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The COVID-19 virus continues to evolve, as the breathtaking spread of the Omicron variant is reminding us right now. But when it comes to our political leaders and their ability to react to these new threats, some of them seem to be going in the other direction.

Back in March 2020, some pundits (including yours truly) gave Ontario Premier Doug Ford credit for working constructively with the federal government and appearing to behave like a competent and empathetic leader. But in the months that followed, it became clear Ford was little more than a sentient weather vane waiting for the winds of public opinion to shift and then pointing his government belatedly in that direction.

Now, with Omicron, he’s taken that approach to an even more irresponsible level. According to a report from Queen’s Park Today, the Progressive Conservatives’ internal pollster decided to field test some ideas in advance of the latest round of new restrictions announced Wednesday. Survey respondents were asked whether they supported shuttering large public venues, reducing capacity at small businesses, delaying the return of in-class education, making vaccines mandatory for students and firing teachers, health-care workers and police officers who refuse to get vaccinated. One wonders just how much the results of this poll, and the answers to those questions, informed the government’s response.

Poll-based policymaking is a bad idea at the best of times, and we’re certainly not in good-time mode right now. But the speed at which this variant spreads and the degree to which it seems poised to overwhelm our health-care system make this approach even more reckless and irresponsible. Public opinion cannot possibly keep up with this variant, and by the time it does, the damage will already be done and counted. Trying to use polling to figure out the best way forward here is like trying to use a divining rod to navigate rush hour traffic on the 401 highway.

If it’s any consolation to Ontarians — and it probably isn’t — Ford’s approach to leadership isn’t the worst in the country right now.

As usual, that honour belongs to Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, who has once again decided to pull a reverse Gretzky and skate to where the puck definitely isn’t going. Last week, he announced his province would actually loosen restrictions, even allowing unvaccinated people to attend indoor gatherings.

“We need to go where the rest of Canada is,” he said, perhaps not realizing or caring the rest of Canada is rushing headlong in the opposite direction by announcing new restrictions and public health measures.

His logic, if you can call it that, was this decision “takes away another reason for division, with families arguing about having the unvaccinated aunt over for Christmas dinner.”

Never mind, for a moment, that the prospect of missing out on Christmas dinner might have actually encouraged said aunt to finally get vaccinated, which Kenney’s government insists is its goal. The fact he’s more concerned about the unvaccinated aunt than the nieces or nephews she might expose to the virus speaks to where his focus is right now: on the impending leadership review and the oversized slice of his rural base and caucus who refuse to get vaccinated.

Opinion: Neither premier displays any of the intestinal fortitude that’s needed to stare down anti-vaccine skeptics and do what’s required to protect our hospitals and health-care system, writes columnist @maxfawcett. #COVID19 #Omicron

In recent comments, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said that “we must learn from our past.” But her boss, Kenney, seems biologically incapable of doing so. Instead, he seems determined to make the same mistakes with this variant as he did when he recklessly reopened the province — for good, he promised people — just as the Delta variant was about to arrive.

His senior staffers clearly continue to tempt fate. They’re already bragging about Alberta’s performance at the outset of a new wave that has yet to crest. And his recent reassurance he wouldn’t be lifting restrictions on the unvaccinated if “this represented a significant risk for widespread viral spread” sounds an awful lot like the cocksure declaration that “we just don’t see that scenario” when asked about the prospect of a fourth wave at the outset of his doomed “best summer ever.”

This is what passes for leadership right now among Canada’s Conservative premiers: either Jason Kenney’s arrogant stubbornness or Doug Ford’s passive populism.

Neither displays any of the intestinal fortitude that’s needed to stare down anti-vaccine skeptics or motivate people to put their community’s needs above their own and do what’s required to protect our hospitals and health-care system. Instead, both are expressions of cowardice that put their own partisan calculations ahead of the public’s safety.

The only recourse the public has left is voting them both out of office when they get the chance.

