Premier Kenney’s Uncomfortable Bed

Damned if you do and damned if you don’t.”

“Caught between a rock and a hard place.”

There’s no shortage of well-worn clichés to describe the predicament in which Premier Jason Kenney finds himself as Alberta’s COVID numbers skyrocket, filling hospital beds and stuffing intensive care units.

A tsunami of medical misery threatens to crash over Albertans, and the premier’s options to mitigate the coming catastrophe range from crappy to crappier. I (almost) felt sorry for him yesterday evening as he plowed through a press conference announcing a suite of additional restrictions on Albertans’ freedoms — restrictions antithetical to his political soul.

After his presser, predictably, a storm of criticism erupted from all sides: from those who felt that he went too far, to those who felt he didn’t go nearly far enough; from those upset that he didn’t shut down all non-essential businesses and close all the schools (he sent grades 7–12 home), to those angered by further constraints to their lives.

Count me among the number who feel strongly that all schools should have been kept open. Our youth have led by example: they’ve done a tremendous job of masking, handwashing, and complying with schools’ distancing rules. It hasn’t been easy, and they haven’t been perfect — but overall, they’ve done extraordinarily well. And data collected before the utter collapse of Alberta’s overwhelmed contract-tracing system indicated strongly that schools aren’t significant drivers of community transmission.

Suffice it to say that if the rest of Albertans had complied with public health directives as admirably as our children, we wouldn’t be in the pickle we’re in today. Yet grade 7–12 students’ have been rewarded for their praise-worthy efforts by being banished from school, separated from their friends and classmates, and divorced from quality education. This while eateries and bars and churches remain open.

If you’re an 18 year old teenager in grade 12 you can go to church next week and pray for luck before heading off to a casino to play the slots, then stuff your face at a restaurant and cap it off with a few beers at the local pub… but you can’t go to school. Makes perfect sense. NOT.

It’s easy to take pot-shots at the premier, of course; it’s easy to carp incessantly from the sidelines. Political leadership is always tough, and too often thankless — and rarely has it been as tough and thankless as it is now, with the invisible scourge of COVID-19 inflicting nakedly visible carnage on lives and livelihoods.

But a good chunk of the blame for our current predicament rests with Mr. Kenney, it must be said. Which demands another cliché: “He’s made his bed. Now he must lie in it.”

Unprecedented crises cry out for unprecedented leadership: leadership that unifies, leadership that inspires, leadership of the sort provided by the likes of Winston Churchill. Or a Peter Lougheed, even.

But that’s not the sort of leadership we’ve received from Jason Kenney.

Instead, his approach has been to divide Albertans — to drive wedges between us. Another hoary cliché captures the dispiriting result: “United we stand, divided we fall.”

Consider, as obvious example, the full-frontal assault the premier and henchman Tyler Shandro have inflicted on doctors: an inexplicable attack that began last fall before COVID-19 entered our consciousness, but that intensified (unbelievably) as the pandemic invaded Alberta, with physicians’ contract with government ripped to shreds and doctors smeared as greedy, grasping charlatans.

(There’s one other jurisdiction in the world which went to war with its doctors in the teeth of the pandemic: that would be China, which hammered down hard on doctors who were trying to raise the alarm about the new virus.)

At the most fraught time in Alberta’s history, at a time when we’ve needed all medical hands on deck, at a time when we’ve needed doctors to be laser-focused on beating back the pandemic even as they work at increased medical risk to themselves, the premier continues to wage war on those very same doctors. I’d call it friendly fire — except it sure doesn’t feel very friendly.

On the one hand, the premier and his health minister persist in their very public attack on the province’s physicians. On the other hand, they’ve exhorted Albertans to voluntarily follow infection-control guidelines meant to curtail the spread of COVID-19 — guidelines heavily informed by the expertise of physicians.

With that sort of disconnect, is it any wonder that a large cohort of Albertans have ignored public health directives? Is it any wonder that so many Albertans have scorned the daily pleadings of Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw and have shunted aside the premier’s admonishments to “up your game” and “knock it off” as case numbers spiral sharply upward?

A premier dismissive of doctors can hardly be shocked that a large chunk of his base is dismissive of guidelines developed by doctors.

It’s Mr. Kenney, I say, who should “knock it off” and “up his game”. He should make peace with physicians, at long last, so we can jointly and properly beat back the biggest threat this province has ever faced.

Alas, I’m not hopeful he’ll see the light.

Dark days lie ahead for Albertans. Aided by the missteps of our leaders, COVID-19 is about to exact a heavy toll on Albertans.

It needn’t have come to this. But to borrow one last tired cliché: “The chickens have come home to roost.”

And there’ll be no end of squawking before this nightmare is over.

By dredles

Physician, veterinarian, father of four... the makings of a sturdy soapbox.

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