Premier Jason Kenney was always reluctant, and from a public health standpoint always late, to impose fast and hard circuit breakers when a known COVID wave was just about to crest.
He was slow and reluctant to penalize grievous violations of public health guidelines; rather, his inactions affirmed that the right to assemble (anti-mask rallies), religious freedoms (Stony Plain church) and individual rights (packed bars) had primacy over health and safety.
Jason Kenney received a lot of flak and a lot of scorn for his lacklustre approach and Alberta’s dismal COVID results, but he took it on the chin for us, his rural and libertarian base. He never lost his focus, either, to slay the deficit even as the pandemic continued to rage.
So, what did rural Alberta MLAs do for him—16 turned on their leader and broke rank to deny the seriousness of the third wave.
I don’t believe for a minute that Premier Kenney wanted to do this third lockdown. I believe in his heart he continues to hope and pray that this virus will start acting like a simple flu, run its course and go away.
Unfortunately, as Premier, he daily sees evidence of rising inflection rates, a growing shortage of hospital beds, medical staff burnout and deaths, numbers that 16 MLAs and many in rural Albertans are just not prepared to consider. We just want our individual freedom to do whatever we want, whenever we want, however we want.
Unfortunately, our Premier could no longer ignore reality. Even as his 16 MLAs are demanding regional lockdowns, he knows citizens travelling between areas with restrictions and those without would continue, and would in all probability increase travel to non-restricted rural areas.
Kenney reluctantly accepted that our medical professionals and health care providers aren’t widgets that you can push and push for more production without major consequences. He’s learning that these medical ‘widgets’ aren’t just reproduced when you need more, that actually those working in ICUs have multiple years of experience to reach their current levels of expertise.
Lockdowns are not only intended to save lives, but are intended to keep our hospitals functional so that elective surgeries can continue—and that includes elective surgeries for rural and libertarian patients.
Kenney wasn’t prepared for a hard run. After being in Ottawa for decades, he thought Alberta would be a cake walk only reinforced by his overwhelming election victory. Pander to rural Alberta, bow to the oil industry, slash the budget, take out unions and professional associations (doctors, nurses, teachers) and hammer Justin Trudeau. A winning strategy, guaranteeing his name would join the ranks of our beloved former premiers, Peter Lougheed and Ralph Klein.
What he forgot was to live in the present, rather than the past—or the future. Both Klein and Lougheed operated in the present, not the ‘hopeful’ world. Both made good decisions and some bad decisions, but their success came through righting bad decisions or making complete U-turns when necessary.
Neither man had a carved-in-stone master plan that couldn’t be adjusted when circumstances changed. What Premier Klein promised in an election during a boom was significantly different in practice when bust years unexpectedly swamped Alberta.
The reason we are in the mess we are in today and the general malaise that has settled over the province is because Kenney tried so hard to play down the virus to please his now 16 dissenting MLAs, libertarians and his rural base—and failed.
Turns out Premier Kenney isn’t more powerful than the virus, and so today he finds himself in the unenviable position of pleasing no one.