While speaking at a news conference on Wednesday, Alberta’s premier was asked about those who object to the way the province has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We believe that Alberta has followed the right balanced approach of protecting lives and livelihoods,” Jason Kenney said. “We’ve looked at restrictions as a last and limited resort.
“But they can also be necessary, as they are now, on a targeted basis… so that COVID is kept under control and doesn’t jeopardize the health-care system.”
He challenged those who oppose any restrictions to come up with an alternative plan.
“What is their risk tolerance in terms of lives lost? In terms of the overwhelming of the health-care system? In terms of surgeries cancelled?”
Kenney said those who are against any restrictions rarely provide him with another suggestion.
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The issue of opposing views on public health measures came up because two members of his caucus are challenging some of the province’s COVID-19 restrictions and have joined a national coalition pushing against lockdowns.
Drew Barnes, the United Conservative legislature member for Cypress-Medicine Hat, and Angela Pitt, the deputy speaker of the house and chair of committees, say Albertans have not been given adequate evidence to justify the rules and real hardship and harm that is resulting from them.
“Those MLAs have a perspective,” Kenney said Wednesday. “We, unlike some parties, allow people to speak their minds and represent the views of their constituents.
“We have a wider latitude for MLAs to speak their views in this province and in the party I lead,” he added.
Whenever the caucus meets, he said COVID-19 policies are a “lively topic of discussion.”
“But, at the end the day, I, the minister of health, the chief medical officer of health and (the) COVID cabinet committee are responsible for striking that right balance,” the premier said.
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“The position of Alberta’s government is very clear: we need targeted public health measures to limit the spread to protect our health-care system while minimizing the broader damage to our society. That doesn’t preclude a debate that’s been happening from Day 1.”
“We are a free, open and democratic society,” he added. “People are going to have different views, especially on the kind of extraordinary measures that have been taken throughout the COVID era.
“It should not be, I think, surprising, that citizens and their elected representatives would have a range of views and would express those.”
Kenney said he’s noticed two categories of people who oppose any restrictions in response to the pandemic.
“I think in one category, there are outright conspiracy theorists… These are people who imagine COVID is a hoax, or massively exaggerated, and on the extreme end, they believe this is all some kind of a globalist plot.
“I’d ask those folks to come back to planet reality.”
The other category of people, Kenney says he empathizes with.
“Then there’s the other folks who, I understand, have a real reluctance to restrict people’s liberties and social and economic activities,” he said.
“As I’ve said before, that’s a pretty healthy impulse to have in a society.
“But my challenge to them is to tell us: what’s the alternative? What’s the alternative to the kind of targeted measures we have in Alberta?
“Is the alternative to go back to where we were in November-December? When we went from 100 to nearly 1,000 COVID patients in hospital in just a few weeks? Is the alternative doubling cases every other week?”
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Kenney said if the government had not put certain health measures into place, the capacity of Alberta’s health system would have passed its breaking point.
“We would have been setting up tent hospitals,” he said. “We would be taking body bags out of tent hospitals in the middle of February when it’s 40 below in Alberta. Doctors would be denying care because they would be overwhelmed… There would not be enough respiratory therapists… ICU nurses… There would be mass cancellation of surgeries.
“That’s a scenario that is not acceptable to the vast majority of Albertans. That’s a scenario that’s unacceptable to me or to this government.”
The premier said he doesn’t like restrictions either and knows they can be very damaging on multiple fronts, but the province has to balance the risks.
“That’s my message. I don’t mind having a public debate about it, but our policy is clear: protecting lives and livelihoods.”
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