The Friday Focus is a weekly blog post from Interim Leader John Roggeveen. It covers some of the pressing political issues of the week.
The UCP’s Non-Precautionary Principle
The government has signalled it could be ending some if not all COVID restrictions soon, including the removal of the REP (vaccine passport) next week.
Everyone wants the pandemic to end, but viruses don’t give in to human demands to cease and desist immediately. We need a diligent and calculated approach to lifting restrictions this time. But, with Kenney’s leadership review on the horizon, he’s clearly focused on short-term political gain. His base wants restrictions gone, and he is appeasing them to get their support this spring. That’s bad news for the rest of Alberta.
However, we do need to plan for a wind-down of COVID restrictions when the time is right. Immunologists, epidemiologists and other experts have said that living with COVID as endemic is the most likely endgame for the pandemic. Experts also project that hospitalizations will come down in the coming weeks. Therefore, we need a plan that isn’t rushed and politicized.
The Liberal approach to phasing out restrictions would include clear metrics based on various factors, including hospitalizations, ICU numbers, and death rates. We would avoid the lifting of all restrictions immediately. Instead, we’d take a step-by-step approach, lifting restrictions in phases with careful monitoring of the impacts of each stage. We would prioritize lifting restrictions on the vaccinated first. This makes sense since this is the population least at risk to themselves and others. Rushing to lift the REP program is the wrong approach. This situation needs a measured, apolitical, science-based response.
The Coutts blockade is dominating the headlines in Alberta this week, as anti-vaccine and anti-restrictions protesters disrupt our border with the U.S. There’s a lot to unpack about this disruptive protest, but today I want to focus on Jason Kenney’s rather telling response.
Not two years ago, we saw Jason Kenney introduce the “Protecting Critical Infrastructure Act”, a draconian and likely unconstitutional law, to crack down on indigenous and environmentalist protesters. Alberta’s UCP government justified this on the grounds that the protesters were disruptive to Alberta’s way of life and economy. Meanwhile, Coutts blockaders who are far more disruptive and dangerous are getting their way as the UCP rush to lift restrictions, including the REP.
Let’s be blunt. People engaging in what could be viewed as domestic terrorism seem to be dictating public policy. Why is it easier for this government to listen to conspiracy theorists blockading our border than doctors or teachers? Why do these people warrant lukewarm rebukes while environmentalists and indigenous protesters are subjected to harsh anti-protest laws? Worse yet, by placating these anti-science and anti-public safety extremists, Kenney risks emboldening them to take more uncompromising stances and make more radical demands.
This hyper-partisan approach is the root of our polarized and hyper-partisan politics. That’s why we need to keep rebuilding so that we can bring collaborative and constructive politics back to the Legislature.