It was the most Jason Kenney thing to do.
Just before Christmas the embattled Alberta premier finally admitted, in referring to his government’s disastrous handling of the COVID-19 pandemic’s fourth wave following his ill-advised ‘best summer ever’ catastrophe, that “We were wrong.”
This after pretty well anyone who knew anything about the virus and its spread had told his government—clearly and repeatedly—that its pandemic policies were too little, too late, or completely wrong-headed. And they quite correctly predicted a health care tsunami.
And all Mr. Kenney could come up with was a lame ‘oops!’
Some advice for the premier: when the whole world is telling you you’re wrong, you probably are.
Alas, that’s just his style, as evidenced by the number of times since the election of his UCP government in the spring of 2019 that despite all seasoned and expert advice not to do something, he goes ahead and does it anyway. Left to clean up the mess, unfortunately, are Albertans, in one way or another.
“Don’t waste taxpayer money on a Trump-approved pipeline that incoming US President Joe Biden has long made clear he’ll cancel, Mr. Kenney!”
“Don’t host a boozy rooftop garden party in your ‘Sky Palace’ while also insisting ordinary Albertans ought not host boozy rooftop garden parties during a pandemic, Mr. Kenney!”
“Don’t continue to peddle blatantly false conspiracies about ‘well-funded, decade-long campaigns based on misinformation’ by environmental groups supposedly trying to landlock Alberta oil after your own enquiry concluded the opposite, Mr. Kenney! You might get sued for defamation!”
“Don’t secretly push to re-open coal mining on the eastern slopes of the Rockies, Mr. Kenney! Coal mining there will negatively affect downstream ground water and the environmentally sensitive mountain range!”
“Don’t continue to promote an outdated and racist curriculum when Albertans have told you in no uncertain terms that it’s terrible, Mr. Kenney!”
The premier, of course, did take home a win of sorts this past autumn. He, for now anyway, successfully fought off challenges to his leadership—and by extension his premiership. And yet that win may well prove to be a chimera. After all, he only managed to outmaneuver his own terrified and disorganized caucus, and the whole affair from the outside looked very much like a score-on-his-own-net moment anyway.
There were other ‘wins,’ too, like when he became leader of Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Party back in March 2017. Subsequently, of course, he helped successfully broker a merger of the Alberta PCs and the Wildrose Party, defeat former Wildrose leader Brian Jean to become leader of the then new UCP, and finally take the new party to the governing benches of the Alberta legislature.
But there’s an easily spotted trend here, and it’s not reported on often enough: all of Kenney’s successful battles are won on parochial stages. Missing, really, are any wins at all on the big things that actually matter.
Pipelines? Nope. Jobs? Nope. Prosperity? Nope.
And on the other big things that actually matter, Mr. Kenney’s government has bettered basically none. Quite the opposite, in fact. The major files—health care, education, social services—have all suffered dramatically under his tenure.
Now, as the highly contagious Omicron variant sweeps across the province, people who know about the disease and the way it spreads are strongly recommending a more effective COVID response from the government, including re-imposing sensible gathering limits, installing HEPA air filters in schools, and providing meaningful supports for burned out health care workers, an overwhelmed health care system, and small business owners forced to grapple with the pandemic on their own.
Will Mr. Kenney listen? The smart bet is that whatever he does, he’ll get it wrong.
Eric Strikwerda teaches Canadian history at Athabasca University. He is the author of The Wages of Relief: Cities and the Unemployed in Prairie Canada, 1929-1939 (AU Press, 2013). At present he is working on a history of western Canada following Canada’s acquisition of the region in 1870.