Calgary

Premier Jason Kenney addresses weeks-long absence during 4th wave of pandemic

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney reappeared after a weeks-long absence on Wednesday with a Facebook live where he answered selected questions from Albertans and teased an upcoming incentive to encourage people to get vaccinated.

Kenney answered selected questions on his Facebook page, and teased an upcoming vaccine incentive

Premier Jason Kenney took questions from viewers on Facebook Live on Wednesday after weeks of vacation. The premier had been criticized by some doctors and the Opposition for his absence at a time COVID-19 cases were surging. (Jason Kenney/Facebook)

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney reappeared after a weeks-long absence on Wednesday with a Facebook livestream where he answered selected questions from Albertans and teased an upcoming incentive to encourage people to get vaccinated.

Kenney's last public appearance was 23 days ago, on Aug. 9, when he announced an expansion to the Labatt's brewing plant in Edmonton.

Since then, there have been frequent public calls from doctors and the Opposition for the premier to step in and communicate a plan to combat the surging, delta-driven fourth wave of the pandemic.

During that time, active cases and ICU hospitalizations have quadrupled; there are currently 12,290 active cases and 465 people in hospital, 107 in ICU.

In response to a viewer question about his absence, the premier said with a laugh, "I'm right here, in the McDougall Centre [the site of the premier's Calgary office], where I've been working this week." 

The premier said he has been on a summer holiday — the first lengthy vacation he's taken since 2015. He said earlier in the day, he had attended a briefing with Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw, who also has not been seen in public since Aug. 13. 

Kenney also dispelled the rumour that Hinshaw has resigned, saying she's still hard at work and not to believe everything you see on social media.

"It's important that a person in my position doesn't burn out," Kenney said, adding that during his vacation he was on his phone each day receiving regular government briefings. "I don't think people taking a bit of personal time should be a political football."

Kenney said he usually only holds news conferences when he has a significant announcement to make, often about funding, which he said could be seen as inappropriate interference during the federal election campaign.

He added that the government will hold a news conference later this week about the rapidly rising numbers of COVID-19 cases in the province.

'Hiding in plain view'

He also addressed concerns that he chose to make his first appearance after his absence on Facebook, rather than hosting a news conference that would allow reporters to freely ask questions on any topic, and follow-ups. 

"I'm hiding in plain view," Kenney joked. "Normally we get tens of thousands of viewers … I think that's public accountability right there."

Some of the questions the premier chose to answer included queries about whether the government plans to bring back a mask mandate or take further public health measures.  Kenney replied the government will monitor the situation. He was also asked how the province will encourage more people to get vaccinated.

WATCH | Jason Kenney hints he may take action to combat rising COVID-19 cases

Kenney hints about action to combat Alberta’s rising COVID-19 cases

19 days ago
1:52
After weeks of silence, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney hinted he’ll announce some measures to combat rising COVID-19 cases in the province, but likely not a vaccine passport. 1:52

The premier said there will be an announcement soon on a new and different incentive to encourage more people to get vaccinated. 

"We may have to take other measures to encourage people, the unvaccinated, to ensure they are not putting themselves in a position where they're transmitting," Kenney said.

Kenney said he continues to look at public health restrictions as a last resort. 

"Indeed, if we do see this wave jeopardizing the health-care system we may have to take some very targeted actions but nothing like lockdowns," he said.

Alberta is currently home to 38 per cent of the country's active COVID-19 cases, even though it makes up less than 12 per cent of Canada's population.

About 66 per cent of all Albertans have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, considerably lower than the national average of 73.3 per cent. 

Earlier in the day, Friends of Medicare, a public health non-profit group, issued a release calling on the premier, health minister or chief medical officer to provide a plan to mitigate the "current health crisis."

"Instead of proactive measures to contain the fourth wave, we've seen bed closures, cancellations of elective surgeries, serious staff shortages," said Sandra Azocar, the executive director of the group.

Kenney said the pandemic has been fraught with difficult decisions. 

"When this is all said and done we're going to be able to look back in the cold light of day with objectivity."

With files from Trevor Howlett

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