Premier Jason Kenney‘s televised address on April 7 was bleak, but he struck the right tone when warning Albertans about the pandemic.
Kenney warned that by the end of summer, the province could see as many as 800,000 COVID-19 infections, and between 400 and 3,100 deaths. Anyone listening to his speech will have heard loud and clear that this pandemic is serious and all Albertans have a role in stopping its spread.
Kenney presented a number of government measures to flatten the curve, including expanding tracking of COVID-19 contacts, encouraging and facilitating safe use of masks, stronger border screening, and stricter enforcement of quarantine rules through mobile devices.
He also warned that the provincial government’s deficit may increase to $20 billion as a result of the pandemic and economic collapse.
It is fair to say that the combined challenges of a pandemic and economic collapse facing our elected officials today are ones that have not been faced in generations. This may be why Kenney has decided to frequently invoke the words and memory of political leaders from the Second World War.
During his televised speech he quoted former American president Franklin Delano Roosevelt, telling Albertans that “the only thing we have to fear but fear itself,” and he and his ministers have frequently referred or alluded to former British prime minister Winston Churchill in their press statements and speeches in the Assembly. The government even named its “Bits and Pieces” program after a Second World War program of the same name.
Our public health care system, government, and society are mobilizing against an “invisible enemy” but while the war-inspired rhetoric is useful for signalling the importance of the situation, it can be taken too far. A public health emergency is not an armed military conflict and fighting a virus is not the same as fighting an invading army – our democratically elected representatives should be reminded of this.
It only took Kenney one breath to shift from warning about the pandemic to returning to his old trope of blaming foreign powers for Alberta’s economic condition.
The Premier repeated his criticisms of Saudi Arabia and Russia for their role in the collapse of the international price of oil on which we continue to over-rely, but then spoke about Alberta controlling its own economic destiny by investing $7.5 billion on the Keystone XL Pipeline.
Kenney is trying to project an image that he is in control of the economic situation, but clearly no one is. And his devotion to the oil and gas industry is a position he has refused to waver from during this pandemic and economic crisis.
No one can blame Kenney for the collapsing international price of oil, but he can be criticized for doubling-down on the oil industry at the expense of other sectors, like the technology companies now considering leaving Alberta.
With projections of 25 percent unemployment ahead, it would be easier to understand why his government wants to help create 7,000 trades jobs to build a pipeline if the same government had not cut funding last week that will lead to 25,000 education workers losing their jobs.
Kenney’s pipeline investment can also be seen as an attempt to save one of the three key points his United Conservative Party campaigned on in the April 2019 election. With jobs disappearing and the economy looking bleak, pipelines might be the only one of the three main campaign promises he has a hope of salvaging in the remaining three years of his term in office.