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It might be tempting for some to say "Best Christmas ever, Jason Kenney", but my heart breaks for all the families that will suffer the tragic consequences of this lack of leadership. To paraphrase Joe Biden, for all those that will be facing an empty chair at the table at Easter supper.

I hope it's not the case but if we can learn lessons from other human populations that have experienced Omicron, January will hit Albertans (and likely Quebeckers) like a freight train. If that happens let's not allow our leaders to pretend that they weren't warned and that this all somehow came as a big surprise.

The freight train has already arrived in Quebec. They are fully expecting their health system will be overwhelmed and then overflowing by New Year's Eve. And here we are, three days before xmas. That is the speed at which Omicron is moving.

Thank you for addressing both Ontario and Alberta's Premiers. Decisions have consequences and people's wellbeing are going to pay for their illogical decisions.

june 2 2022 for Ontario. NDP and LIBs must coordinate attack on tory ridings and not split the vote AGAINST Douggi

"The only recourse the public has left is voting them both out of office when they get the chance." Sad that we have to wait for over a year for a chance to vote Kenney, et. al., out of office. Their incompetence on many issues is astounding.
They've shown nothing but incompetence on issues from school curricula to coal mining to musing about returning to the unprogressive flat tax. In the case of covid their incompetence has cost lives and it will cost more lives before wave five is over.
The most competent government Alberta has ever had was the NDP government we had from 2015 to 2019. We need to return the NDP crew to power the first chance we get.

Couldn’t agree more. Unfortunately Brian Jean may be seen as the saviour to the UCP and the insanity will continue. If Kenney remains as leader until the election Alberta stands a good chance of a NDP government. Joy oh Joy!

The problem is with an electoral system that produces "Big Tent" parties. The result is Lunatic fringes that have to be appeased. Example, CPC is now beholding to the Religious Right, that have a majority of MPs because the party is essentially unelectable outside of Rural Canada. We have Slow Moe in Saskatchewan bending over backwards to appease the anti vax nutters. Proportional Rep would produce legislatures where coalitions on issues are made out in the open, not in the backrooms.

This is all true. But I often wonder where the NDP, among other parties, went wrong to let Conservatives get a stranglehold on the rural with their vicious pseudo-cultural warfare. Rural voters elected Tommy Douglas. Rural voters built co-operatives. Rural voters created what became the Wheat Board. How is it that left wing and centrist political parties have not been able to articulate and communicate a serious vision for rural Canada for decades now? It's not like rural Canada has no needs that a progressive vision could help with. Corporate dominance has decimated farming communities, and the left has largely ignored it.

In mentioning the "biological incapability" of Kenney to learn from his mistakes, Max nails the reason why conservatives are truly more dangerous all the time, which should be stated far more often in far more contexts, like a mantra. ABC. ABC. ABC.
Because they just don't get it, never have. They still don't REALLY think homosexuality is anything other than a "lifestyle" or that climate change is a big deal, or this pandemic, or even that women are equal and abortion is a personal choice.
Theirs can be seen as an alternate reality with all that entails, including an alternate authority, just like religion, so it's not just a coincidence that believers are disproportionately found in their ranks. They've become their own cult of "proud boys" with eyes only for "the prize" of power. Power for its own sake as a huge ego booster, but also for the public sanction that election provides for the massive, shared delusion that supports the highly influential religious right.
Recall that sing-song delivery Ford gives when he's waxing "responsible and caring," or Kenney's faux furrowed brow to show real "concern." Both remind me of schoolboys before the principal, or their mothers, or a priest. They are avid traditionalists.
And then there's their matching block heads and no necks. It's like they're "square" in every sense of the word.

My insights almost exactly Tris. I would only wish to emphasise that part of their appeal comes from the rather sad fact that their 'alternative version of reality' has been the dominant one in the west for well over two centuries.
Fathers who often did squat in terms of care were the automatic 'heads of the household', men in skirts (officially celibate priests) legislated for women and children regarding reproductive duty and obedience to authority, white men everywhere could almost automatically assume they'd rise to positions of power...without having to do much, or know much, about what the duchies they ruled actually needed.

