scott Cyr, and former MD of Bonnyville Reeve Greg Sawchuk are running for the nomination. A vote will be held on December 10, 11 and 12.
The Medicine Hat News interviews James Finkbeiner about his announced entry into the UCP nomination contest in Cypress-Medicine Hat.
Steven Maffioli has been nominated as the Green Party candidate in Calgary-Glenmore
Upcoming nomination meetings
Here are the scheduled upcoming nominations:
November 23 – Livingstone-Macleod NDP
November 26 – St. Albert UCP
December 2 & 3 – Drayton Valley-Devon UCP
December 3 – Calgary-Elbow UCP
December 4 – Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo UCP
December 8 – West Yellowhead NDP
December 9 & 10 – Athabasca-Barrhead-Westlock UCP
December 10, 11, 12 – Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul UCP
Someone named S. Silver won the third place prize in the “Her Vision Inspires” essay contest that was championed by Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville UCP MLA Jackie Armstrong-Homeniuk, now the Associate Minister for the Status of Women.
In her award-winning essay, which was given a $200 prize, Silver argued:
“…it is sadly popular to think Albertan children are unnecessary as we can import foreigners to replace us, this is a sickly mentality that amounts to a drive for cultural suicide…”
“to try to promote that women break into careers that men traditionally dominate is not only misguided, but it is harmful.”
“that the best approach would be to reward families for their reproductive service both with financial rewards to offset the financial burden they are taking on and with medals to symbolize their valuable achievement of having 2+ children.”
Pretty gross stuff.
After facing a pretty strong public backlash for choosing a racist and sexist essay for the award, Armstrong-Homeniuk issued a written statement saying she disagrees with it and that it shouldn’t have been chosen.
She led the committee that chose it but we don’t know why it was chosen or who else was on the committee with her.
It’s a secret.
UCP MLAs Michaela Frey and Angela Pitt told intrepid CBC reporter Michelle Bellefontainethey had nothing to do with it, as did cabinet ministers Adriana LaGrange and Tanya Fir.
We also don’t know how many essays were submitted to the contest or who “S. Silver” even is.
It’s now been removed but we don’t know how the essay was able to be published on the Legislative Assembly of Alberta website without raising some giant red flags.
Speaker Nathan Cooper said he didn’t know anything about it.
The whole thing is a big exercise in passing the buck.
It feels like the most unlikeliest of outcomes, but in Alberta politics, the unexpected is sometimes the most likely.
It’s almost as if the past ten years never happened, said one conservative friend of mine, in reference to Danielle Smith’s near-win in 2012, her spectacular fall in 2014, and the massive political realignments – Rachel Notley’s NDP winning in 2015 and the formation of the UCP in 2017 – that have shaped Alberta politics since.
But she’s back and people think she’s going to win.
She’s drawing big crowds to her events, she’s getting media attention and she just stole another MLA endorsement away from Travis Toews.
It’s possible that other candidates are selling more memberships or that the preferential ballots could tally in a way that helps other candidates but the biggest indicator that Smith is in the lead is that all the other candidates are attacking her.
Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche MLA Brian Jean, the UCP prince-in-exile, took aim at Smith’s idea to open the Port of Churchill in northern Manitoba to oil exports. It’s a perennially bad idea that never happens but never dies.
Airdrie-East MLA Angela Pitt announced on social media that she was quitting her volunteer role as Rajan Sawhney’s campaign chair, saying she needs to realign with her constituents. That feels like code for she’s worried Smith is going to win the leadership and her supporters – notably campaign chair and former MLA Rob Anderson – might be interested in challenging Pitt for the nomination in the riding.
Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan Conservative MP Garnett Genuis, who is backing Toews, took a swipe at Smith on Twitter after the party’s Medicine Hat leadership debate.
“Non-lawyer cites Wikipedia to explain novel constitutional theory. Danielle Smith is the freeman-on-the-land of this #UCPdebate. And the other candidates’ responses to her clearly show that they understand what dire consequences her success would spell for our movement,” Genuis tweeted on July 27, 2022.
