These are unprecedented times, and they’re not being made any easier by Jason Kenney’s callous justification for his government’s half-baked School Re-Entry Plan, or Dr Hinshaw’s Order 33-2020 which was intended to clarify questions around masking and social distancing in schools but muddied the waters even more.
On Sept 1, Jason Kenney gave a press conference that was intended (presumably) to assure parents they could safely send their children back to school in the middle of a pandemic.
His message, carefully crafted by his team of issues managers and PR professionals, was:
- infections (which result in illness and sometimes death) are “inevitable”
- such “inevitability” is no reason to close schools
- schools must assume “a certain risk” (which Kenney couldn’t or wouldn’t quantify)
- it’s “essential” schools open because experts say kids need to be in school
- his government has put in place certain “protocols” based on the advice of Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr Hinshaw, and others, and school boards should consult with Dr Hinshaw who will respond on a case-by-case basis to outbreaks (she’ll be swamped, but who cares, it’s just a pandemic, right?).
Mr Kenney’s message of inevitability shows zero leadership or accountability. It is eerily reminiscent of Donald Trump’s response (“it is what it is”) to the Covid-19 death toll in the US. It speaks to resignation and defeat. It is not the legitimate foundation of a viable School Re-Entry Plan.
Mr Kenney’s press conference came on the heels of Dr Hinshaw’s Order 33-2020.
Prior to Dr Hinshaw’s Order, we’d understood that masking was required in schools for grades 4 and up where social distancing could not be maintained; however Order 33-2020 says (we think) that it’s okay for kids not to wear masks even if social distancing can’t be maintained as long as kids sit quietly at their desks and aren’t facing each other.
Shaun Fluker, a law prof at the University of Calgary, is not surprised by the criticism of the government and Dr Hinshaw’s rules on masking and social distancing. He says Order 33-2020 is poorly drafted, apparently inconsistent with the government’s earlier messaging on its Covid-19 website and Hinshaw’s own Order 26-2020, and the timing—it was dropped on the beleaguered public the Saturday before the start of classes—raises the suspicion that “the heavy hand of politics” was involved in its drafting.
Yep, you can say that again.
At the very least
These are confusing and unsettling times. Albertans have every right to expect clear, consistent, thoughtful leadership from their government and their medical experts.
Dr Hinshaw’s last minute about face on the masking/social distancing rule for school children, together with Mr Kenney’s insistence that infections are “inevitable” and his refusal to provide significant funding to allow schools to reduce class sizes (some of which are in the mid to high 30s) to combat Covid-19 in schools, has resulted in a lack of trust in both the Chief Medical Officer and the Kenney government, precisely at a time we need them the most.
School children, teachers, staff, their families, and all Albertans who will be impacted by the Kenney government’s ill-conceived, underfunded School Re-Entry Plan deserve better because contrary to popular opinion becoming ill and dying of Covid-19 is not inevitable.
Not by a long shot.
Susan: Thanks for another great blog. We are already hearing about youngsters being infected with covid in Alberta. I think that schools will be closed, come October, or November. Unfortunately, Dr. Deena Hinshaw’s is under the complete control of the UCP now. There was also another meat processing plant in Southern Alberta, which has workers with covid. The UCP hasn’t ordered the meat processing plant to be closed. I don’t think the UCP know what they are doing, and it clearly shows. Alberta has the highest per capita rate of people with covid in Canada. I don’t see things improving, because of the way the UCP are mishandling things. The public education system in Alberta hasn’t been properly helped by the UCP to deal with the covid situation. Only under 3 years to go, and hopefully the UCP will be gone. We can only hope.
Dwayne your point about the need to be concerned about younger people being infected is well taken. Today’s Globe & Mail carried an article about younger people becoming infected and noted that even though they recovered they’ll continue to suffer long term effects. Some scientists have suggested Covid-19 should be viewed as a cardiovascular disease, not an infection (presumably because of the long term damage it can cause). This demonstrates the science on this novel coronavirus is nowhere near settled and no one, not even our illustrious premier, can dismiss it in such a cavalier fashion.
I am 71 and in my household are two adults (one of whom works with an at-risk community) and a 14-year-old who is now returning to school. I figure my chances of becoming infected are now quite high.
