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When Jason Kenney promised Albertans the “best summer ever,” he probably didn’t imagine it would end like this.
On Friday, at his first press conference since returning from a two-week August vacation, Kenney announced a suite of new measures aimed at trying to contain the spread of the Delta variant in his province. But with Alberta now reporting nearly one-third of the total cases in the country, and its ICUs already at 95 per cent capacity, his measures will almost certainly be too little and too late.
Worse, they are a slap in the face to the millions of Albertans who have already been vaccinated. After all, while they dutifully lined up and got their jabs, those who have been holding out — and are now fuelling the pandemic’s fourth wave — will be rewarded for their recalcitrance with a $100 gift card.
Health Minister Tyler Shandro tried to spin this as an “innovative way” to increase vaccine uptake, but the truth is the UCP just made rewarding stupidity and anti-social behaviour into official government policy. Even the “prosperity bonus” that Ralph Klein handed out in 2006 looks principled by comparison.
And while Kenney told reporters “we have left no stone unturned, and yet we have the lowest vaccination rate in Canada,” the truth is there’s one stone they refuse to even look under. He and his government have repeatedly dismissed the possibility of introducing vaccine passports, which are being implemented in British Columbia, Manitoba, Quebec, and Ontario.
In Doug Ford’s province, just the news that proof of vaccinations will soon be required in order to access certain non-essential services caused a huge surge in vaccine appointments. After booking 3,479 appointments on Aug. 31, the number spiked to 7,125 the following day — nearly half of them for first doses.
Sticks like this work, and the evidence continues to grow as more jurisdictions decide to use them.
As Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases specialist at Toronto General Hospital, told Global, “When you look at the rates of vaccination, they went up pretty dramatically immediately after the announcement was made that a vaccine certificate program was going to be implemented. It happened in France, it also happened in Quebec, and then again in British Columbia.”
So why won’t Kenney look under that particular rock, given what he would find underneath it? It’s almost certainly because it would upset the very part of his base, and some MLAs in his caucus, who have already threatened to rebel against him.
Jason Kenney's decision to give anti-vaxxers $100 gift cards if they get the jab is a slap in the face to the millions of Albertans who have already been vaccinated, writes columnist @maxfawcett for @NatObserver. #COVID #ABpoli #elxn44
One of those MLAs, Airdrie’s Angela Pitt, recently signed a letter calling on her government to pass legislation “that prohibits discrimination based on private, personal health records,” and warned about “segregation of our society.”
In other words, while a recent Leger poll showed 77 per cent of Albertans support mandatory vaccinations, it’s the other 23 per cent driving government policy right now. But Kenney should probably start worrying about the rest of the province, too. After all, that same poll showed that while only four per cent of Albertans are “very satisfied” with his handling of the pandemic, 50 per cent — more than 10 times as many — are “very dissatisfied.”
All told, 65 per cent of Albertans are dissatisfied with his performance on this file, by far the highest figure in Canada.
Friday’s performance may have sealed Kenney’s political fate. After all, while it enraged those on the centre and left, his decision to re-implement a mask mandate has also provoked the far right. The real question now is whether it will have any spillover effect on Erin O’Toole’s fate as well. It wasn’t that long ago the CPC leader was praising Kenney for his management of the pandemic. “When it comes to getting our country back on track,” he said, “the federal Conservatives can learn a lot from our UCP cousins.”
If the Trudeau Liberals are looking for a way to stem O’Toole’s momentum, they should start by asking him what Canadians ought to be learning from Kenney’s handling of the pandemic. Is it the blind reliance on “personal responsibility”? The attacks on doctors and nurses? The cavalier charge into the “best summer ever”? Or the decision to bribe the unvaccinated with taxpayer dollars?
These are all questions that O’Toole should be forced to answer. If Canadians don’t like what he says, or if they start to look to Alberta as an example of what a Conservative government might look like, he may ultimately have Kenney to blame for his own downfall.
For a politician who so clearly dreams of taking Justin Trudeau down, and who openly campaigned against him in 2019, serving instead as the key to his re-election would be the bitterest of pills for Kenney to swallow.