Doing my research on the irrational UCP government April 18-25, 2021

This post originally appeared in my weekly newsletter, “The Missive” on Aug.15, 2021. Subscribe for free at: https://jodymacpherson.substack.com/ or access background info and special content with a paid subscription.

A lot happened this week. You are forgiven if you don’t recall it all. I know I would like to forget most of the irrational decisions by Jason Kenney and his UCP government which seem to get more desperate and destructive every week.

Nevertheless, we can’t let their actions go unnoticed, no matter how gruelling and depressing it is. The impacts on real people are often harmful and documenting them is important for the historical record.

Let’s start with harmful things like this:

Harmful like the flippant message from MLA Angela Pitt who posted “get your vaccine or not…do your research and do what’s right for you” at around the same time as Dr. Deena Hinshaw was photographed getting the vaccine and posting about how important it is to get vaccinated to “protect us all.”

Pitt has obviously done her research–on right wing news sites–if she thinks it’s best to encourage people to think only of themselves, instead of listening to doctors across the province.

Of course, Pitt is no friend of doctors right now. The Airdrie Community Physicians Association has penned a letter to her already and they are not fans.

“To suggest that public health measures do anything other than protect our community endangers the very people who elected them.”

Airdire Community Physicians Association

The government started the week with a lot of gusto, putting out four statements on Monday (April 19) but by the end of the week the Premier didn’t even bother to appear at the Friday news conference. Minister Tyler Shandro showed up and appeared very shaky on what the COVID plans were.

There were 20 official news releases, including some major announcements by mid-week, including news that Alberta would be following Doug Ford’s lead by lowering the AstraZeneca vaccine eligibility to those 40 years of age and older.

This was before the National Advisory Committee on Immunization actually released their recommendation on Friday. Their recommendation was to lower the age to 30 years and up. Health Canada has already approved the vaccine for 18 years and up. It seems that Kenney and the COVID heads in charge are following Ford’s lead instead of the scientists. And their “split the difference approach” is extremely alarming, knowing what was happening in Ontario this week.

Lowering the age for the AstraZeneca vaccine is good but overall, the government’s haphazard vaccination strategy that STILL doesn’t prioritize many who are at risk (ie. Teachers), is the definition of negligence.

Case in point: vaccines were cancelled this week for factory workers like those at the Cargill plant (the site of the largest outbreak in Canada – 950 people tested positive). Cargill faces a criminal investigation, the first known case in Canada of police investigating a workplace-related COVID-19 death. There is also a proposed class-action lawsuit.

Also worth noting is good research by Kim Siever who found that Education Minister Adriana LaGrange is related to the General Manager of the same Cargill plant. So, the company’s local management has a direct family relationship with a UCP cabinet minister. Hard to know what to think about this connection but appreciate the fact that Siever is keeping track.

On Monday, Kenney tweeted hilariously, “oil is not dead” referring to a story on CTV News about first quarter demand recovery for oil prices. This announcement was captured quite accurately by one of my favourite Twitter accounts:

Of course, all eyes were on the federal government on Monday with the release of the budget. We all know how irate Kenney and the UCP are about anything Trudeau does, good or bad. This was obvious in the release from Finance Minister Travis Toews.

Specifically, the announcement of a long overdue national childcare plan was quickly panned by Toews saying it “lacks flexibility.” Perhaps what he means is that he needs more time to invent another reason for Albertans to be outraged at the feds. It’s tiresome that this government is so transparently partisan even when families stand to benefit, however modestly.

On Tuesday, the government streamed a live news conference update on COVID without mentioning the fact that both Edmonton school boards would be moving to online learning for grades 7-12. Both school boards were publicly announcing the request and the approval from Alberta Education WHILE the government was releasing its COVID update with no mention of it at all. Following the news conference, Education Minister confirmed the shift to at-home learning in a statement.

It stretches credulity that Kenney and Dr. Hinshaw would not know about the Edmonton school boards at the time of the news conference. More likely than not, they were trying to get out of acknowledging the setback in their newser. This is a timing trick employed in media relations to avoid putting spokespeople on the hot seat, likely because they had other things they wanted to talk about.

If you watch the video of the news conference, you’ll find the inclusion of a UCP-friendly columnist Licia Corbella in the line-up to ask questions about – NOT COVID – but the government’s carbon tax plans and carbon capture technology. Kenney used the opportunity to slam the NDP and the federal government. Nothing says partisanship like using up precious media time in a public health crisis to push your political agenda instead.