Non-lawyer cites Wikipedia to explain novel constitutional theory. Danielle Smith is the freeman-on-the-land of this #UCPdebate. And the other candidates’ responses to her clearly show that they understand what dire consequences her success would spell for our movement. #abpoli
Not naming but clearly targeting Smith in an online video, Rebecca Schulz described the front-runner as “unhinged and unreasonable” and “lighting her hair on fire.”
Schulz’s video announced that Calgary-Midnapore MP Stephanie Kusie has joined Rona Ambrose as campaign co-chair.
Trying to out-co-chair her opponents is an odd strategy, and is a role that is usually left to the backrooms, but it’s pretty clear that Schulz is trying desperately to position herself as the ABD – Anybody but Danielle – candidate in the UCP race – especially for conservatives not enthralled by Toews beige and boring campaign.
Toews’ establishment-favourite campaign appears to be losing steam.
Having to fight back criticisms about Dr. Deena Hinshaw’s six-figure bonus undermined his claim of being fiscally responsible. And he lost the support of another UCP MLA this week when Strathcona-Sherwood Park MLA Nate Glubish, the Minister of Service Alberta, abandoned Toews and switched his endorsement to Smith.
In almost any other mainstream conservative leadership race, even in Alberta, Smith’s promotion of conspiracy theories and snake oil COVID cures, promises to impose unconstitutional laws, and more would probably disqualify her on the ballots of a lot of conservatives.
But this unruly UCP appears to be a very different beast than the old Progressive Conservative Party it absorbed six years ago. And Smith has used her decades of experience in politics and media to fine tune a message that appeals to a motivated chunk of today’s UCP base.
This most unexpected of outcomes is a surprise when you consider the rules of the leadership race were almost designed to quell an insurgent campaign.
The high entry fee ($175,000), signature requirements (1,000) and early membership cut off date (August 12) were designed for an establishment candidate.
Of course this is all about who sells the most memberships, and some candidates might be out there quietly selling a ton of memberships, but the early cutoff date means the days of the “two-minute Tories” who propelled Ralph Klein, Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford into the Premier’s Office are long gone.
Ideological conservatives hated it, but anybody being able to walk into the voting station on voting day and buy a membership ensured the PC Party constantly reinvented itself as a big tent party – arguably the biggest success of its 43 years of uninterrupted power.
But Smith isn’t campaigning to lead a big tent and a lot of people think she’s going to pull it off.
Three years ago, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney was the unquestioned leader of the Conservative movement in Canada. He was the national conservative standard bearer.
Now, Kenney is politically toxic.
And as the deadly fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic hit Alberta, he was in hiding.
His absence is mostly an attempt to avoid embarrassing his federal cousins in Ottawa, who until today have been grateful for his disappearance, and facing an unruly caucus of United Conservative Party MLAs already unhappy with his leadership, but it also means he has been out from public sight as new COVID cases skyrocketed, hospitals and intensive care units began to overflow, and more Albertans have died of the deadly disease.
Twenty-four more Albertans died yesterday. More than 90 Albertans have died over the past eight days.
Kenney reemerged for the second time in almost two months today to announce the end of his Best Summer Ever.
Joining Health Minister Tyler Shandro, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw, and Alberta Health Services CEO Dr. Verna Yiu, Kenney declared a public state of emergency and bumbled his way through a confusing new list of public health restrictions and a not a vaccine passport vaccine passport system that largely puts the burden on businesses to figure out (something his party was fundraising off its opposition to weeks ago and he described as illegal a few months ago).
Like the previous three waves of the pandemic, Kenney waited until the health care system was in crisis before acting. If Albertans comply with the new restrictions, we can hope that the number of COVID cases decrease. But not removing the restrictions too quickly, like he has before, will probably be key to its success.
When medical experts and media questioned how quickly Kenney removed the public health restrictions, he and his staff aggressively attacked and dismissed their warnings about a fourth wave.
Kenney eagerly pushed for 70 per cent of eligible Albertans over the age of 12 to get vaccinated in order to lift restrictions in time for the Stampede. The government offered lucrative lotteries and prizes, and even $100 cash cards, to convince Albertans to get vaccinated but it does not appear to have moved the needle to where we need it to be. Alberta still lags behind the rest of the country.
Kenney’s Open for Summer plan was all optimism that the COVID-19 pandemic was over with none of the vigilance required to make sure it actually was.
