The United Conservative Party of Alberta (UCP) has lost all authority to govern. It is actively complicit in the deaths of thousands of Albertans. To end this chaos, it is vital to bring down the UCP government.
Throughout the entire pandemic, Jason Kenney and the UCP have bumbled from wave to wave, refusing to anticipate or react to anything that wasn’t directly under their noses. In May, just five short months ago, Alberta had the dubious honour of having the highest per capita rate of COVID-19 in all of North America. Kenney and the UCP haven’t learned a single thing during the pandemic, and now here we are a few months later with COVID-19 cases out of control, skyrocketing death rates, and people in the province forced into yet another lockdown.
‘Best summer ever’
On June 29, Chief Medical Officer of Health (CMOH), Deena Hinshaw announced that the province would move forward with Stage 3 reopening plans. In other words, nearly all restrictions would be lifted just in time for Canada Day and the Calgary Stampede.
While case rates were low in late June following tighter restrictions implemented in early May, experts warned that lifting restrictions completely while Alberta’s rate of fully vaccinated individuals hovered at an abysmal 38 per cent could result in disaster as schools reopened and cold weather pushed people inside. So if it wasn’t empirical evidence and research, or even experience from the previous waves that informed the choice to remove all public health measures the millisecond Alberta’s case rates dropped, who thought this was a good idea?
Jason Kenney and his UCP cronies. That’s who thought it was a good idea.
Instead of putting one ounce of thought or foresight into the possible devastating effects of opening the floodgates too quickly, Kenney was lost in a fanciful daydream: one of slipping on his cowboy boots and ten gallon, jumping on a horse, and galloping through the rest of his premiership being hailed as the best leader Alberta has ever had. He could not pass up the opportunity to open the province in preparation for the Calgary Stampede, an event meant to kick off what Kenney called the “best summer ever”.
This isn’t just because he hoped that burnt pancakes and Prairie nostalgia would convince Albertans to forgive him for his deadly missteps of the previous 16 months. The Calgary Stampede has long hosted politicians looking for fundraising opportunities. Given that the NDP has out-fundraised the UCP since the first quarter of 2020, Kenney was probably feeling the heat.
As the summer progressed and case counts rose, the pressure to bring back health restrictions also grew. But instead of heading off a potential fourth wave, on July 28 Dr. Hinshaw announced the plan to treat COVID-19 as endemic, while ending contact tracing, mass testing, and isolation requirements. Just so that everyone is on the same page here, the UCP claimed that to avoid overwhelming health-care infrastructure in the province, the very restrictions and services that slow the spread of COVID-19 should be lifted, and that this would somehow safeguard hospitals. It doesn’t take a mathematician to see how that doesn’t add up.
As cases continued to rise, Albertans demanded transparency as to how the decision to abandon all restrictions was made. What did they get? CMOH Hinshaw pinky-promised that modelling data would be available at some point in the future and that her team was hard at work synthesizing it for public consumption. In other words, either Albertans are too stupid to understand the information, or the government knew that Albertans would very clearly understand that the modelling data did not align with the decision. Luckily, we don’t have to guess. After more than a month of public pressure, the data was released and criticized by health experts. The premise was that more vaccine uptake would cause case counts and hospitalizations to “decouple”, meaning hospitals would not be overrun. A professor at the University of Victoria who is part of the B.C. COVID-19 Modelling Group, Dean Karlen, pointed out: “There wasn’t really much of a basis to assume this decoupling would happen.”
The release also emphasized other health concerns in Alberta in relation to COVID-19, such as low cancer screening rates, opioid deaths, and spiking syphilis rates. What is notably absent in the document, however, is an acknowledgement of the direct hand the UCP has played in exacerbating these issues. From the cancellation of an Edmonton-based superlab that would bring medical testing under the public sector, to the shuttering of Canada’s busiest safe consumption site in Lethbridge, the UCP is using crises they have actively made worse as a shield from COVID-related criticism.
Who can really blame the provincial government for their gross negligence and deadly oversights, though? The UCP was pretty tied up all summer fighting nurses and doctors to make time to justify their criminal actions to lowly constituents.