On Wednesday, the government finally came through with three hours of paid leave for COVID-19 vaccinations. The bill was passed with unanimous support before the end of the week. Have I mentioned we are still waiting for sick leave legislation though, which could have tremendous impact on preventing the spread of infection?

Perhaps Kenney is waiting to see what Ford will do? Despite Ford’s tearful news conference this week, he hasn’t yet found his humanity enough to consider the toll on workers unable to take time off work due to sickness. Or the impact on infection numbers due to sick workers who can’t afford to stay home.

After failing to protect workers, the government announced new measures the next day to protect healthcare providers from being sued for anything except “gross negligence.”

The protection is backdated to the beginning of the pandemic. Jeremy Appel wrote a fantastic piece about this in The Sprawl. The move raises questions about lobbying efforts by the Alberta Continuing Care Association and political connections with the government. The union representing workers at one large company, AgeCare says the company has put employees and residents at risk.

It’s concerning that the government prioritized protecting large corporations but still hasn’t committed nearly enough to protect actual people.

On Thursday, there was also news of a pause in coal exploration on Category 2 lands from Energy Minister Sonya Savage. The reason given was that the 25,000 survey responses from Albertans giving feedback on the coal policy “revealed significant concerns.” At first it seemed like they were going to expand the consultation to be more robust.

Not surprisingly though, Savage backtracked again in the news conference saying, “it’s not about the broader land use planning initiatives, it’s not about the broader water allocations downstream…” The Alberta government release however states the consultation WILL involve a “broader policy discussion.” The contradiction doesn’t make sense.

The Alberta Wilderness Association’s Dr. Ian Urquhart commented in their release, “coal policy is land use planning and so too is water allocation when changes to the land uses will require changes to the allocation of water.” Makes perfect sense.

Alas, one astute tweeter pointed out that the coal cancellation came on the heels of some pretty damning information about the UCP’s fundraising numbers so far this year. Could this be connected and explain why they can’t even get their messaging straight?

In other concerning news this week:

  • The Enoch Cree Nation announced a shutdown of all but essential services on the nation land this week west of Edmonton. They now have a sudden spike in COVID-19 cases in the community. You may recall Grace Life church supporters trespassed on Enoch land last week and things turned violent.
  • The government has emailed people to quietly let them know that the Online Reference Centre will be discontinued after June 30. This was a much-loved resource for students and families, and it seems like removing digital resources at this time is extremely irrational.
  • The government has said it will replace the Apprenticeship and Industry Training Act with a new Skilled Trades and Apprenticeship Education Act. Kim Siever did an analysis of the old and the new and found the new legislation has completely removed all references to both local apprenticeship committees and a provincial apprenticeship committee.
  • Post Media is reporting as of Saturday there is a COVID-19 testing backlog with bookings available only four or five days out. Contact tracing appears to be lagging as well, according to unverified reports on social media.

One of the worst examples of Kenney’s lack of leadership this week came when NDP MLA Kathleen Ganley asked a question about the government’s fiscal policy. Instead of answering, Kenney pivoted to ask Ganley about a tweet she had sent where she used the phrase “mediocre white dude.”

Kenney actually stood in the Legislature and – on the record – asked her if this was not a “racist” remark. The presumption here is that “whiteness” was under attack and that her tweet was evidence of racism.

It’s hard to know where to even start with this total lack of understanding of the concept of racism, which I learned in junior high and high school in Alberta. The premier’s remark was not befitting of a person in his position.

I’d also point out that ignorance is perhaps the most charitable interpretation of this exchange. A more cynical explanation would be that Kenney is worried about the “white race” (which is a totally fictional thing) in much the same way Marjorie Taylor Greene and other white supremacists have recently blundered about publicly with their “America First Caucus” amid fears of a Great Replacement.

Either way, I’d suggest there needs to be an urgent intervention with Kenney and he should be hustled off to “racist rehab” to get the sobering facts vs fiction.

Excuse me while I look around on my browser for the good news.

Oh right, a new study of 106 European cities shows that during the pandemic, an average of 11.5 km of pop-up bike lanes have been built per city and this increased cycling between 11 and 48% on average.

“We calculate that the new infrastructure will generate between $1 and $7 billion in health benefits per year if cycling habits are sticky.”

Nope, I’m still angry about the premier’s bizarre concern about whiteness in the face of so much racial injustice. Here’s a classic Canadian song by War Party to end this week’s newsletter.

Jody MacPherson is a professional communicator, commuting cyclist (currently working from home), and is crying like Doug Ford at a news conference.

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