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Some UCP MLAs pressuring government to axe proof of vaccination program immediately

Members of the United Conservative government caucus are pushing for the death of Alberta’s vaccine passport program sooner than the premier’s end-of-the-month timeline. 

Reply-all emails from caucus members slam decisions of provincial leadership

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, who is facing a leadership review in April, has been under sustained pressure from factions of his caucus to remove various public health restrictions imposed during the course of the pandemic. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Members of the United Conservative government caucus are pushing for the death of Alberta's vaccine passport program sooner than the premier's end-of-the-month timeline. 

The restrictions exemption program (REP) was brought in last fall, requiring anyone who wanted to enter specific events or businesses to show they were fully vaccinated or proof of a negative test. 

As provincial officials say the worst of the Omicron variant wave is behind us and with 86 per cent of Albertans over the age of 12 fully vaccinated, some members of the government caucus say it's time to immediately make the restrictions exemption program a thing of the past. 

In a Monday caucus meeting, the first of 2022, MLAs took a straw poll on the program. Sources tell CBC News there was majority support among those attending the Edmonton meeting for eliminating vaccine passports in the near future. Not all members were present. 

CBC News has agreed not to name the sources as they were not authorized to discuss internal party matters.

The day after that meeting, the premier announced the program could be lifted by the end of the month.

"Once we begin to see a sustained reduction in COVID pressure on the hospitals, I am looking forward to being able to make decisions about moving toward relaxation of public health measures at that time," Kenney said at a news conference.

"I believe that will happen this month, in February."

Loosening health measures will be eased in over three phases, Kenney said, adding the restrictions exemption program, with its QR code to verify vaccination status, will be among the first to go.

Kenney facing sustained pressure from caucus

Kenney, who is facing a leadership review in April, has been under sustained pressure from factions of his caucus to remove various public health restrictions during the course of the pandemic. The vague timeline offered Tuesday did little to assuage them.

Instead, it contributed to a hailstorm of angry emails from MLAs starting Tuesday evening and continuing into Wednesday morning.

Several members slammed leadership in a reply-all group chain with more than 100 people on it, including the UCP caucus and legislature staff.

"How is it that the entire caucus agrees to a solution and it can be ignored?" MLA Dave Hanson, who represents the riding of Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul, wrote in the chain. 

"Defuse the border confrontation and remove the REP." 

The Canada-U.S. border crossing at Coutts, Alta., has been blockaded for several days by people protesting vaccine mandates, impeding the town's business and flow of goods between the two countries.

Glenn van Dijken, the MLA for Athabasca-Barrhead-Westlock, replied to Hanson's note. 

"It is absurd this government is willing to legally abuse Albertans with bad policy. An apology would be in order," he wrote. 

"The caucus has spoken, yet the executive council decides otherwise."

Then MLA Angela Pitt from Airdrie-East chimed in, saying "who is running this show?" 

"We are not the parents who cannot give into a child's demands. We are the government that works for the people and we damn well should be doing what they want."

A recent poll from the Angus Reid Institute showed that nationally, 54 per cent of respondents said it was time to end restrictions and allow people to self-isolate if they're at risk.

However, some Alberta doctors have warned it's still too early to release the brakes completely and that children under five are still not eligible to be vaccinated. 

Those three MLAs signed the letter from almost a year ago criticizing the government for re-imposing health restrictions last spring, saying they did not support that choice and that it affected the livelihoods and freedoms of Albertans.

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