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.
Poking a big hole in Kenney’s decision to declare Alberta ‘reopened for good’ in time for the Calgary Stampede back in July, Hinshaw admitted the Premier’s much-promoted “Open for Summer” plan that removed nearly all public health restrictions led to the COVID-19 fourth wave that has hit Alberta.
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.