Alberta Premier Jason Kenney defends government's pandemic response

Alberta Premier Kenney is defending his government's rollout of new pandemic restrictions that some medical experts have been calling for the province to implement for weeks.

NDP leader says restrictions should've been announced weeks ago

Alberta Premier Kenney is defending his government's rollout of new pandemic restrictions that some medical experts have been calling for the province to implement for weeks.

At a news conference Tuesday, Kenney announced a raft of tough new restrictions, including a province-wide mask mandate, a ban on both indoor and outdoor social gatherings, and the closing of casinos, restaurants, hair salons, gyms and other public venues.

Experts, including academics and doctors, had asked the Kenney government to impose these sorts of restrictions weeks ago as COVID-19 infection rates in Alberta rose to among the highest in Canada, straining the province's health-care system to the breaking point, and overwhelming contact tracing.

As CBC News reported last month, secret recordings revealed Alberta Health staff believed Kenney and his government were more concerned with the economy than reining in the coronavirus. 

The recordings also revealed tension between the Kenney government and its own public health experts about the implementation of measures to curtail the spread of the virus.

Kenney repeatedly stressed Tuesday how difficult it was for him and his government to impose restrictions that they knew would severely damage small businesses. 

He also said Alberta's balanced response to the pandemic was among the best in the world.

"The instinct of some to shut everything down from the beginning would be devastating on the livelihoods of countless Albertans," Kenney said.

"Alberta, through most of the past nine months, had lower levels of confirmed cases of hospitalizations and COVID fatalities than the other large Canadian provinces, all of the U.S. states and almost all of the European countries with generally less stringent restrictions."

Kenney was also called on to defend his government's oft-criticized pandemic response during the press conference. 

Asked if he acknowledged any responsibility or if he would apologize for the province's handling of the pandemic response, Kenney pointed to Alberta being the last province in Canada to impose a province-wide mandated mask policy. 

He cited the fact that Alberta had handed out millions of free masks to "normalize their usage fairly early in the pandemic period."

The premier also said Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba had significantly higher levels of COVID-19 related deaths. 

Kenney, as he has stated previously, said the pandemic represented a small fraction of the deaths occurring every day in Alberta. 

"I could run you through comparative statistical analysis of our outcomes versus those of jurisdictions that have taken much more stringent measures," he said.

"At the end of the day, we have tried to do this in a balanced way and now it is up to Albertans to rise to the challenge during this critically important time."

Notley questions Kenney's decision not to act sooner

NDP Leader Rachel Notley said in an interview with CBC News the new measures should have been announced at least four weeks ago.

She said a comparison with other provinces which did act sooner shows Alberta has a virus infection rate five to 10 times higher.

"We have seen hospitalizations go through the roof, we have seen [intensive care admissions] go through the roof, we have seen a rate of tragic fatalities increase significantly," she said.

"And Alberta has become home to the highest number of active cases, not just per capita, but overall."