But don’t expect Kenney to volunteer to face the consequences for his actions.
Responding to his critics at today’s press conference, Kenney initially apologized for the results of his Open for Summer decision only to retract his apology minutes later when answering a question from Postmedia columnist Rick Bell, telling Bell that “I won’t apologize.”
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began 18 months ago, Kenney has failed to lead Albertans through the biggest health crisis in a generation.
It’s been more than one month since Premier Jason Kenney announced the end to public health measures meant to curb the spread of COVID and a week after he announced the province would stop tracking the virus, end contact tracing and remove the legal requirement for people with COVID symptoms to self-isolate.
This rush to remove public health restrictions has left a lot of Albertans confused and uncomfortable with his sudden decisions as cases of the Delta Variant increase and hundreds of thousands of Albertans under the age of 12 remain ineligible for vaccines as the start of the school year rapidly approaches.
The original announcement to remove public health measures, including mandatory face-masking in public indoor spaces, was made ahead of Canada Day (or the long-abolished “Dominion Day” as Kenney has often called our national holiday). But it was the Calgary Stampede that Kenney wielded and waved like a carnival balloon sword against any Albertan who dared criticize his government’s rush to claim the pandemic is over.
Canada has made big gains in vaccinating people against COVID-19, despite earlier predictions by some that we might not have access to vaccines for years. In fact, cases where federal vaccine supply could not match provincial distribution were rare, and completely non-existent in Alberta. Yet, Alberta remains below the national average for full vaccination rates – and some regions of the province are sitting at troublingly low levels of vaccinations.
A vaccine lottery, dubbed lottovaxx, was launched to push Alberta above the artificial hurdle that Kenney placed to remove restrictions and allow the Stampede to open its gates. A hunting lottery and trips to hot destinations were added, but it appears to have barely moved the needle.
After more than a month out of the public spotlight, Hinshaw was once again thrust into a role that Kenney and Health Minister Tyler Shandro had filled since the Stampede. All of a sudden, Kenney began insisting that Hinshaw was the person in charge.
Despite her endorsement, Hinshaw is in the lonely position of being the only, or one of the only, medical professionals in Alberta to publicly support Kenney’s rush to remove COVID testing, tracing and isolation requirements.
Whether or not it is intentional, Hinshaw is now doing political damage control for the Kenney government.
It is inevitable that we would have removed public health restrictions at some point. As vaccination rates increase, it is expected that COVID-19 cases will be mostly limited to the unvaccinated, which again still includes hundreds of thousands of Alberta kids who can’t choose to get vaccinated.
Parents and teachers are left with no plan and little reassurances about what will happen when their unvaccinated kids return to school and childcare in September.
Kenney’s and Hinshaw’s assurances to parents that they will need to figure it out on their own have not been confidence inspiring.
Albertans with legitimate concerns and questions about the pace of Kenney’s plan have been dismissed by Hinshaw as having “anxiety” or by the Premier’s staff as wanting a “permanent lockdown.” These dismissive and aggressive responses communicated by the government are insulting and patronizing a broad group of parents with legitimate concerns and fears, well earned a year and a half into a public health crisis.
That the government still isn’t able to effectively communicate with the public about these measures is an indication that they are either largely indifferent or completely inept.
If we have learned anything over the past 18 months, it is that the COVID-19 pandemic is probably best approached with a healthy mix of vigilance and optimism. But the UCP government’s approach is all optimism that the pandemic is over and no vigilance to ensure it actually is. We constantly heard from Kenney that we were headed to the Best Summer Ever, but his eagerness to put COVID behind him has left a lot of Albertans behind.
It has been a traumatic and tough 18 months for a lot of people.
Millions of Albertans found themselves working from home, not working at all, thrust into homeschooling and childcare, and in addition to that, many of us have mourned family, friends and colleagues who have died of COVID-19 or other ailments that we have not been able to properly grieve.
Kenney’s Best Summer Ever promise appears to apply largely to the Premier and his small group of insiders the Best Summer Ever hats were made for, who have been able to dine al fresco on a government patio, take in the private parties and open bars at the 2021 Stampede, fire automatic weapons with the Taber Police and many other perks they are indulging in while the Legislature is out. For many Albertans, that slogan and swag hats are a crass and insensitive response to what should be a summer of reflection, recuperation and preparation for the coming school year.