It's imperial patriarchy that's on the defensive now...and in millions of good people, it seems like the only answer to an increasingly scary world. That its exactly the hierachical system that has raped and pillaged with impunity, while being too intoxicated with their own power to see the climate consequences of what they do, escapes many folks raised in that religion.

And it is at bottom a religion. Offended and determined to act against those of us who 'don't know our place'. We banned conversion therapy in Ottawa recently. How many of us realize we've been practicing one form of 'conversion therapy' on the earth's indigenous people for centuries???

And once the horror becomes visible, like a pop out third dimension in a photo we thought we knew by heart....what do we do to reclaim real values??? The ones we thought we had aren't working....but dopes like Kenney and Ford continue to try to work the death if necessary.

Indeed, well said, and to the death is no problem either when there's confession and a heaven....

With the rise of Omicron my wife and I will have to reduce our gifting. We have discussed driving to the Crowsnest Pass to collect some of the loose lumps of coal found there. We would like to send them to Kenney, et. al., for xmas. But alas, they've made that somewhat dangerous.

I feel very, very sympathetic for the front line health care workers. They are heroes for risking their lives for two years now, and for their understandable high rate of burn out and attrition. ICUs and emergency departments are already short-staffed, and now here comes the fifth wave, the biggest one of all, and health staff are expected to work even harder after being so abused by these goddam incompetent and ideologically blinded leaders and the anti-vaxxers and business-over-all lobbyists they cater to.

The nation will probably see a lot more portable army hospital units set up in parking lots -- in winter! -- just to cope with a huge, new influx of COVID patients. And that may be the average nation-wide. Even larger multiple tsunamis may be in store for those provinces led by premiers who are purposely risking thousands of lives to maintain a partisan political philosophy.

Doug Ford and Jason Kenney don't deserve to be merely shown the door. Please send these dangerous dudes into oblivion where they can never return to a position of control ever again and cause such widespread mayhem over people's lives.

Ford and Kenney make even Justin Trudeau look good. People like BC's Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, and Health Minister Adrian Dix are angels by comparison.

So well put, and so sad I. So many ways. We need more people like you who are willing to see things as they are, and proposing easily attainable goals.

Very well put, and thanks for writing it. Perhaps, just perhaps, other journalists will follow suit and finally hold these so-called leaders to account. It’s about time people in the media stopped taking these people at their word and begin asking some questions that matter rather than constantly lobbing softballs.

Nail on the head, there, Max!!!
But I have to say that Doug is so stupid he can't even learn from experience, which should trigger his limbic system, aka reptilian brain. Every time he finally gives in to his science experts, the rates go down, strain on the healthcare system reduces, and people are happier with his performance. That takes a special kind of stupidity, in my not so humble opinion.
Kenney's a special case, even opining in media (telegraphing permission, in my view), that *if* there were restrictions, people wouldn't obey them anyway.
He might be right about some people, and maybe he doesn't have the policing capacity to enforce the rules. But doubtless there are individuals who would obey the restrictions: they're just not being told they should restrict themselves in any way.
And then, there's the premier of Quebec, a special case, appearing confused in media as to why his basically "fully open" province is experiencing rapid spread at this time.
Ultimately, we can thank the Chief Medical Officer of Public Health in Peel Region, Dr. Kenneth Lo, for being the first to go ahead, in a somewhat murky situation regarding liability, and institute regional proscriptions beyond those set by Ford. Toronto immediately followed suit. Had that not happened, one shudders to think of how unimaginably worse all the numbers might have been: cases, deaths, and impact on a health system that was at the time being overwhelmed.

And the two Premiers want more money for healthcare after showing that they can't handle the responsibility of this nightmare we are in and will remain for some time!
If they would have handled it properly they would not need to go begging for more funds.
Just my opinion.

Google "conservative brain." We aren't just imagining the difference.