UCP MLA Barnes says compliance with COVID restrictions tied to need for 'more evidence'

UCP backbencher Drew Barnes, who has frequently spoken out against Alberta's implementation of COVID-19 restrictions, again pushed back against elements of his own party's plan on Sunday.

MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat also declines to say whether or not he has been vaccinated

Drew Barnes, UCP MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat, left, told CBC's chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton on Sunday that he's grateful the province took a regional approach to COVID-19, but still wants to see "more evidence" that restrictions work. (Helen Pike/Art Raham/CBC)

UCP backbencher Drew Barnes, who has frequently spoken out against Alberta's implementation of COVID-19 restrictions, again pushed back against elements of his own party's plan on Sunday.

"We're undergoing such a mental health, physical health, spiritual health crisis in Alberta at the same time," Barnes said in an interview that aired Sunday on Rosemary Barton Live.

"COVID is not our only challenge, so we cannot lose sight of that."

Last month, Barnes was one of 17 UCP MLAs who signed an open letter arguing against tighter COVID-19 restrictions.

"While I am pleased to see the premier move to a more regional approach, I fear that the government has once again failed to provide clear evidence for its latest restrictions," Barnes wrote in the letter.

On Sunday, he said he was grateful that the province took a more regional approach to the latest restrictions, but argued the province wasn't providing enough evidence to motivate compliance with measures.

"Compliance will be better and stronger, and our outcome will be better, if more evidence is provided," said Barnes, MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat.

CBC's chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton asked Barnes what more evidence he would need to see to encourage compliance with restrictions given the case rate and death toll in the province. 

Alberta currently has the highest active case rate in Canada and the United States.

Barnes said his constituents voiced concerns around the economic and psychological impact of restrictions, noting as an example the importance of physical exercise.

"Gyms have been closed. It's so heartbreaking the number of gyms that have gone bankrupt down here, when we know that physical health is one of the strongest ways to fight the COVID virus," Barnes said.

Experts have cited a growing body of research that indicates that aerosol transmission can drive superspreader events, and factors such as a crowded indoor space and heavy breathing from exercise can contribute to spread.

WATCH | UCP MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat Drew Barnes discusses his reaction to the latest round of COVID-19 restrictions in Alberta:

MLA questions Alberta lockdown measures

3 years ago
Duration 8:33
Featured VideoDrew Barnes, the MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat, is one of several provincial politicians who has been urging Alberta Premier Jason Kenney to avoid lockdown measures. He told CBC's chief political correspondent, Rosemary Barton, that he is happy the province is now taking a more regional approach, but he still thinks the restrictions have gone too far.

Barton also asked Barnes on three occasions whether he had been vaccinated. Barnes declined to answer each time.

"I have a personal life, but thank you for asking," Barnes said.

New public health measures

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney unveiled new public-health restrictions during a press conference held May 4, citing a need to slow the spread of COVID-19 and keep the health-care system from being overwhelmed.

As part of the new set of restrictions, all kindergarten to Grade 12 classes moved online, restaurants and bars were closed to in-person dining and outdoor gatherings were limited to five people, among other measures.

WATCH | Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announces new restrictions to slow the spread of COVID-19:

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announces new COVID-19 restrictions

3 years ago
Duration 1:48
Featured VideoMeasures announced include closing restaurants and bars to in-person dining, closing down personal care services such as hair salons and limiting outdoor gatherings to five people.

The moves were introduced, Kenney said, to "prevent a disaster from unfolding in our hospitals."

"We will not permit our health-care system to be overwhelmed. We must not, and we will not force our doctors and nurses to decide who gets care and who doesn't. And that is why we must act now to stop the spike," Kenney said during the press conference.

Lack of compliance

Over the weekend, Calgary police and RCMP took action against two organizers of a church service and a central Alberta cafe, both of which have been defying public health restrictions.

That action was taken after Alberta Health Services obtained a Court of Queen's Bench order earlier this week that applied to gatherings such as protests, demonstrations and rallies.

In an interview with Global's The West Block, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi pushed back against those who refuse to wear masks and who gather in large crowds.

"Those people at those anti-mask protests, let's not kid ourselves," Nenshi told The West Block

"They're not people who [protest because they] need to eat. They are people who are marching in thinly-veiled white nationalist supremacist, anti-government protests," he said.

Dr. Joe Vipond, an emergency room physician in Calgary, said the new restrictions announced by the province are important and will be effective, should Albertans comply with them.

WATCH | Dr. Joe Vipond, an emergency room physician in Calgary, reacts to UCP MLA Drew Barnes' interview with CBC's chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton:

Alberta sending mixed messages on COVID-19 restrictions, says physician

3 years ago
Duration 6:01
Featured VideoDr. Joe Vipond, an ER doctor in Calgary, says he has sympathy for Albertans who are confused over mixed messages from the government on whether lockdowns stop the spread of COVID-19. He says it's been damaging to the province.

"The most important thing is enforcement," Vipond said in an interview that aired Sunday on Rosemary Barton Live.

"We are in the midst of a collective action problem, a pandemic, and the idea that we can leave this to personal responsibility … when we created society, in essence, to assist each other when we're in times of need."

You can watch full episodes of Rosemary Barton Live on CBC Gem, the CBC's streaming service.

With files from Rosemary Barton Live