While most Albertans stuck close to home or gathered in small groups to celebrate Easter over the long weekend, the usual fun of watching the kids hunt for chocolate eggs on Sunday morning was accompanied by a growing unease about the third-wave of COVID-19 that has hit Alberta.
Cases started to rise late last week, and over the weekend the province was reporting up to 1,100 new cases of COVID each day. But despite the growing spike of new cases, our elected officials were nowhere to be seen.
A daily thread of ominously vague tweets from the office of Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw was the source of most information released by the government over the four-day long weekend.
Dr. Hinshaw’s tweets also announced a series of outbreaks of COVID-19 variants in parts of the province but did not include any specific details about where those outbreaks were happening. The tweets also stated that the variant came to Alberta from a traveller, but it appeared as though reporters who asked where that traveller came from were given different answers.
Brooks-Medicine Hat MLA Michaela Glasgo tried to put a positive spin on Dr. Hinshaw’s tweets when she tweeted that it was good news that hospitalizations were “stable” but there was no explanation what that meant and it was clear the backbench United Conservative Party MLA was just as out of the loop as the rest of us.
The third wave of COVID had arrived and our leaders took the weekend off.
A press conference originally scheduled for Monday was bumped to Tuesday at 3:30 p.m. It was then rescheduled to 4:30 p.m., but as Premier Jason Kenney was joining Dr. Hinshaw, it ended up being delayed until 4:45 p.m.
When he finally arrived at the podium, Kenney announced that the province was going back to Step 1 restrictions. When Kenney was done, Health Minister Tyler Shandro took to the podium to essentially repeat the Premier’s speaking notes.
This is far from a circuit breaker that we are seeing in other provinces or a lockdown that we have seen in other countries or the COVID Zero approach that has nearly eliminated the virus in the Atlantic provinces and northern territories.
Kenney acknowledged that many Albertans are frustrated with the length of the pandemic and has tried to square the blame on the federal government over vaccine supply. A good part of Kenney’s speech was dedicated to caucus management, as many of his UCP MLAs are openly critical of public health restrictions and many more have expressed these views behind closed doors.
But it has become clear that Kenney’s start-stop approach to dealing with the pandemic and his government’s selective willingness to enforce the rules has contributed to the fatigue – and growing anger that Kenney is unwilling to make tough decisions that could alienate part of his conservative base of supporters.
Taking a step back to Step 1 today was a good choice, but it seems likely that it will take more serious actions to stop the renewed spread of the COVID-19 variant in Alberta. If this doesn’t work, look for increased restrictions in the next week or two.
First elected in 2010, and re-elected in 2013 and 2017, Nenshi has dominated Calgary politics and reshaped many Canadians’ views of Calgary as a more urban, more progressive and more forward-thinking city. He is a giant in Alberta politics and he will be missed.
Amid a month-long spike in new COVID-19 cases, the Alberta government introduced increased measures and restrictions on businesses that include closing casinos, bar and in-person dining in restaurants, and a province-wide mandatory face-mask requirement. The measures are necessary but come after weeks of feet-dragging by provincial leaders.
Weaker measures introduced two weeks ago proved ineffective but you will not hear Premier Jason Kenney admit it, and you will not hear him call the new measures a lockdown.
At times it has seemed as as though Kenney was more concerned with not doing anything that might alienate elements of his political base than he was in taking measures to actually stop or slow the spread of the virus. This concern about his voter base appears to also include an avoidance of the word “lockdown,” despite it being an appropriate description of what the government has implemented.
As of today, there are 20,388 active cases province-wide and have been 640 deaths caused by COVID-19.
Still no federal app
The measures announced by Kenney still did not include the activation of the federal CovidAlert app in Alberta. The federal app has become one of the latest targets of partisan attacks against Ottawa, with cabinet minister Jason Nixon referring to it as the “Trudeau Tracing App.”
Despite the adoption of the ABTraceTogether App early in the pandemic, it has proven ineffective and is reported to have only been effectively used 19 times since it was launched in the spring.
