Government House Leader Jason Nixon has announced the suspension of the spring session of the legislative assembly for at least two weeks due to rising COVID-19 cases in the province.
In a statement released Sunday, Nixon’s office said the suspension is an effort to prevent further spread of the virus, not due to confirmed cases among MLAs or staff.
“With COVID-19 continuing to spread across Alberta, the government has determined that having MLAs return to Edmonton from all over the province after constituency week is no longer prudent,” Nixon said in the statement. “Suspending proceedings is the right thing to do as case counts increase.”
The office said the decision was made after consultation with the official opposition Sunday. But in a statement, the NDP called the decision “cowardly” and accused Premier Jason Kenney of “fleeing” the legislature while public health measures such as paid sick leave have not been enacted.
“The first item on the agenda for Monday must be an emergency debate on Jason Kenney’s failing pandemic response,” NDP Leader Rachel Notley said.
“Alberta workers need paid sick leave, families need a Learn From Home Fund to support students online, our variant testing system needs immediate improvement, and our existing public health measures must be enforced. All this work is being left undone because Jason Kenney is afraid of public scrutiny.”
The NDP also noted that legislature members are now being kept home for their safety while some students must still go to school. Front-line staff at restaurant patios and stores, the official opposition added, also have to report for duty as those businesses are not shuttered.
“Alberta needs real leadership at this moment of crisis, but instead Jason Kenney is abandoning his post,” Notley said in the statement.
“I can’t help but remember his boastful rhetoric this time last year, invoking the memories of the British parliament remaining in session through the (German bombing) Blitz,” she added.
“The suggestion that the legislature cannot sit while servers are still working on patios and people are still crowding into malls is absurd. Now more than ever, Jason Kenney needs to show up to work.”
The tentative return date is May 17, and Nixon said the house can be reconvened earlier if an emergency arises.
The decision to suspend the spring sitting comes as Alberta struggles to manage the pandemic. On Saturday, the province reported the highest single-day total of COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic, at 2,433. It was the third consecutive day the province reported more than 2,000 cases.
Alberta’s active case count was at 22,504 as of Saturday, and there were 646 people in hospital with the virus, with 152 of those individuals in intensive care. Doctors are also being briefed on patient triage protocols should they be required.
For the last 14 months, Kenney has toggled health restrictions on public gatherings and businesses, trying to save lives and keep people’s livelihoods intact.
He was criticized for waiting too long to bring in new rules during the second wave at Christmas, and is now facing similar critiques during the third.
Kenney dismissed bringing in new restrictions on Monday, saying people likely wouldn’t follow them anyway, but by Thursday introduced new rules on so-called COVID hot spots. He said the measures were critical to bending the curve.
Kenney dismissed criticism he was pursuing inconsistent, confusing policy, instead characterizing it as a nimble, flexible response.
Kenney’s government has also been criticized for failing to enforce public health rules, particularly allowing packed congregations to meet for months at the Grace Life Church near Edmonton before shutting it down in March.
Kenney has said his government has no say in how health rules are enforced.
On Saturday, hundreds of people flocked to a “No More Lockdowns” rodeo outside the central Alberta community of Bowden, in full defiance of the province’s health regulations and with no apparent pushback from authorities
Alberta currently doesn’t allow indoor social gatherings and outdoor gatherings are limited to 10 people. Stores remain open at sharply reduced capacity and restaurants can keep their patios open.
On Thursday Kenney announced new rules for high-case zones — encompassing most of Alberta’s urban areas — shuttering gyms and sending home Grade 7-12 students who weren’t already learning on-line.
— With files from The Canadian Press