Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole praised Alberta Premier Jason Kenney for his province’s handling of COVID-19 as the two sat side-by-side during a livestream on Saturday, while neither leader wore a mask.
“I’m the easiest guy to hang out with because I can’t give it or get it from anyone for four months,” O’Toole said, answering Kenney’s question about how O’Toole was doing after he and his wife got the novel coronavirus last month.
Kenney’s United Conservative Party held a virtual annual general meeting from Nobleford, Alta., over the weekend, and O’Toole said he stopped by for a visit because he was in the province and was on his way to meet with cattle industry representatives.
He and Kenney elbow-bumped instead of shaking hands, but sat at a table only a couple of feet away from each other, faces uncovered, for approximately ten minutes as they discussed the pandemic and energy policy and pipelines.
According to Alberta Health spokesman Tom McMillan, the province still advises everyone to wear masks when physical distancing isn’t possible.
He said that includes those who have already had COVID-19.
“Evidence is still emerging on whether re-infection is a possibility,” McMillan said on Saturday.
O’Toole learned on Sept. 19 that he’d tested positive for COVID-19, making him unable to attend the federal government’s throne speech. He remained in quarantine until Sept. 30.
A statement from UCP spokesman Evan Menzies said both O’Toole and Kenney wore masks before and after sitting in front of the camera on Saturday, and the number of staff in the studio was well below Alberta’s indoor gathering limits. All equipment was sanitized before and after use.
“All individuals who enter the building are required to complete a health screening and sanitize before entry. That included Mr. O’Toole and the premier,” the statement said.
No one from the Conservative Party responded Saturday when asked for comment.
On Monday, Kenney appeared on the Danielle Smith Show on 770 CHQR and was asked about the controversy. He echoed the statement sent by Menzies, but added the chairs were the appropriate distance apart.
“The chairs were in the studio as measured to be two metres apart,” he said. “Maybe we were at some point like 1.75 metres apart. But we did everything we could reasonably to respect the rules.”
In the footage from the livestream, the two men appear to be sitting much closer than two metres apart.
The U.S. Centres for Disease Control website states that there are no confirmed reports to date of a person being reinfected with COVID-19 within three months of initial infection. However, it notes additional research is ongoing.
“CDC recommends that all people, whether or not they have had COVID-19, take steps to prevent getting and spreading COVID-19. Wash hands regularly, stay at least six feet away from others whenever possible, and wear masks,” the website states.
O’Toole told Kenney that getting COVID-19 helped him know what many families are facing, particularly in provinces that he said haven’t managed the crisis as well as Alberta.
He also said his caucus is holding Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to account for not making 15-minute rapid COVID-19 testing available for Canadians.
Alberta reported 332 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, and Calgary joined Edmonton on a watch list, but the province’s chief medical officer of health did not recommend additional restrictions. Bars, restaurants and gyms remain open in the province.
O’Toole praised Alberta’s leadership in offering COVID-19 testing in pharmacies, as well as less restrictive measures with respect to the economy.
“This is only in Alberta. My province, many other provinces, there hasn’t been as strong a reaction. Thank you,” O’Toole told Kenney.