Snowbird, I sympathize. I was talking to my eye doctor who is sending her little ones back to school. She told her dad, their grandfather, that until there’s a vaccine he should not see them because the risk of him dying was too great. He said that at his age (80) every moment with his grandchildren was precious and if he died he died. It broke her heart to think he’d been put in a position to choose between a longer life and his grandchildren. I know she would have felt a little better about his decision had our government done absolutely everything it could to ensure the children wouldn’t become infected and bring the infection back home to their grandparents, but that’s not the situation in which we find ourselves. It’s truly shameful.
Thank you. It is a hard choice but I feel much the same way.
If I was operating a business or public service I would shut it down if after careful consideration I thought there was even a slight risk of endangering the health or lives of employee’s and their families if the business or service remained open.
If some pathetic example of humanity like a politician ordered me to reopen I would quit or retire or go on sick leave. This would be my decision whether the politician was UCP or NDP or PC or Liberal.
I do believe the children will be OK but it appears these poorly thought out politically motivated decisions will put the students parents and other caregivers at a high risk.
Eddy: you make an extremely important point. The first thing that struck me when I heard Kenney’s “it’s inevitable” comment was that this is not how reputable businesses are run. The safety target for reputable companies now is zero accidents and deaths. Zero!
As a young inhouse counsel I remember working on my company’s safety policy and arguing with the safety guy that it was unrealistic to set the goal at zero because someone could get killed by lightning walking the pipeline right of way. I was quickly put in my place by the safety guy who said the company’s goal was to do everything possible to make sure everyone who came to work in the morning got home safely at night and the only way to get there was to set the goal at zero.
Zero is a mindset; so is “it’s inevitable.” And that’s why so many of us are appalled by Kenney’s callous attitude.
Inevitable is a word conservatives love and venerate because of the neo-liberal policies they have followed for 40 years where everything is inevitable. The invisible hand of the market and the fact that it is a waste of time to pursue any other policies because neo-liberalism is the only way and it is inevitable. So they cannot say anything without that word and especially people like Jason Kenney that are great cassette players of those policies. They do not understand what they are saying but they believe in it blindly which for an evangelical that believes that the Earth was made in 7 days, it is not a big deal.
Carlos, what an excellent point! I hadn’t focused on the word “inevitability” in the bigger context, but what you’ve described is exactly what Timothy Snyder talks about in his books on tyranny. He describes the politics of inevitability as a self-induced intellectual coma where we assume there’s nothing more to learn from history and there is no alternative to the basic order of things as they now exist. He says an awful lot more that I don’t have the space to go into here but thank you for making the connection for me.
“The Ontario government is providing more than half a billion dollars in supports to school boards to ensure schools across the province will reopen safely in September and to protect students and staff. These supports will enable school boards to provide more physical distancing in classrooms and direct funding to utilize non-school community spaces, …”
(It’s not clear to me if this is “new” money.)
Keith, I haven’t followed the Ontario situation as closely as the Alberta situation, but it’s interesting that Ford is considering providing direct funding to utilize non-school community spaces to address the physical distancing issue, whereas here it’s being addressed by a last minute Order issued by Dr Hinshaw in which we’re told if it’s not possible to meet the two metre rule in schools, then it’s okay to arrange desks and chairs in a manner to “allow the greatest possible distance between seated persons.” As Shaun Fluker, the law prof said “What exactly does this even mean?”
I meant to compare that with Kenney’s spending. Other than federal grants, they have spent $10 million on masks and told the school boards to spend their reserve funds (Edmonton spent most of their reserves in November to pay for Kenney’s mid-school-year cuts). Is that all Kenney has spent?
Money over lives !!! Kenney seems to be following the playbook of the worst President ever over 180000 deaths more than 6000000 million cases because it is what it is and of course money rules 2023 can’t come soon enough!!!
Paul Pearlman Remember that shampoo commercial from the early 1990s, where the word was spreading about the shampoo. That needs to happen with people in Alberta. Spread the message to everyone you know, and get the UCP out.
That’s kind of how the virus works, too . . .
