Some Alberta daycares will reopen next week for kids of health-care and 'critical' staff

Some daycares in Alberta will reopen next week to look after the children of health-care workers and other "critical infrastructure staff," Premier Jason Kenney says.

'I cannot overstate how challenging this time is going to be,' Kenney says

Premier Jason Kenney at Alberta Legislature addressing the COVID-19 outbreak on March 18th, 2020. On Friday, Kenney announced plans to reopen some daycares next week to look after the children of health-care workers and other "critical infrastructure" staff. (Art Raham/CBC)

After a week that shook Alberta to its foundations, Premier Jason Kenney shared a hint of good news Friday, announcing plans to reopen some daycares next week to look after the children of health-care workers and other "critical infrastructure" staff.

On a day when Western Canada Select oil closed trading at $10.51 USD per barrel, the premier also announced he has asked a panel of experts to help with long-term plans to bring the province's economy back from the dead, once the COVID-19 pandemic has done its worst.

At a news conference Friday, Kenney said he expects the March labour force numbers for the province will be "one of the worst records for joblessness in Alberta history" with mass layoffs due to pandemic.

"I cannot overstate how challenging this time is going to be," said Kenney, who began his remarks by thanking people he called "unsung heroes," the truckers who keep goods moving along Alberta highways, the clerks who stock shelves at grocery stores, the janitors who make sure buildings are safe and clean.

Each daycare reopened by the department of Children's Services next week will be limited to 30 people, including staff, and parents who qualify will be notified by their employers, Kenney said.

The centres will be chosen based on their proximity to health-care facilities, and will be reopened in a phased-in approach, Kenney said.

"We will then begin to add other essential services such as police officers, firefighters, correctional service workers and other impacted sectors," the premier said.

"I would also ask that, if you're a parent who is afforded a child-care space, that you only use it if you have no other way to ensure that you can get to your critical job," Kenney said. 

"We only have a certain number of spaces that are being opened to ensure the functioning of essential services. We all need to operate within this new normal, which means using only resources that we absolutely need." 

Children's Services Minister Rebecca Schulz, Children's Services said the province hopes to quickly reopen 15,000 daycare spaces next week, about 6,000 of them by Monday or Tuesday.

All other child-care centres will remain closed, but licensed day homes — limited to six children, not including the operator's own kids — can stay open.

The government is also considering some "short-term relaxation of eligibility criteria" for the Income Support program, Kenney said.

Kenney also announced that the province will waive the energy levy paid to the Alberta Energy Regulator for six months to help oil and gas firms. The Province is also extending terms of mining agreements that expire in 2020 to 2021.

The premier held a news conference Friday to update Albertans about his plan to guide the province through the greatest period of uncertainty since the Great Depression.

He announced that the province has created an Economic Recovery Panel to help plan with long-term plans to bring the Alberta economy back from near death once the pandemic has run its course. The panel members are:

  • Jack Mintz, chair
  • Clive Beddoe – former chair, president and CEO, WestJet
  • Robert Blakely – Canadian operating officer, Canada's Building Trades Union
  • Brent Belzberg – founder and senior managing partner, TorQuest Partners
  • Bob Dhillon – founder, president and CEO, Mainstreet Equity Corporation
  • Chris Fowler – president and CEO, Canadian Western Bank
  • Stephen Harper – Canada's 22nd prime minister
  • Peter Kiss – owner and president, Morgan Construction and Environmental
  • Zainul Mawji – president, Telus Home Solutions
  • Nancy Southern – chair and CEO, ATCO Ltd.
  • Kevin Uebelein – CEO, AIMCo
  • Mac Van Wielingen – founder, ARC Financial

Kenney said with cabinet working daily to deal with the pandemic, it was important to bring together people who can look at the challenges ahead.

"That is why we are calling on some of our most respected leaders in business and civil society to help point the way forward for the emergence of Alberta's economy in the long term," he said.

For many, including the premier himself, it may be difficult to grasp all that has changed in just five days.

On Monday, as the number of COVID-19 cases in the province reached 74, with schools, daycares and universities already closed, the government announced plans to expedite the passing of its $57-billion budget.

On Tuesday, as the case total reached 97, the government passed the budget and Kenney declared a state of public health emergency. Alberta's Provincial Operations Centre was elevated from a Level 3 to a Level 4, the highest level. Bars, nightclubs and casinos were ordered to close immediately.

On Thursday, Kenney announced that Albertans who were in self-isolation and weren't collecting pay or other benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic could apply for one-time cash payments of $1146 for two weeks from the government.

"We must begin to prepare ourselves for a time of adversity unlike any we have seen since the 1930s in this province," Kenney said that day in an address to the legislature.

On Wednesday, Kenney made an impassioned speech in the legislature that referenced the Battle of Britain, urging Albertans to "keep calm and carry on" the way Londoners had during the bombings of 1940.   

"It is hard for us, right now, to grasp the potential depth of [the coming] recession," Kenney said. "I think it is our collective responsibility as leaders to offer a sense of solidarity, confidence and hope. But it must be predicated on realism."

That realism, Kenney said, on a day when Western Canada Select oil was trading at under $10, was that Alberta will likely be harder hit than most other jurisdictions.

"We have never experienced anything like this in the history of our energy industry," he said. "We are facing a period of profound adversity."