Unlike Alberta’s app, the federal app allows contact tracers to track the spread of COVID-19 across provincial boundaries.
Schweitzer shows a little humanity, some leadership potential
Along with Kenney and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the press conference announcing the increased measures featured Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation Doug Schweitzer.
Compared to Kenney, who remains robotic, unemotional and prone to partisan outbursts, and Shandro, who appears to perpetually carry a giant chip on his shoulder, Schweitzer sounded like a real human being. While he does have a serious ‘dude bro’ vibe and his comments today were weighed down by business jargon, he was a much clearer and sympathetic communicator than his two colleagues.
Kenney may be in complete control of his party today, but history shows that Conservative parties in Alberta can be ruthless towards leaders who become liabilities at the ballot box. Just ask Don Getty, Ralph Klein, Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford.
It’s 9:30 p.m. I’m sitting down in my living room with the intention of writing a piece about what happened in Alberta politics this week. But where the heck do I even start?
I could write about Premier Jason Kenney‘s growing focus on not alienating anti-vaxxers following his recent announcement about the potential distribution of COVID-19 vaccinations in 2021. Or I could write about how Health Minister Tyler Shandro amplified Kenney’s comments that basically amount to protecting anti-vaxxers from a vaccine that could stop a pandemic that has almost ground many part of our society and economy to a halt this year.
I could also write about Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw’s announcement today that there were more than 1,800 new cases of COVID-19 and 14 new deaths in Alberta. Overworked doctors and nurses also remain concerned that understaffed hospitals could be overwhelmed by the growing number of new COVID-19 cases in Alberta. And Alberta remains the only province without a province-wide mandatory mask mandate.
I could write about how in a radio interview this week, Kenney singled out the South Asian community in northeast Calgary as spreaders of COVID-19. I could also write about City Councillor George Chahal‘s response, tweeting that Kenney “should focus on those knowingly putting our frontline workers and their families at risk by violating public health orders, not the people working the jobs we need to keep our city going during a global pandemic.”
I could try to figure out what in the world Red Deer-South UCP MLA Jason Stephan means when he raised red flags about “socialist decarbonization” during a private members statement in the Legislative Assembly this week. But that might take a series of think-pieces to even attempt to explain.
Now I’m getting tired, so I’ll leave you with these thoughts and a tweet from William Shatner, aka Captain James T. Kirk, about the Alberta government’s stubborn refusal to adopt the federal CovidAlert Tracing app.
Alberta broke its daily record for new COVID-19 cases and led the country in new cases. With 1,584 new cases, Alberta had more new cases than Canada’s two largest provinces, Quebec with 1,154, and Ontario with 1,534.
The second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is hitting Alberta hard, and our leadership is sending out mixed messages. While the pandemic was of upmost importance earlier in the year, provincial leaders shifted their focus to the economy over the summer and resisted calls from health care experts for a province-wide mandatory mask requirement. Alberta is now the only province without a province-wide mask mandate.
Premier Jason Kenney, who is in his second period of self-isolation after being exposed to someone with COVID-19 during a trip to northern Alberta earlier this month, has been silent on the daily record breaking cases. But although Kenney has been publicly silent on the surge in COVID cases and the many recent tragic deaths as a result of the virus, he was said to have recently appeared via Zoom at the Edmonton-South West United Conservative Party annual general meeting and a screenshot of him speaking via Zoom to the Canada India Foundation was circulating on social media this evening.
As of Friday, 462 people had died of COVID-19 in Alberta. In this picture, ICU physician Dr. Simon Demers-Marcil calls a family to tell them a loved one died of COVID-19. Help prevent the spread of #COVID19ab by following all public health measures: https://t.co/C0V22rhMrDpic.twitter.com/EuVvcfV1Jh
Meanwhile, the situation in hospital ICU’s across Alberta has reached serious levels. Not only are ICU beds filling up, but the pandemic is taking a serious toll on the health care professionals required to staff these intensive units. Most staff are overworked and having to work many additional shifts to cover for co-workers who have been exposed to COVID and are required to go into self-isolation.
In many cases, nurses and health workers are taking time-off without pay because their sick leave banks have run dry and a special self-isolation leave was ended by Alberta Health Services in July.