Paul: I agree, Kenney’s cavalier attitude is second only to Trump’s. It’s interesting how the two of them attract the same kinds of supporters, people who say they believe in all sorts of good things but at the end of the day, they’re prepared to sacrifice it all as long as they get a tax break and the promise of more money down the road. And yes, that’s a gross generalization, but I have yet to hear a cogent explanation for why Alberta can’t reduce class sizes or pay for more portables or unused community spaces to ensure school kids won’t be jammed together like chickens in a battery cage.
Dwayne: I remember that commercial…I’ll tell two people and they’ll tell two people. I think what we’re going to see here is all the people who are hurt by the UCP government’s war with the doctors and with the teachers will finally realize there is a better way to do things because (surprise) not everyone can afford private healthcare and private education.
Apparently, all this Covid-19 “nonsense” is getting in the way of kenney’s grand plan to return Alberta to the social mores of the late 1800s, while also trying to revive the wildcatting oil exploration of the 1950s and 1960s. Money, glorious scads of it just around the corner is his fantasy!
I mean, why bother to note it’s 2020? Or that large petro corporations and comcomitant insurance and pension funds are abandoning the tarsands? Or that oil prices are almost at giveaway levels and provide no stream of income by way of meaningful royalties? Why bother to take into account a pandemic health crisis, the rather obvious global environmental crisis exemplified by the present out of control weather and wildfires in California and giant typhoon in Japan, or making rural doctors work like slaves by regulation? These realities are all most inconvenient for Alberta’s ideologue premier, slowing and confusing his march to personal glory on the backs of the province’s citizens. So he pretends the virus is not seriously happening. There, done. Get those children back to school. Next topic … ?
So, if one is to read law prof Fluker’s analyses, gross incompetence prevails even on the issue of appropriately publicly posting various ill-conceived and intellectually botched government “orders”. Such is the utter confusion, one is tempted to regard the entire organization of kenney’s government as incompetent. Certainly his cabinet ministers are not exactly much above the level of sloganeering dolts, and one wonders if all of them put together could organize their orderly exit from a large wet paper bag. Dr Henshaw appears to have few qualms enacting kenney’s own “medically expert” whims, so you’ve got a dead duck there as a Chief PHO. Nobody stands up to the silly little man, a mere provincial premier.
I cannot talk to my relatives in Calgary, because they’re so disheartened, their mental well-being is threatened by dwelling on the way they’re being governed and the dystopia of it all. They have decided to ignore it, and won’t discuss things at all. They’re stuck there for whatever the duration turns out to be.
Not good at all. Beware reactionry ideologues bearing pie-in-the-sky promises trolling for votes and once in power, subsequently blaming everyone else for their operational mistakes and drear pronouncements of austerity to come. I’d say Alberta has well and truly come off the rails and real leadership is nowhere in sight. Are Manitoba and Saskatchewan any better? Relying on conservative thought and practices seems to point the way to doom these days. Elastic, agile, visionary and thoughtful minds are not those inhabiting the heads of true Conservatives. Rote repetition of mere slogans is all the Con brain has to fall back and rely on, almost by definition, and it is nowhere near enough.
Bill: excellent observations. Prof Fluker’s analysis of CMOH Order 33-2020 is damning. He points out the Order is enacted pursuant to statutory authority, uses mandatory language which establishes obligations, and provides exceptions to these obligations; and any contravention is an offence under the Public Health Act, punishable with a fine of up to $100,000. Given it’s “the law” in this province, it’s pretty badly screwed up.
I don’t think Kenney even knows what’s in his school re-entry plan. In his press conference he said school boards should consult with Dr Hinshaw in the case of an outbreak, but that’s not what the school re-entry plan says. It directs schools to notify Alberta Health and Alberta Health Services (AHS), nowhere are they required to notify or consult with the Chief Medical officer.
Not only is Kenney’s school re-entry plan inconsistent with Order 33-2020 it’s internally incoherent as well. We just learned of a covid case in a high school. AHS is quoted in the paper as saying this isn’t an “outbreak” because an “outbreak” is defined in the re-entry plan as at least 5 positive cases. That’s wrong. The re-entry plan defines “outbreak” as 2 or more confirmed cases. The only place the number 5 comes into it is the section which says if there’s an “outbreak” of 5 or more cases it will be publicly reported.
