A couple of months after Mr Kenney lost control of Covid-19, he lost control of his party.
Consequently on Dec 13 Albertans find themselves here: our covid testing system is overwhelmed, contact tracing has collapsed, hospitals are at 120% capacity, ICU beds are filling up, the Red Cross and hospital field tents are on standby and anti-mask, anti-vax, anti-you-name-it protesters are demonstrating all over the province.
What went wrong
Kenney’s demise started in the spring when he decided to deny or soft pedal the virulence of Covid-19 to support the myth that he could control the virus with a “balanced approach” that would protect “lives and livelihoods.” He opted for half measures to fight a virus, the likes of which we had never seen before.
On Nov 25 when it became apparent that “balance” was not within reach Kenney implemented restrictions so pathetic that health writer, Andre Picard, called them “inaction posing as action, a quasi-libertarian Premier bending over backward to do nothing while pretending otherwise.”
Not surprisingly our covid infection rate and death rate continued to climb.
Then on Dec 8 Kenney imposed restrictions he said were necessary but would destroy the hopes and dreams of brave Albertans and violate of our constitutionally protected rights and freedoms.
Finally, when Kenney was asked whether he accepts any responsibility for his government’s inept response to Covid-19 he lashed out, characterizing criticism as “Alberta bashing” and “drive-by smears on Alberta.”
Let’s stop there for a moment.
The allusion that criticizing Kenney is criticizing Alberta—namely “Kenney is Alberta” and “Alberta is Kenney”—echoes tactics adopted by dictators and tyrants across the globe to silence critics. It also reinforces Kenney’s identity politics which are divisive and the antithesis of democracy. (Arguments over who gets what in a democratic context can result in compromise, not so in identity politics where arguments over who we are prevent compromise because compromise is viewed as betrayal.)*
Jekyll and Hyde
What makes Kenney’s position so unstable is he turned himself into Jekyll and Hyde in order to placate his base. Dr Jekyll said he is imposing restrictions to protect Albertans from the virus; Mr Hyde said these restrictions will destroy Albertans hopes and dreams and violate their Charter rights.
It didn’t work.
Moderate conservatives have been drifting out of the UCP tent for a while. Many of the hard right bolted last week. Before they left they flooded Kenney’s Facebook page and various websites with stinging comments. They are angry and disappointed. They made it crystal clear Kenney betrayed them and they would never vote for him again.
This creates an opportunity for other UCP members who are circling like vultures, waiting for the right moment to take the premier down.
One MLA who springs to mind is Drew Barnes. He has repeatedly challenged Kenney’s policies. On the heels of Kenney’s Dec 8 announcement, Barnes issued an “open call to the premier and cabinet” to let gyms, massage therapy, and hair salon businesses stay open.
Barnes cited an article issued by the University of Virginia in support of his position. He said the article stresses the importance of cardio in fighting the virus (cardio in a hair salon?). Unfortunately, the link to the article would not open. However, it’s important to note Virginia is in the covid red zone. It appears to have twice as many covid cases and three times as many deaths (when adjusted for population) as Alberta. The government will ignore Barnes’ suggestion which is fine by him, he’s not really speaking to the government but his cadre of supporters.
So where does that leave us?
The Legislative Assembly adjourned on Dec 8, and will not return until sometime in Feb 2021. Over the Christmas break the UCP caucus will get an earful from their constituents including the rural UCP MLA who said his constituents would be okay wearing masks until the government told them it was mandatory then they’d rip them off because they’re freedom loving Albertans, or something like that.
Kenney will spend the break dreaming up ways to deflect the outrage directed at him by offering his supporters another enemy to focus on (cue Trudeau’s carbon tax increases).
The rest of us will try to hang on until the vaccine arrives.
2021 will be a harrowing year.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have a sensible premier like Rachel Notley, who has the interests of all Albertans at heart, instead of one who morphs back and forth between Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde?
*The Economist Nov 28, 2020 p10