Abbott and Costello’s comedy routine “Who’s on First” was performed in the late 1940s. It’s based on a skit Abbott heard in an episode of a radio comedy show called “It Pays to be Ignorant.”
Premier Kenney performed his own version of this routine in the Legislature last Thursday, only Kenney’s version wasn’t funny. It was offered in response to questions from Opposition MLAs trying to determine who was in charge of Alberta’s covid response while Kenney was vacationing abroad.
Quick recap: Kenney was away from Aug 11 through Aug 30. He says he managed the government’s covid response the entire time. His Health Minister, Tyler Shandro, also booked vacation during this period and designated Education Minister LaGrange to be the “acting Health Minister” in his absence.
While Kenney was on vacation daily case numbers soared from 126/day to 960/day, the number of Albertans hospitalized with covid tripled from 90 to 336 and thousands of surgeries were cancelled.
Last Thursday the Opposition asked LaGrange to explain why, given she was the “acting” Health Minister, she failed to act while positive case counts and hospitalizations spiked.
Kenney stepped in to answer for her—he has a habit of responding to questions directed at someone else if there’s a chance his ministers or officials might say something that could embarrass him. In this case he need not have bothered, he did an excellent job of making himself look incompetent all by himself.
His answers can be boiled down to this:*
- The Opposition’s question was ridiculous because Shandro was on the job “every single day, seven days a week” and Kenney talked to Shandro “every single day” … or was that … “almost every single day” … or maybe … he was in “constant communication” with his health minister. A good litigator would have a field day with this guy.
- The suggestion that LaGrange was in charge was complete rubbish. Being designated acting health minister was simply a formality intended to confer “signing authority.” Really? That’s not how the Opposition, or anyone else in the private sector who’s gone on vacation and appointed someone to “act” on their behalf, sees it.
Does this make sense?
Kenney insists he was in charge of the covid file the entire time he was away on vacation, but there are no emails or CMOH phone calls during that time to back Kenney up. Perhaps Kenney, without the benefit of input from public health and healthcare specialists, was simply taking calls from Shandro who was running around like a chicken with his head cut off trying to fit his vacation around his duties as health minister as the 4th wave worsened.
Kenney approved Shandro’s vacation in the middle of the 4th wave. That means both the premier and the health minister intended to take a vacation during the worst of the pandemic. This is irresponsible and reckless.
Kenney said that when Shandro designated LaGrange to be “acting Health Minister” this merely gave her “signing authority” in Shandro’s absence. There are two problems with this explanation.
First, Kenney says Shandro was holding briefings and being briefed and making critical decisions while on personal time. However LaGrange continued to hold the power to sign health ministry documents. This is extremely sloppy governance. If Shandro did work through his vacation he should have withdrawn LaGrange’s “signing authority.”
Second, the Opposition says acting ministers act. They make decisions, take meetings, and are kept in the loop. This makes sense. Either Kenney does not understand what an “acting” minister is supposed to do or he deliberately attempted to mislead the House and Albertans on the implications of naming the minister of one portfolio, the “acting” minister of another. In either case, this is poor leadership.
Let’s try this again
In Abbot and Costello’s comedy routine “Who” is on first base (or in this case on vacation in Europe with no intention of returning as the 4th wave worsens because the health minister—who is also going on vacation—is on it). “What” is on second (having designated the education minister to step in for him while he’s on vacation and then attending briefings and calling the premier while at the same time trying to salvage his holiday plans). And “I Don’t Know” is on third (blissfully unaware that being designated “acting” Health Minister means more than simply signing whatever document is put before her).
So who’s on first? In Kenney-land the answer is Nobody.
*Alberta Hansard, Dec 2, 2021, pp 6763-6764