Which leads to the question, why the distinction between a 2 case outbreak and a 5 case outbreak and why the lack of transparency over not reporting on the outbreak publicly unless it’s 5 or more cases?
This lack of leadership and consistency is very disturbing, it’s no wonder your Calgary relatives are upset. We all are.
Once again, thank you for this excellent post, Susan. I have just gotten back from six weeks in the States and I completely agree that Kenney is much like trump; same flippant defeatist positioning with respect to COVID-19 — no true leadership in prevention at this point, just a push to get on with life so that the boom times will flourish again (eye roll). Both of them will always have this “unprecedented enemy” to blame their failing economies on, despite that fact that their austerity and tax cuts for the wealthy had already begun that downward spiral.
PS Would love to have just said, “What Bill Malcolm said!” His response was brilliant!
Welcome back Mare: You nailed it when you said both Kenney and Trump will have this “unprecedented enemy” as an excuse for why they failed to deliver on any of their campaign promises.
I take some hope from the fact that at least here in Alberta some of Kenney’s former supporters are now calling for a leadership review. These guys are mad that Kenney took separation off the table in his fight for a “fair deal” from Ottawa. They’re now actively calling for him to be replaced by someone who will threaten separation and then march out the door if Trudeau doesn’t cave.
Given that at least one UCP MLA (Drew Barnes) has already gone public with his support for separation one can only hope more separatists come out of the woodwork and split the UCP in two. Wouldn’t that be ironic, the man who came here to unite the conservatives by merging the PCs and Wildrose, ends up splitting the conservatives into the far right and the even farther right.
In the beginning of Boss Kenney’s Reign of Error, Kenney was more than happy to beggar public education in Alberta. Sometime after the arrival of Covid 19, I believe Kenney realized the virus could be used as a tool to aid him in his quest to decimate public education in Alberta. Kenney knows he cannot eliminate public schooling in it’s entirety, but he can leave public education a hollowed out shell of it’s former existence. How else can you explain Kenney’s Do-Nothing plan to combat the virus in the schools.
Jaundiced Eye: you’re not alone in your suspicion that Kenney is using Covid-19 as an excuse to further weaken public education. Either that or he’s so blinded by ideology that he refuses to spend a dime on anything other than subsidies and tax cuts for corporations, because that’s the silver bullet that will magically turn this mess of an economy around again. If that means schools become covid hotspots, so be it.
Or, perhaps it all goes back to his religious views. Lord only knows what the bible said about pandemics. Maybe we’re all being punished for something???
I am not surprised once again by Kenny’s stand on this. The Conservative party of Canada is basically a mini-me of the so called Republican Party and it’s dangerous Qanon, fine people on both sides, Putin puppet trumpet leader. They’re all trumpeting the same ugly tune – Live and let die.
Sad that Doctor Hinshaw has been seduced to accepting such a low bar. I thought she had brains, guts and stamina but I was wrong. What a terrible mistake Albertans made this last election. We are now reaping the results of a sad excuse for a provincial government.
Jacques: Agreed, the similarities between the GOP under Trump and the UCP under Kenney are remarkable. One thing that unites them is their nastiness in the face of criticism. Kenney is the first conservative premier I’m aware of who has allowed his government-paid staff to attack Albertans on social media for daring to question UCP government policies. As one former politician told me, these guys are worse than anything he’d seen before in all the days he’d sat opposite the Wildrose and successive PC governments.
They don’t deserve to be in government and we must unseat them in 2023.
Hi Susan, just want to share a recent experience my niece had with her son, who started Grade 1 on Thursday. He, and all his classmates, are required to take home all of their supplies, notebooks, etc. every night, and bring everything back with them in the morning, every school day. The amount of ‘stuff’ they have to cart back and forth is substantial, my niece had to help him carry everything. She has asked to speak with the teacher/principal about the need for this. The initial response she received was that it’s necessary to facilitate new cleaning/disinfecting procedures. If he struggles now, he will have even more problems once the snow is back on the ground….. Hope you are well, and staying safe.
