On radio, [Franklin D Roosevelt} was able to quell rumors, counter conservative-dominated newspapers and explain his policies directly to the American people. His tone and demeanor communicated self-assurance during times of despair and uncertainty.—Wikipedia
Roosevelt used radio, a “nascent media platform” to explain complex issues such as the Great Depression, the banking crisis, his New Deal initiatives, and WWII to the American people. His fireside chats were extremely popular and highly effective.
Now almost a century later, Kenney is using another media platform, Facebook, to address Albertans’ concerns about his government’s policies to address covid.
Unlike FDR’s fireside chats Kenney’ Facebook Live chats are a disaster.
At last week’s FB event Kenney made a short speech about Alberta’s improving economy, took a gratuitous swipe at the CBC, pundits and the NDP who love “downtalking” Alberta, then turned to questions from the audience which were posted in the chat box.
It was a gong show.
Many of the questions appeared to come from unvaccinated, uninformed, and/or misguided Albertans. And while it’s easy to criticize such questions; a premier who uses Facebook to connect with Albertans on a once in a lifetime pandemic should, at the very least, be prepared to respond to such questions in a way that dispels misinformation and fear.
It’s not enough to reel off statistics (the unvaccinated are 17 times more likely to be hospitalized, 39 times more likely to be in the ICU and 16 times more likely to die of covid) because this crowd doesn’t believe the data.
A matter of trust
The data wasn’t their only problem, it quickly became apparent they didn’t trust Kenney.
Why? Because in the early days of the pandemic Kenney staked his position loud and clear…only to backtrack when it turned out he was wrong.
This created the bizarre situation where the participants used Kenney’s earlier arguments to refute the data. They argued covid is mild, it’s only harmful to the elderly and those with comorbidities, natural immunity is just as good as vaccines, and vaccine passports (or REP as they’re known in Alberta) violate fundamental rights and freedoms.
They refused to believe Kenney when he said Alberta would never impose a mandatory vaccination policy. They countered with (a) you flipped on vaccine passports, (b) you flipped on Open for Summer, and (c) your government forced healthcare workers to get vaccinated in order to keep their jobs.
Kenney had no response. Perhaps he couldn’t keep up with the comments rolling into the chat box.
Talk to the experts
Kenney urged the unvaccinated to talk to the experts, saying 99.8% of Alberta doctors were vaccinated so there’s a high likelihood their own doctor would tell them to get vaccinated.
They countered with personal anecdotes of doctors who’d told them not to be “lab rats” and told Kenney to talk to their “experts,” people like Robert Malone, a controversial figure who claims to have invented mRNA vaccines 33 years ago. (Tim Caulfield, a U of A prof in health law and policy, described Malone as a disgraced virologist who pushes his false theories on Fox News).
Kenney invoked Donald Trump who said vaccines were the greatest achievement in human history. They rejected the “Trump-card” because Trump also said the decision to get vaccinated was a matter of personal choice.
Some participants went so far as to demand a tax refund because they’d been refused entry to infrastructure paid for by their tax dollars. Kenney failed to point out their tax dollars are not used to build restaurants and movie theatres.
The best question was the one which asked when covid would end; what would it take for Kenney to give them their lives back?
Kenney stared into the camera for a moment, then said he didn’t know, nobody knows. The memory of Kenney on July 1, 2021 confidently declaring the pandemic was over and Alberta was open for summer came to mind.
Where’s FDR when you need him?
Instead of reassuring Albertans, correcting misinformation and dispelling conspiracy theories during this time of heightened uncertainty, Kenney’s FB event provided a platform for those who seek to undermine what little the government has achieved to date.
This would never pass muster in FDR’s day. And it would be intolerable now, but for the existence of groups like Protect our Province (PoPAB), a group of doctors and experts who provide timely accurate updates on covid to Albertans, as well as advocate on our behalf.
Alberta is sinking into the narrative that covid is inevitable, we’ll all get it. Now more than ever we need to change the dial, click off Kenney’s FB Live Chat and click onto the most recent PopAB update for science-based information and practical advice to help get us through our day.
PoPAB may not be FDR, but they’re darn close.