New Democratic Party leader Rachel Notley has announced that she plans to ask for an emergency debate about the COVID-19 pandemic when MLAs return to the Legislature tomorrow.
And rumours are circulating tonight that Kenney may break his silence and join Dr. Hinshaw at a press conference tomorrow to announce a new series of measures to combat the pandemic, maybe even more stringent than the strongly encouraged voluntary measures that have clearly not been working.
While Khan placed a strong third in Calgary-Buffalo in 2015, he finished a distant fourth in Calgary-Mountain View in 2019 as his party’s fortunes collapsed across the province. While he performed respectfully in the televised leaders debate, the Liberals were unable to break into what was largely two-party race between the UCP and NDP.
The 2019 election marked the first time since 1982 that the Liberals did not elect an MLA to the Legislative Assembly.
Annalise Klingbeil joins the Daveberta Podcast to discuss the latest developments in United Conservative Party government’s plans to close and privatize more than 160 provincial parks and recreation areas. We also discuss the mixed-messaging about COVID-19 from Premier Jason Kenney and his cabinet ministers as the second wave of the pandemic surges in Alberta. And we share some ideas about how the government could improve its COVID-19 communications.
Annalise is co-founder of Champion Communications & PR. She previously worked as a ministerial press secretary and before that she was a journalist at the Calgary Herald. She is also the co-founder of the Go Outside newsletter.
The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network: Locally grown. Community supported. The Alberta Podcast Network includes dozens of great made-in-Alberta podcasts.
You can listen and subscribe to the Daveberta Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you find podcasts online. We love feedback from our listeners, so let us know what you think of this episode and leave a review where you download.
When the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic first hit Alberta many months ago, Premier Jason Kenney was front-and-centre.
Ever the Anglophile, Kenney quoted Winston Churchill and compared the pandemic to the Battle of Britain. Under Kenney’s leadership we were going to fight COVID on the beaches, on the landing grounds, in the fields and in the streets.
He delivered a bleak televised address to Albertans, presented an awkward to watch 54-minute powerpoint display in an attempt to explain Alberta’s pandemic modelling, and elbowed his way to the front of Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw’s press conferences on a weekly basis. It was clear that he wanted Albertans to know he was their Commander-in-Chief in the war against the pandemic.
In one of his more notable comments, Kenney compared Albertans to a herd of buffalo that “move closely together and go into the storm head on, coming out of it faster, stronger, and united.”
But at some point over the summer, as new cases of COVID dropped into the teens and single digits, Kenney shifted gears. He stopped showing up at Dr. Hinshaw’s press conferences and his government ostensibly shifted toward an economic recovery message. But in reality the UCP government began a game of catch-up after the pandemic delayed the United Conservative Party‘s political agenda by five-months – a political agenda designed for a pre-pandemic Alberta.
The glorious battle was over and it was time for Kenney’s government to resume its multi-front war with nurses, doctors and health care workers.
A sensible political leader would appreciate that picking a very public fight with health care workers in the middle of a global pandemic is a bad way to run a government. But despite his falling approval ratings, Kenney appears to be moving forward as if everything has returned to normal. It clearly hasn’t.
Now the second wave of COVID-19 has hit Alberta. Dr. Hinshaw reported 800 new cases today, shattering previous records. The public health care system is showing signs of strain as nurses and health care workers are over-worked and understaffed, and COVID outbreaks are being reported at hospitals around the province.
The beaches are being stormed, but, unlike eight months ago, Kenney is no longer showing up at Dr. Hinshaw’s press conferences, confidently quoting Churchill or comparing Albertans to buffalo stampeding together through a thunder storm.
Before there were “I love Canadian Oil and Gas” posters in the window of the Premier’s Communications Office at the Alberta Legislature there were “I love Alberta beef” stickers on the bumpers of trucks and cars across Alberta.
Albertans rallied behind the wildly popular ‘I love Alberta Beef’ campaign during the Mad Cow disease outbreak that devastated the industry in the mid-2000s. Albertans flocked to grocery stores and butch shops to buy Alberta beef in support of the ranchers and cattlemen who raise the cattle.