On Sun, Sep 6, 2020 at 6:01 PM Susan on the Soapbox wrote:
> susanonthesoapbox posted: ” These are unprecedented times, and they’re not > being made any easier by Jason Kenney’s callous justification for his > government’s half-baked School Re-Entry Plan, or Dr Hinshaw’s Order 33-2020 > which was intended to clarify questions around masking and so” >
Like Susan has said in one of her answers I doubt very much that Jason Kenney knows what this non-plan actually entails. This outbreak definition of 2 versus 5 is just another way of reporting or not and creating confusion just in case it serves their purposes.
Jason Kenney continues to believe this is just an influenza and that is how he deals with it and nothing changes his mind because these people cannot change their rigid brains at all.
One just has to listen to Drew Barnes interview with Kathleen Petty in the podcast West of Center to understand how these people function. It is a one way thinking even if there is a cement wall in front of them. He resigned because he is retiring. The usual excuse. He is 100% on the independence bandwagon and I hope that is where he is using his leaky intelligence and cause a major rift in the UCP.
In fact I doubt Jason Kenney will be premier until 2023. The UCP will not last that long. Drew Barnes was the first little crack on the wall.
In the meantime 5 doctors quit in Sundre. I am sure Jason Kenney will create special private contracts to replace them. Even if it costs more but privatization is the objective. Their school covid plan was also designed to force richer parents to form learning bubbles with private contracted teachers that Jason Kenney hopes will transform into more private schools that we will then have to fund despite being private.
Carlos: Someone who doesn’t have children of their own, shouldn’t be deciding, or making school reopening policies. Furthermore, like Ralph Klein, more privatization is what the UCP is aiming for. We must reject this.
Dwayne he does not have anything at all. He does not have any kind of ethics or morals. All he wants is to implement very far right wing policies to stop Alberta from ever be at the center of politics and allow all these lunatics like Drew Barnes to make Alberta their right wing playground. This is is main objective and he wanted to try that at Federal level when he was there with his buddy Harper, the problem is that Canada at Federal level is way more complex to move and we saw that when he was trying to give companies a free for all on foreign workers and allow full exploitation without any regulations. It was a disaster and he had to back out.
This man is disgusting and not sure what will happen before he is done but I certainly hope that things go very wrong for him within the party because otherwise we will all pay a big prize and many will leave. This is a very bad experiment into extreme politics. It is of course his sick biblical mind
I suspect Dr. Hinshaw is caught in a professional trap between her training and ethics, opposed to the cynical manipulation of Kenney. I’ve met people who believe, with complete sincerity, that if they only hang on a LITTLE longer, they can mitigate the damage of a misguided boss.
Sadly, it doesn’t work that way. “I can help these people” is the handle that callous manipulators use to trap decent folks into taking responsibility for bad decisions. Once you’re stuck in that frame, it’s hard to fight your way out.
I suspect Dr. Hinshaw has convinced herself that she just has to hang on, keep working to minimize the damage, and things will get better soon. I’m sorry to say, it ain’t gonna happen. Kenney will continue to take advantage of her professional ethics until she quits—or we fire him.
Susan: It’s mindboggling and unreal how people will blame the school boards, teachers, and even the NDP for the UCP’s mishandling of the covid situation. Covid doesn’t discriminate based on age, or how healthy someone is. With classrooms and schools having kids crammed in them like sardines in a can, this certainly won’t make things better. Over this past long weekend, Alberta has seen a dramatic increase in covid cases, over 600, and this was the largest increase in 4 months. I don’t know how the UCP followers will react when things go downhill.
Absent from all plans is testing for contageousness. Rapid Antigen screening at home screening testing must be a priority going forward. Let’s ask the government where they are at in that regard. What happened to Jason’s grand declaration that Alberta would be ahead of the country in innovations in managing the spread of the virus? We’re ahead alright….well ahead in the per capital of new cases in the past 7 days.
The children testing positive….are they contageous? It’s troubling that this important question is not being explored in the media.