As per usual, the UCP waited until the eleventh hour to acknowledge the absolute absurdity and failure of their plan. But this time they missed their alarm. On Aug. 13, just three days before the remaining COVID-19 health restrictions were to be lifted,, Deena Hinshaw once again took to the podium to backpedal on the previous July 28 announcement, stating that initial modelling predicted 90 Albertans in hospital with the virus and that hospitalizations were trending “somewhat higher” than anticipated. What does “somewhat higher” mean to the UCP? Sixty-two per cent (!) higher than projected, with 146 people in hospital. Because of this, the lifting of health restrictions was postponed until the end of September.
During Kenney’s untimely 2-3 week absence in August, Alberta saw ICU admissions quadruple, with 12,290 active cases, 465 in hospital and 107 in ICU. While Kenney was busy vacationing, ensuring that he didn’t “burn out,” nurses were informed that they would soon be required to work mandatory overtime and prepare to invoke emergency triage protocols.
Upon Kenney’s return, the health-care system was beginning its collapse and vaccine uptake had slowed to a crawl. Instead of doing anything that made a shred of sense, Kenney announced that Alberta would offer a $100 incentive to get the jab. This program would see an estimated $20 million in taxpayer money evaporate—if it worked.
In the same press conference, Kenney is quoted as saying: “If the choice is between a sustained crisis in our hospitals or, God forbid, widespread restrictions, which I want to avoid at all costs, or finding some way to get the attention of those vaccine latecomers, we’re going to choose the latter.”
Funnily enough, a $100 gift card was not the silver bullet Kenney hoped it would be, and he struck out on all three counts. While there was a very small uptick in vaccinations, the delta variant continued to spread aggressively until the health-care system really did collapse.
The Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary announced on Sept. 16 that 75 per cent of operating rooms are closed and they have been reduced to “life and limb procedures only”. Major hospitals in Edmonton experienced morgue capacity strain over the weekend of Sept. 18-19. Health-care union leaders have called upon the government to request military support with the fourth wave. The UCP did request help from the federal government, but they waited until the federal election was over in order to not embarrass the federal Conservative Party even more. The provincial government is banging on the doors of provinces across the country to take ICU patients, and the closest to accept Alberta’s patients is Ontario. Countless Albertans have had life-saving surgery cancelled. There have been ambulance shortages in Edmonton and Calgary. The UCP once again finds itself with the blood of Albertans on its hands.
Like a rat backed into a corner, Kenney finally faced the public to declare a state of public health emergency and address the nightmare going on in the province he is supposed to manage. After months of pressure on the UCP to introduce a vaccine passport, Kenney cracked. This despite his rallying cry from behind a pancake cooktop at the Stampede that Alberta would never see a vaccine passport, and the fact that the UCP was fundraising on the basis of preventing any passport system! In order to face all directions at once and salvage even a shred of support from his shrinking base, the vaccine passport is not actually a vaccine passport according to Kenney, but rather a “restrictions (!) exemption (!) program (!)”.
In a fashion we’ve come to know and expect from the UCP government, the rollout of this program and its patchwork of restrictions has been abysmal. Kenney has, once again, resorted to semi-restrictions and flip-flopping, with inconsistent measures for vaccinated and unvaccinated, restaurants that serve alcohol and those which don’t, when to distance and when to not distance, which businesses can opt out and which can’t. Decoding this “plan” is almost as painful as listening to Kenney dodge questions and shirk responsibility at press conferences. That is, when he actually bothers to show up.
Of course, Jason Kenney isn’t content to only waste Albertans’ time by forcing them to solve a series of complex riddles just to understand the latest restrictions. Following the news that proof of vaccination would be required in less than a week, the MyHealth website was overloaded with traffic—something that surely could have been anticipated. Albertans waited in queues over 100,000 people long. Just one day before the restrictions exemption program came into effect, a simpler, faster, and less headache-inducing website was launched specifically for Albertans to access a printable card with their vaccine status. This would be great if the PDF document was not fully editable. No, that’s not a typo. The provincial government of Alberta is so unbelievably incompetent that they released vaccine records that could be edited by anyone with access to a computer or smartphone. Perhaps instead of handing out tax dollars in exchange for vaccinations, the UCP should consider putting that money into preparing for programs and restrictions before simply announcing them on live television and expecting things to work themselves out.
