Disclosure of chief medical officer's recommendations rejected by government

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health is not disclosing which of her recommendations were accepted by cabinet when crafting its latest restrictions to contain COVID-19

NDP leader accuses premier of Trump-like behavior for statements about B.C. testing numbers

Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw updates media on the COVID-19 situation in this file photo. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press)

Alberta's chief medical officer of health is not disclosing which of her recommendations were accepted by cabinet when crafting its latest restrictions to contain COVID-19. 

The measures announced Tuesday by Premier Jason Kenney have been widely criticized by medical professionals and the public for not going far enough to control the spread of the virus.

It has led to calls for the government to reveal what Dr. Hinshaw recommended.

At a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Hinshaw deflected questions from reporters who asked her what cabinet accepted and rejected. 

"The measures I recommended were a broad range of options. And again, there were different components to those," she said.

"And the recommendations that I made, again, were respectfully considered within those final decisions that were taken."

Hinshaw, in her initial remarks, explained her role under the Public Health Act is to act as an adviser to cabinet, which ultimately makes the decisions. 

"I have always felt respected and listened to and that my decisions, my recommendations, have been respectfully considered by policy-makers while making their decisions." 

Dozens of physicians have called on Kenney to enact a short 14 or 28-day lockdown to act as a circuit-breaker on transmission of the virus.

Kenney's measures fell well short of these expectation. He declined to mandate a province-wide mask policy, limiting it only to the greater Edmonton and Calgary regions, which already have municipal masking bylaws. He also allowed bars, restaurants, casinos and stores to continue operating with some restrictions. 

Kenney defended his actions by saying he didn't want to force small business owners out of business. 

'Thank you very much, Donald Trump'

NDP Leader Rachel Notley called on Kenney to release Hinshaw's recommendations so the public can assess how closely his government is listening to public health advice. She suspected the concerns of rural UCP MLAs influenced Kenney's decision to forgo a provincial mask policy.

"That mask mandate is the clear product of backroom brokering by these UCP MLAs," Notley said. "There is no way on the planet that is the product of public health advice." 

The request was a topic in Wednesday's question period. Edmonton-City Centre MLA David Shepherd, the NDP Opposition critic for health, asked the government to prove it wasn't influenced by the views of anti-maskers by releasing Hinshaw's advice. 

Health Minister Tyler Shandro said that information was covered by cabinet confidentiality. 

"Dr. Hinshaw was directly involved in the drafting of these measures," Shandro said.

"She walked government through all options that could have been available to us, what the advantages and disadvantages were for that."

Notley, who led cabinet during her four years as premier, said Shandro and other ministers could release the information if they wanted. 

Wednesday's question period marked the first time Notley and Kenney faced each other in nearly three weeks, due to the legislature schedule and Kenney's 14-day quarantine after he was in contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19.

Notley lobbed a multitude of COVID-related questions the premier's way, including why he disappeared from the public eye while Alberta case counts spiralled out of control. 

She pushed Kenney on the province's overwhelmed contact tracing system, meaning the source of 85 per cent of confirmed cases is unknown. She also criticized his latest set of restrictions for being too lax. 

Kenney said his new measures are similar to what British Columbia has in place,adding that Alberta's western neighbour has seen a similar rise in cases.

He said B.C.'s case count was lower due to fewer tests. 

"Their velocity of case growth is similar to Alberta's," Kenney said. "But why do we have more cases than B.C.? In large measure because we are testing at three times their rate."

"We're testing too much," Notley snapped. "Thank you very much, Donald Trump."

Alberta Health announced 1,265 new cases on Wednesday, bringing the total of active cases to 13,719. COVID-19 has currently sent 355 people to hospital with 71 requiring intensive care.