People like Jason Kenney have to make fake grand declarations to counter balance their lack of everything that makes a person honest, ethical and dignified. He has made many grand declarations because it is his only option to excite and ignite those that like him need slogans to believe in what they scream about. The Alberta Advantage and having our own police force and get the Feds out of our backs..etc. But when it comes to reality he has accepted every single dollar coming from the Feds to help us go through this crisis and all the money he had available he gave it to his masters in the boards of big corporations and did not have a problem finding money for all of that. When it comes to us, Alberta citizens, he does not blink to fire as many public employees as possible especially those that can challenge his lack of intelligence like teachers and doctors.
I am sure you know all of this but it needs to be said as many times as possible so that his slogan fans can read facts rather than fake dreams of his biblical mind.
lizferguson Anyone who tests positive for covid is contagious. Alberta already has the highest per capita rate of people with covid in the country. The UCP are the ones who have the blame for making that happen.
Great article and comments all. All the teachers, students and their families put at grave risk; don’t think we won’t hold you personally responsible for every single one that suffers as a result of your policies, Mr.Kenney
Dave Climenhaga made some interesting points on the subject too”
“There’s no way we’ll be adopting anything like the Alberta NDP’s proposal to reduce class sizes to 15 students each for the duration. That, said Premier Kenney, apparently horrified, “would require opening 13,000 new classes, building 800 new schools, training and certifying 13,000 new teachers at an estimated cost of $4 billion.”
We’ve already given approximately that much away in tax breaks to big corporations, and we’re committed to handing another $7.5 billion just to TC Energy Corp. to keep building a pipeline through Montana that Joe Biden has promised to unplug on the minute he’s elected president.
Mr. Kenney, by the way, claims this risky investment will create 1,400 direct jobs and another 5,400 indirect ones. That makes the NDP plan look like a much better bargain. For a slightly smaller expenditure, you’d get 13,000 direct jobs and, according to the premier’s arithmetic, nearly 40,000 spin-offs.”
Add to that a 12 billion dollar deficit and compare it to BC NDP’s 321 million dollar deficit and all you have left is a Kenney doll that makes quacking noises, or writes cheques for them, when the oil companies pull its string.
Here’s a small piece of good news from the courts:
I think this is way more interesting and good news
Hopefully it continues going that direction and fast
I have thought a lot about this issue. I realize COVID is scary to many people, however it is a risk we all have to deal with, unless we isolate alone at home or with only close family members. I realize there are some people doing just that, often because of health issues and other risk factors such as age. However, many of us do go out in the larger world on occasion and therefore there is some risk we face. Some of us commute to work, others go shopping (for essentials and or other things) and visit family and friends. There is no guarantee will be not get sick while doing any of those things, just as there is no guarantee that kids in schools may not come into contact with other kids and get sick.
I also think it is very important to society that schools re-open (not so sure about some other things like bars, movie theatres and dinner parties though). Most parents are not equipped or do not have the resources to home school, although for those that want to at this time, I am fine with that. I think that on line learning in many cases is not a good substitute for going to school, so I am not against schools reopening.
However, having said all this, I do have a lot of concerns about how the government of Alberta has handled the reopening of schools. They seem to be trying to do it as cheaply as possible and not paying enough attention to things like class size. The UCP sure seem to be a rigid bunch, once they have made up their mind that they are right (which was often probably a long time ago based on preconceived ideology), they seem very resistant to letting anything change their views or approach. We are dealing with an unprecedented situation here and I don’t think this is a good time for rigid ideology. A little more flexibility and responsiveness to the situation as it exists (not as they might wish it to be) would be a good idea at this time.
Dave, I think you’ve described how many of us feel. We’re trying to live with covid until we get a vaccine, but we don’t feel the Kenney government has done as much as it should to reduce the risk. Here’s another example: Chartwell, Canada’s largest retirement home operator complained that the 14 day self-isolation period for new residents was driving down occupancy rates and asked the governments of BC, Alberta, and Ont to waive this requirement. Alberta agreed to lift this requirement, and a government spokesman said only those deemed to be high risk would be required to self isolate. This is puzzling given that seniors, who are the only people who are allowed to move into retirement homes, are by definition high risk. More magical thinking.
Here’s the link: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-retirement-home-operator-chartwell-calls-on-provinces-to-ease/