Dumpster fire government
The “best summer ever” has paved the way for the worst fall ever and it is the fault of the entire UCP government. Kenney has a major accountability problem and has only once apologized for his handling of the pandemic—which he retracted in a matter of five minutes, seemingly when his eyes left the teleprompter. Kenney consistently relies on excuses and bald-faced lies when faced with any criticism. With health-care workers on the verge of collapse from fatigue due to long hours and emotional strain during the pandemic, Kenney has said, “I was on vacation so I didn’t burn out.” Incredibly, according to Kenney, “No one could have predicted the fourth wave” and “There was just nothing we could do.” Everyone is sick and tired of hearing the same things over and over again from their overgrown toddler of a premier.
It’s not just Albertans who are fed up with Jason Kenney’s behaviour throughout the entirety of the pandemic. There’s an uprising brewing beneath the surface of the UCP caucus, a phenomenon that Kenney is very familiar with at this point. The latest round of MLAs, insiders and bureaucrats are openly breaking from the party line saying that Kenney waited too long to act on the fourth wave, with some demanding his resignation. Richard Gotfried publicly criticized Kenney, stating “the words ‘never,’ ‘passport’ and ‘open for good’ may go down in embarrassment and infamy.” Kenney’s press secretary publicly fired back at Gotfried, saying that the UCP has always done the right thing at the right moment and never made any mistakes. The UCP’s website was mysteriously down for two days, then scrubbed of all content a few days after the lockdown was announced. In an attempt to save face and halt the calls for his resignation, Kenney has shifted Tyler Shandro from minister of health to minister of labour and immigration, but this has not had the calming effect he hoped for.
The division runs from top to bottom. According to the Western Standard, a right-wing website run by former Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt, more than 30 UCP constituencies are voting to secure an early leadership review, with local UCP presidents leading the charge. The constituency of Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills has already voted in favour of this by a margin of 27 to one. Even the UCP VP of policy has now come out and called for Kenney to resign. Kenney is already slated for a review six months before the next scheduled election, but his own party is not inclined to wait.
Jason Kenney has no way out no matter where he turns. He has the lowest approval rating of any provincial leader in Canada at just 31 per cent, and internal party divisions are threatening to tear the UCP into its constituent parts. To save lives and end this sorry experiment, the UCP government must be brought down. Scandalously, Rachel Notley and the Alberta New Democratic Party (NDP) are stuck in the mentality of the loyal parliamentary opposition waiting for the next election and have not even called for Kenney’s resignation, a demand that even much of the UCP would agree with!
Kenney’s resignation would not be nearly enough. In their short tenure, the entire UCP has demonstrated again and again that they are unfit to rule. While Kenney may have been their kingmaker, the vast majority of MLAs and higher-ups in the party have stood by and actively supported insane and murderous policies. If Kenney were to resign and hand the reins to a successor, nothing would fundamentally change about the direction of the government.
We cannot wait two years for another election to get rid of the UCP. Too many people are needlessly dying right now. Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) president Gil McGowan recently described the UCP’s pandemic response as “government negligence causing death.” This is absolutely correct. This murderous regime must be ended with the power of the working class. Last year, in response to the Oct. 26 wildcat strike, the AFL launched the “Stand up to Kenney” campaign and recently the Canadian Union of Public Employees in Alberta, an affiliate of the AFL, have created the campaign to “Fire the UCP”. These campaigns have been preoccupied with small protests like organizing email blitzes to UCP MLAs, and writing in chalk outside their offices. The stakes have been raised and the situation now demands more radical tactics. Currently the “Stand up to Kenney campaign” has no upcoming events!
All signs show that any movement against the government would have immense public support. People are sick of riding the UCP’s COVID rollercoaster. Alberta’s nurses have been asking their union president, “When is the strike vote?” Teachers in several smaller
school divisions have voted to go on strike. Even doctors have voted 98 per cent no confidence in the former health minister Shandro. The call for an Alberta general strike has been intermittently trending on Twitter for more than a year. The anger towards the government has never been greater, and all that is needed is an ounce of leadership. If the AFL set out a bold plan for a one-day stay-at-home strike to bring down the UCP, the response would be massive and the UCP government could be brought down.
There is an incredible desire to fight the UCP, The entire situation sits on a razor’s edge. The anger is boiling over and is looking for a point of application. It’s time to act.
Fire the UCP!
For a one-day stay-at-home general strike to bring down the UCP!