OPINION | Kenney giving Albertans yet one more chance to prove they're taking COVID seriously

For the second time in less than a month, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has been forced into quarantine after being exposed to someone who has tested positive for the virus.

COVID-19 has Kenney locked down at home again but premier won't lock down the province

Premier Jason Kenney speaks at a news conference in March. On Thursday, Kenney announced new measures to prevent spread of COVID-19 in Alberta.pinion while introducing big money back into politics. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Graham Thomson is an award-winning journalist who has covered Alberta politics for more than 30 years. This column is an opinion. For more information about our commentary section, please read our FAQ.

I think COVID-19 is trying to tell Premier Jason Kenney something.

For the second time in less than a month, Kenney has been forced into quarantine after being exposed to someone who has tested positive for the virus.

Kenney broke the news to reporters on Thursday, not in person but as a disembodied voice on the phone during a government news conference to announce new restrictions to battle COVID.

Kenney's test came back negative but, oh, the irony.

Here was Kenney pleading with Albertans yet again to take personal responsibility to stop the spread of the disease but he had to do the pleading by phone from home because he had again been exposed to the disease that's spreading because people aren't taking personal responsibility.

In October, Kenney was exposed after holding a public event with Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard who later tested positive for COVID.

At the time, Kenney tested negative for the virus but went into a 14-day self-isolation period that lasted until Oct. 29.

After he got out, he began a tour of communities in northern Alberta, meeting with people indoors, many of whom were not wearing masks. That sparked criticism from observers who said he was not taking the pandemic seriously enough. It's not known if this latest exposure is linked to that tour.

No lockdown

Kenney is in his own private lockdown redux until November 27 — but he made it clear on Thursday that although he is implementing new restrictions, he doesn't want to bring in a lockdown for the province despite the soaring numbers of COVID-19 cases in Alberta.

For the next two weeks, in most urban centres including Edmonton and Calgary, the government is restricting the hours for restaurants, bars and pubs. It is also banning indoor group fitness classes and team sport activities for 14 days. The maximum number of people allowed at a wedding or funeral is 50.

WATCH | Alberta's premier, top doctor say new COVID-19 restrictions are needed to curb spread of COVID-19

Alberta announces new restrictions to prevent spread of COVID-19

3 years ago
Duration 4:07
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, who is currently self-isolating, announced new temporary measures to combat COVID-19. The premier said the increase in COVID-19 cases prompted the "limited, focused, targeted measures."

But many other restrictions are voluntary. The province would like you to stop holding social gatherings at home and faith-based organizations are being asked to limit attendance at services to one-third capacity.

"COVID is starting to win," declared Kenney.

But in this fight, Alberta still seems to have one-hand tied behind its back.

The new restrictions fall short of the "circuit-breaker" temporary lockdown being urged by doctors and health care unions in Alberta who wrote a letter to Kenney Thursday recommending he follow the lead of other provinces to shut down in-person dining, bars, casinos, theatres and religious services. But Kenney believes his lighter touch will be enough.

"If Albertans respond to these and other public health guidelines now, we won't need more restrictive measures in the future," said Kenney.

But the problem is too many Albertans have not been responding to public health guidelines. Perhaps they're suffering from pandemic fatigue. Maybe they haven't heard the latest COVID case numbers.

Or perhaps because Kenney has sent out mixed signals, such as just last week saying COVID was only the 11th most common cause of death in Alberta.

And then there's the fact Kenney is moving the goalposts for taking action.

As NDP Leader Rachel Notley pointed out Thursday, Kenney has allowed trigger points to pass without cracking down.

"The UCP have blown past their own previously stated triggers by 50 per cent and only now are we getting the most limited of actions," said Notley. "This week, in multiple separate instances, hundreds of front-line physicians have come forward to demand action from this government. We cannot ignore the alarm bells from the front-line"

Kenney doesn't want to take the kind of action being urged by more than 400 doctors who wrote a letter to him this week. In fact, just last week, he had harsh words for provinces that have taken more stringent action.

"We've seen other jurisdictions implement sweeping lockdowns, indiscriminately violating people's rights and destroying livelihoods," said Kenney. "Nobody wants that to happen here in Alberta."

For Kenney it's all about nudging people in the right direction with the threat of a lockdown always seeming to be one news conference away from becoming a reality.

In the never-ending ride from hell that is the COVID-19 pandemic, Kenney is the parent in the front seat telling the misbehaving kids in the back seat yet again to settle down or he's going to do something. And, boy, this time he really means it!

With COVID cases soaring in Alberta and with Kenney locked away in quarantine yet again, the virus is trying to tell him something.

It's about time he listened.


Graham Thomson

Freelance contributor

Graham Thomson is an award-winning journalist who has covered Alberta politics for more than 30 years, much of it as an outspoken columnist for the Edmonton Journal. Nowadays you can find his thoughts and analysis on provincial politics Fridays at cbc.ca/edmonton, on CBC Edmonton Television News, during Radio Active on CBC Radio One (93.9FM/740AM) and on Twitter at @gthomsonink.