EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is rejecting criticism he waited too long to bring in tighter COVID-19 measures as "Alberta bashing."
The comment came in a radio interview Wednesday with Edmonton's CHED radio station. Kenney lauded Alberta’s pandemic response in the spring, including when Edmonton held the National Hockey League playoffs in an isolation “bubble.”
That prompted host Shaye Ganam to interject: “Premier Kenney, with all due respect, you’re talking about things that happened several months ago, and we’re in a drastically different situation now.
"Things are far, far worse when you talk about our record in terms of pandemic response. It’s among the worst, especially in Canada."
Kenney countered: "I don’t accept the Alberta bashing that is going on here."
The premier said not all people who make up Alberta’s high COVID-19 case counts end up getting sick. He said comparable jurisdictions are facing similar rates and the key metric is death rates.
"The truth is Alberta’s fatality rate of COVID cases, which is the most important statistic, is … significantly below that of Ontario, of Quebec, of Manitoba and only slightly ahead of British Columbia," Kenney said.
On Tuesday, the premier refused to take responsibility for the growing caseload at a news conference where he announced stricter public-health measures.
"From a health perspective, it’s clear your approach hasn’t worked to date and has arguably even cost people their lives. Do you acknowledge any responsibility and apologize for the way you've handled the second wave of the pandemic?" asked Postmedia reporter Sammy Hudes.
"That sounds a lot more like an NDP speech than a media question, Sammy," replied the United Conservative premier. “I reject the entire premise of your question.
"You have just joined folks who are doing drive-by smears on Alberta."
Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley called Kenney's behaviour "so thin-skinned and so sensitive" and said it speaks to a fundamental leadership flaw.
"(Kenney) cannot take responsibility for mistakes, and he must deflect and blame and then attack people who raise them," she said.
"Crises test leaders," said Notley, who added that Albertans need to trust their leader, which requires frank and respectful dialogue.
"He needs to change direction very quickly, because quite frankly that trust issue itself is going to become one of the challenges that we’re facing as we try to get through this pandemic."
Alberta reported 20,199 active cases Wednesday with 685 people in hospital — 121of them receiving intensive care. There have been 653 deaths.
Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced that inoculations using the Pfizer vaccine are to begin next Wedneday. The 3,900 doses are to go to priority medical and long-term care workers.
Alberta's daily infection numbers have been over 1,000 since Nov. 24 and more than 1,600 a day for a week. On some days, Alberta has led the country in total new cases.
Hospitals have been reassigning patients, staff, wards and spaces to free up more intensive care beds and is negotiating to bring in hospital field tents.
The NDP and hundreds of doctors had for weeks been calling for a lockdown, because case rates were projecting a dire situation.
In response, Kenney banned extended indoor private gatherings two weeks ago and put further limits on customers in stores and businesses. He said it was critical to keep shops, casinos, waterparks, and other businesses open as much as possible to prevent further damage to the economy, community well-being and mental health.
The latest restrictions, in place for at least four weeks, shutter almost all public activities while keeping retail businesses open at sharply reduced capacity.
The NDP said 317 Albertans died of COVID-19 in the four weeks Kenney refused strict lockdown measures.
"Yesterday we watched the premier introduce the very same measures he spent the month of November mocking and labelling as partisan, socialist attacks on the economy," said Notley.
"COVID is not the premier's fault, of course. But Alberta's inability to contain it, particularly over the last five weeks, absolutely is."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 9, 2020.
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version said Alberta has had 685 deaths.