Albertans must focus on policy rather than scandals

Jason Kenney's policies are more dangerous than his personal actions.

The premier and his colleagues broke some COVID-19 rules — get over it. 

The infamous photograph from June 1 showed Jason Kenney and his cabinet ministers Jason Nixon, Travis Toews, and Tyler Shandro sharing a dinner on the terrace of a federal building in Edmonton, known as the “Sky Palace.” The release of the image was followed by criticism from politicians across party lines, and citizens alike. 

Seeing Jason Kenney and his ministers meet for a non COVID-compliant dinner felt virtually predictable because time and again, the United Conservative Party (UCP) has made it clear how they intend to approach the pandemic; pretend the virus has disappeared up until the very point our healthcare system is on the brink of collapse.    

Is anyone in the province honestly surprised about the incident? Sure, maybe the first couple of government officials taking Christmas trips was a punch in the gut, especially for those who gave up spending the holidays with grandparents and moved-out siblings. 

The party made their disregard for the pandemic clear when 18 UCP MLAs openly condemned public health measures in a letter; they made it clear in November 2020 when  Kenney questioned the effectiveness of a province-wide mask mandate, asking in a virtual town hall “why would we do something that’s counterproductive,” and the UCP made it most clear when they consistently waited until the last minute to respond to experts’ pleas for restrictions. 

Remember back in the fall when the positive cases relentlessly climbed to new records with no real response from the government? Only when the province hit an astounding 1,879 cases recored in a single day did the government announce strict lockdown-style restrictions in December.

Up until that point, retail stores were still open at limited capacity and indoor dining was still permitted. The third wave that just passed is a similar story. The UCP has shown it’s incapable or unwilling to meet the situation’s severity with needed action. With such a disappointing public response, what else was to be expected from their own private actions?  

Here’s the danger of taking up so much time and energy on the Sky Palace controversy: it turns the public’s attention away from the policies and guidelines the government is implementing, the ones that impact Albertans in a very real sense. Shouldn’t the scrutiny be focused on the countless flaws in the province’s reopening process? 

Take for example, how the move from stage one to stage two was only separated by nine days, short of the 14 days it can take for symptoms of new infections to start showing. The upgrade to stage 2 was based on 60 per cent of eligible Albertans being vaccinated and of course, that is cause for celebration. The problem is that in the short term, vaccination rates will outpace the lag of infection rates, leading to potential premature relaxation of restrictions. 

The recent past shows how quickly the virus can go from being under control to wreaking havoc on the health care system, not to mention the lives lost. Also, considering part of the criteria for moving to new stages is based on hospitalization numbers, which is indirectly based on positive cases, is it really sensible that the reopening plan doesn’t include a 14 day gap requirement between stages? 

The Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association (EZMSA) also brings up the fact that using the one-dose approach puts the province at risk for a fourth wave if restrictions are forgotten so quickly. Compared to the threat of another surge, continuing to wear masks until second doses are widely administered is well worth it. EZMSA recommends waiting until at least 70 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated before lifting mask mandates. 

The pandemic has been tough. Some of us haven’t been in close contact with anyone outside of our families in months, some decided to leave the workforce to protect immunocompromised family members, some children haven’t socialized with others their age since the end of last summer — we’ve sacrificed a lot.

So, when a picture of the man who’s supposed to be leading us out of the pandemic shows him breaking the very rules he announced, the very rules meant to “stop the spike,” extended public outrage is understandable, justifiable, but unfortunately, not affordable.  

The current government’s rushed approach to the pandemic is putting people’s health and livelihoods in jeopardy. With so many reasons to advocate for a better pandemic response plan and so much at stake, there isn’t time to dwell on the poor choices of our leaders. Holding the premier and his ministers accountable is important, but Albertans need to remember that the dinner is just a small reflection of the bigger problem we face.

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