I was reminded of the pro-Alberta beef campaign last week when the Cargill meat-packing plant reopened after weeks of closure after a COVID-19 outbreak. While Alberta’s Conservative politicians can be counted on to jump at the chance to demonstrate their love for Alberta beef, they have done little to show their support for the workers who work in Alberta’s largest meat-packing plants.
The Cargill plant has the dubious distinction of having the largest workplace COVID-19 outbreak in North America, with more than 900 workers infected and more than 500 community infections connected to the factory. Two workers – Hiep Bui and Benito Quesada and one family member of a worker – Armando Sallegue – have died from COVID-19.
Days before the plant was shut down, we are told that workers were reassured by Agriculture and Forestry Minister Devin Dreeshen and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw that the factory was safe, despite warnings from the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401, which represents workers at the Cargill factory.
It was revealed last week that Cargill was not complying with Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety laws when the privately-owned American corporation failed to consult with workers at the plant. It was also revealed last month that the government OHS inspections were not conducted in person but over video chat.
The safety and health of workers at Cargill, and the JBS meat packing plant in Brooks, remains an ongoing concern. And workplace safety is especially important as restrictions are set to be lifted and business are expected to open tomorrow as part of the government’s “relaunch.”
Citing concerns about infection rates, compliance with public health orders, and vague guidance provided by the government, the Alberta Federation of Labour is urging the government to delay the staged re-opening of the Alberta economy by at least one month.
“We need to use that time to develop and implement enforceable measures that will keep working Albertans safe as they return to their jobs,” said AFL President Gil McGowan in a press release today.
“If we don’t do more to address the government’s blind spot on workplace health and safety, more people will get infected, more people will die and we’ll increase the likelihood of a second wave of infection that will necessitate a return to economically damaging and social demanding lock-down measures,” McGowan said.
The safety of Albertans returning to work should be paramount. Whether they are nurses, physicians, healthcare workers, grocery store employees or truck drivers who have stayed on the job, or workers returning to their jobs at childcare centres, restaurants and hair salons, they should not only be provided with proper personal protective equipment but should be guaranteed paid sick leave and job protection.
Premier Jason Kenney recently travelled to Fort McMurray to survey damage caused by spring flooding in northern Alberta’s oil capital, but he does not appear to have been spotted anywhere near the COVID-19 infected southern Albertan meat packing plants.
A centrepiece of Kenney’s first year in the Premier’s Officer has been his enthusiastic and aggressive support oil and gas workers, though his deference to Imperial Oil after a similar COVID-19 outbreak at its Kearl Lake work camp puts that into question. Another outbreak was declared today at the Horizon Oil Sands work camp operated by Canadian Natural Resources Limited.
Dreeshen announced financial support for cattle farmers impacted by meat processing delays caused by the COVID-19 outbreak at then plants, but the government has been unwilling to criticize the large meat-packing corporations or workplace conditions that contributed to so many dying and ill workers.
At the very least, the Alberta government should launch a public inquiry chaired by a retired judge who can conduct a fulsome public investigation into what is going on at Alberta’s meat packing plants. Anything less than a full public inquiry could let the corporations and politicians involved off the hook for the decisions they made that impacted workplace safety at Alberta’s meat-packing plants during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Albertans have shown their love for and take pride in Alberta beef. Now it’s time to demand our political leaders show their support for the workers who actually package it before we eat it.
Kenney took to the stage in the Legislature press room and delivered a 54-minute long PowerPoint presentation during which he meandered and was clearly unprepared and unfamiliar with the content of the presentation. At many points during the press conference he was simply reading the text on the slides.
It was one of the strangest press conferences I have ever seen and it was a stark contrast from his clear and concise messaging from the night before.
We should all be a little more forgiving of our political leaders as they respond to crises in the moment, but it was clear that the Premier was wading into unfamiliar territory the moment he clicked on the first slide.
It was perhaps a case of too much micro-managing on Kenney’s part.
Usually a pretty competent political communicator, Kenney’s performance has been all over the map during the COVID-19 pandemic. While it appears clear that he would like more media focus on the government’s economic and political agenda, the Premier should leave the scientific presentations to the public health and medical professionals, like Dr. Deena Hinshaw and Dr. Verna Yiu.