Alberta MLA accuses government of 'disparaging' the unvaccinated

An Alberta MLA who criticized his colleagues for breaking ranks with Jason Kenney's government has himself taken aim at its new policy on masks and vaccinations. 

Peter Guthrie says 'negative tone' of premier's recent speech feeds 'anger and division'

Airdrie-Cochrane MLA Peter Guthrie says he supports the rights of the unvaccinated to choose and condemned his own government for its 'disparaging and accusatory tone.' (Facebook)

An Alberta MLA who criticized his colleagues for breaking ranks with Jason Kenney's government has himself taken aim at its new policy on masks and vaccinations. 

Peter Guthrie, the United Conservative Party MLA for Airdrie-Cochrane, which hugs the north and west edges of Calgary, said Tuesday that the provincial government's recent announcement about renewed mask mandates and incentives for vaccinations adopted a "disparaging and accusatory tone" toward the unvaccinated.

"People refusing COVID-19 shots were painted as culpable for creating challenges to the health-care system," he wrote in a letter to constituents posted to his social media. 

Kenney on Friday said the large number of unvaccinated people in Alberta was causing problems, as cases of the delta variant rip through that population. 

"I wish we didn't have to do this, but this is not a time for moral judgments," the premier said, as he announced a $100 incentive for those receiving first or second doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. 

"We still have 30 per cent of the eligible population without full vaccine protection — that is to say, without two doses. And the delta variant is ripping its way through this group at an aggressive rate."

Guthrie did not offer specific examples from the premier's speech, but said that the "negative tone adopted by leadership" feeds "a narrative of anger and division." 

He also argued against vaccine passports and apologized to constituents for supporting the government's promise earlier this year that the province was "open for good."

Earlier this year Guthrie criticized 16 of his fellow UCP MLAs after they wrote a letter objecting to the government's return to pandemic restrictions in April. 

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CBC News has reached out to the premier's office, and to Health Minister Tyler Shandro, for comment on Guthrie's letter. 

Guthrie's office declined an interview request and said they would let the letter speak for itself.

Alberta currently leads the country in daily new COVID-19 cases and active cases. On Monday the province reported 4,903 new cases over past four days, and 17 more deaths.

Letter 'confusing'

It's unclear what Guthrie thinks should happen to stem the tide of hospitalizations.

"It was confusing," said Duane Bratt, a professor of political science at Mount Royal University in Calgary, when asked about the letter. 

"He talks about the importance of vaccination and then criticized the premier for criticizing the unvaccinated. Well, the stats back up what Kenney said. You know, the vast majority of those hospitalized in the ICU for COVID are unvaccinated. This is a crisis of the unvaccinated."

Bratt argues the letter could indicate a broader sentiment in caucus and explain why the government was unable or unwilling to bring in a more forceful measures like a vaccine passport.

Guthrie said in his letter that he is vaccinated but supports "the rights of individuals to choose for themselves."

He argues that creating division is unproductive and says the province should focus on incentivizing Albertans to get vaccinated, while also accusing it of sowing division for offering $100. 

Guthrie's proposals, presented in the letter, involve wage incentives for health-care employees, "increased use of rural facilities and the possible utilization of temporary private services" to deal with the crush of new cases.

"The degradation of our public health system and the inability to react to an evolving situation is the issue at hand, not accusing individuals who are unvaccinated," he wrote. 

Bratt said that kind of logic is faulty. 

"That would be like saying we've got a whole bunch of people in hospital because of drunk driving, but let's not blame the drunk drivers," he said.

With files from Colleen Underwood


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