"Give me liberty or give me death!" That line was Patrick Henry's claim to fame. If you live in Jason Kenney's Alberta, those seem to be your two options. Don Lenihan and Andrew Balfour write:
Joe Biden didn’t win the US election; Donald Trump defeated himself – and he did it by denying the truth about the pandemic. Jason Kenney’s decision to become “the voice of liberty” as the virus rampages through Alberta seems to us strangely similar. Indeed, the premier’s rants are starting to sound like the caricatured Alberta conservative, “Joe Albertan.”
Albertans don't like those choices:
The latest Environics poll has Rachel Notley’s NDP leading Kenney’s Conservatives 47 to 40 per cent. A Leger survey last week found a mere 37 per cent of Albertans were satisfied with the premier’s measures to fight the pandemic. To get clearer on what Kenney is thinking and why he is talking this way, let’s roll back the tape on his response to the pandemic.
Kenney has been the most strident Conservative voice in Canada. And, as COVID numbers rose in the province, he continued to echo Patrick Henry:
A steep rise in COVID cases was under way by mid-October, and by early November, the numbers were surging. Even conservative premiers knuckled under and began imposing hard measures on their provinces – except for Kenney, who talked about defeating the virus, but failed to act.
On November 6, new measures were finally announced, but the premier stoutly resisted any use of mandatory measures. The emphasis was firmly on “personal responsibility.” Why?
A lockdown, Kenney said, “constitutes a massive invasion of the exercise of people’s fundamental rights and a massive impact on not only their personal liberties but their ability to put food on the table to sustain themselves financially.”
The premier was heading down a different path. Instead, he called on Albertans to continue “to lead the way as the freest province in the country…”
On November 12, 70 physicians from across the province sent a letter to the premier calling for “strong and decisive mandatory measures,” perhaps along the lines of a “circuit breaker” lockdown.
Kenney replied by doubling down on liberty “We’ve seen other jurisdictions implement sweeping lockdowns, indiscriminately violating people’s rights and destroying livelihoods. Nobody wants that to happen here in Alberta,” he declared.
But over the next two days, it was the virus that showed who was really in control. Each day, the province surged past 1,500 cases – overtaking even Ontario, which has more than three times the population of Alberta and was itself surging out of control.
On November 23, 341 physicians sent yet another letter to the premier, pleading for a lockdown and warning that the rise in cases would soon overload the health-care system.
Indeed, as the virus devoured medical resources and infected thousands of Albertans, Kenney not only persisted with the Cold War rhetoric but, ironically, ranted about how he was resisting “political pressure” and “ideological approaches” from those who were trying to undermine liberty and damage people’s lives and livelihoods.”
It was, frankly, bizarre.
Bizarre is too polite a word. In Ontario, we are in the same boat as Albertans. The pandemic should put the final nail in the coffin of neo-liberalism. We'll see if that happens.