Premier Jason Kenney said the calls within his own party for him to resign are a direct result of frustration over COVID-19 restrictions.
“I lead the government and I’m ultimately responsible for those, and so, the frustration and anger gets focused on me in this position, understandably so,” Kenney said.
Earlier this month, 17 United Conservative Party MLAs signed a letter that opposed the government’s decision to bring back COVID-19 measures and demanded the province move forward with reopening. Last week, Global News obtained an unsigned copy of a letter penned by disgruntled UCP members, calling on the premier to step down.
“We, the undersigned members of the United Conservative Party, formally request your immediate resignation as leader of the party and as Premier of Alberta,” the letter reads.
READ MORE: 17 UCP MLAs revolt against Alberta government’s renewed COVID-19 restrictions
The letter included a list of concerns, including pandemic restrictions, government spending and poll numbers.
“Once you have lost trust, it can never return. Your personal unpopularity will only result in defeat,” the letter continued.
On Wednesday, Kenney said while he sympathizes with those who are frustrated with restrictions, he does not regret implementing measures and will continue to do so if he believes they are necessary.
“I would say to those folks, whether they are in my political party or elsewhere, that this government has tried as best it can to follow the data, the best public health advice, to take a balanced approach with the goals of avoiding preventable deaths, avoiding overwhelming our health-care system, while also trying to minimize the impact of restrictions on the broader health of our society,” he said.
“What’s the alternative? Was the alternative to let the virus run completely loose, to make no responsible efforts to control viral spread?
“The critics are not responsible for what happens in our health-care system. They’re not responsible for avoiding an overwhelming of our hospitals. The government is and the government takes that responsibility very seriously and will continue to do so.”
READ MORE: Economy vs. health — experts say COVID-19 has put Alberta in ‘disproportionate’ balance
Kenney said with about one-third of Albertans already receiving at least one COVID-19 dose and an additional 10 per cent obtaining “natural immunity” after being infected with the virus, Alberta is at the “10-yard line” in its fight against the virus.
“I really don’t think we should allow politics to divide us as we seek a way forward together in what’s left in this pandemic,” Kenney said.
Regarding last week’s unsigned letter, UCP president Ryan Becker said “signatures on a piece of paper from a largely anonymous small few with their own agendas does not and will not supersede the rules and procedures that govern our party.”
Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt said the premier is in a difficult position regarding his handling of the pandemic. Bratt said the only saving grace for Kenney will be a successful immunization program, which would allow him to remove restrictions and begin rebuilding the economy.
As of Tuesday, there were 20,721 active cases in Alberta – the second highest number since the start of the pandemic. But on Wednesday, Kenney said he expects as many as 700,000 Albertans to get a vaccine in May, which could turn the situation around for the province.