Calgary UCP MLA says Alberta's COVID-19 inaction will 'cost us lives'
Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Richard Gotfried says he advocated for tougher measures behind closed doors
A Calgary UCP MLA says the government's inaction on rising COVID-19 cases "will cost us lives" and that there was ample warning to take decisive actions weeks earlier.
Richard Gotfried, who represents Calgary-Fish Creek, made the remarks on Facebook late Wednesday in response to questions from commenters.
"I am deeply apologetic that my persistent efforts and unequivocal internal advocacy have now proven to have lacked the required urgency," Gotfried wrote.
"I am truly sorry, but even more wracked by sadness for the collateral impact on other vulnerable Albertans."
- Alberta to launch proof-of-vaccination program, declares health emergency amid surge in COVID-19 cases
Gotfried's comments were posted after Premier Jason Kenney declared a public health emergency and announced new restrictions, including a proof-of-vaccination program, to curb the fourth wave of COVID-19 cases that he said could overwhelm provincial ICU capacity within 10 days.
The government's moves come 2½ months after the province dropped nearly all COVID-19 restrictions under Kenney's Open for Summer plan.
On Monday, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, said the plan set Alberta on the path to the fourth wave. Alberta's case numbers are the worst in Canada.
Gotfried said on Facebook that Alberta "clearly had 30 days' notice that a crisis was looming ... and nothing was done while we lacked any leadership at the helm.
"It will cost us lives and I am gutted by the lack of responsiveness to unequivocal advocacy and clear warning signals …
"The words 'never,' 'passport' and 'open for good' may go down in embarrassment and infamy. I am deeply apologetic, but also grateful that we can put those words behind us and focus on doing the right thing today and into the future."
'Frustrated, embarrassed and angry'
He said in another post that he had been advocating for stronger measures since the end of July.
"I am frustrated, embarrassed and angry that such defensible measures weren't taken 30 days ago, but I will have to live with the solace that my outspoken internal advocacy finally bore fruit, albeit a day late and a few hundred ICU beds short."
After issuing a brief apology in his opening remarks at Wednesday's news conference, Kenney qualified his statement moments later by saying he was not sorry for the Open for Summer plan, only for saying that Alberta was open for good.
He has faced intense criticism for disappearing throughout most of August while cases surged, and not designating anyone to speak for the government or take action.
Kenney is facing pushback from the rural and urban MLAs in the UCP caucus.
Rural MLAs are furious with him for imposing restrictions and blaming unvaccinated Albertans for the current case surge.
Urban MLAs such as Gotfried are angry the government hasn't done more.
Opposition Leader Rachel Notley said Gotfried and other UCP MLAs stayed silent while anti-restriction caucus members spoke out. She said Gotfried's remarks show that UCP members put their political careers ahead of Albertans' best interests.
"They sat on their hands when it came to speaking to the public," she said. "Although I think this is some revisionist history designed to to protect [Gotfried's] own position within his seat. I think it's also somewhat revealing the admission … that there was weeks and weeks of inaction and that the direct consequence of that is lives lost in Alberta."
Gotfried sent a statement to CBC further explaining his remarks. He said his constituents have complained about a lack of leadership and have a deep mistrust in the government's ability to manage the pandemic.
He said even though Hinshaw signalled on Aug. 13 that the hospitalizations were trending higher than expected, the government chose inaction.
"The fact that my own party was touting a 'fight against vaccine passports' when clearly 70-plus per cent of my constituents, and the many business advocates and associations I spoke to were fighting for one, demonstrates absolute tone deafness," Gotfried wrote.
Harrison Fleming, acting press secretary for Kenney, rejected Gotfried's allegations.
"The government has consistently responded when evidence, analysis, and recommendations are brought forward by expert health officials, including Dr. Hinshaw," Fleming wrote.