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EDITORIAL: Public-health decisions belong on Kenney's plate

"Instead of modeling good leadership, consulting with municipalities, and keeping them informed, the province has chosen to pass the buck and offload that responsibility, forcing them to blindly fend for themselves more than once during the pandemic."
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Alberta's Premier Jason Kenney has raised the ire of municipal leaders across the province, many of whom are less than impressed with his government's handling of the recent surge in COVID cases.

The province went silent for weeks, refusing to address the growing spread of the virus, with counts reaching levels not seen in months.

Kenney's stall tactics left municipalities scrambling to take public-health matters into their own hands.

Leaders in our region met quietly last Wednesday, as the lack of provincial direction meant if Edmonton re-instated a mask bylaw, smaller surrounding communities could face increased risk from big-city residents looking to use services in our midst, un-masked. 

Our own council was caught off-guard by the announcement by the province Friday morning, just hours before St. Albert had scheduled an emergency council meeting to address the mask bylaw.

Mayor Cathy Heron lamented on social media Sunday the government would have saved municipalities a lot of time and administration costs by taking public-health decision-making off their plates and placing it right back where it belongs: in Kenney's lap.

Indeed. Municipalities don't have the quick access to ever-changing medical expertise needed to respond to the health crisis.

This is where Kenney, Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw, and Alberta Minister of Health Tyler Shandro have failed Albertans.

Instead of modeling good leadership, consulting with municipalities, and keeping them informed, the province has chosen to pass the buck and offload that responsibility, forcing them to blindly fend for themselves more than once during the pandemic.

A united approach to public-health restrictions is a necessity to protect all our communities from the virus. 

It's also crucial to preventing needless overspending by hundreds of municipalities on time consulting medical staff, hours of discussions, and duplication of local resources drafting plans.

It's not just municipalities that bear this burden. School boards and post-secondary institutions across the province have felt the financial and political weight of being forced to draft individual plans for each area of jurisdiction — again, a cost none should have to bear.

The real price of our government's inaction — medically, socially, economically — will be hefty, not just on the pocketbooks of those it has been offloaded onto, but also in the social cost of communities divided by conflict over how to address protocols.

It is the province's responsibility to guide public-health decisions and draft public-health policy.

Instead of accepting this responsibility, Kenney is now busying himself trying to pin the surge on a new scapegoat: the unvaccinated.

"For the love of God, please get vaccinated now," Kenney pleaded on Friday, suggesting those who have opted out of the vaccine are putting the health-care system at risk.

True, the data shows those who are unvaccinated are 50 to 60 times more likely to be hospitalized.

But the real blame needs to fall squarely on the shoulders of the person at fault: our premier, whose indirection and lack of leadership during a public-health crisis, and risky summer reopening plan, have dragged us into the kind of social, economical, and health-care debt we will surely struggle to recover from for years to come.

Editorials are the consensus view of the St. Albert Gazette’s editorial board.