Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi says some recent rallies billed as opposing the wearing of masks during the pandemic are really just “thinly veiled white nationalist” and “anti-government” activities.
In an interview with The West Block guest host Abigail Bimman, Nenshi expressed his frustration with the fact that people refusing to wear masks and gathering in large crowds are endangering others.
He was asked specifically about comments he made during the 2013 southern Alberta floods, in which he said he was not allowed to use the words he wanted to describe people out canoeing on the volatile and flooded Bow River, and that he had been told he could not invoke “the Darwin law.”
“Here’s the problem. It’s that these folks are not just flagrantly putting themselves at risk. They are putting others at risk, he said in the interview.
“The people on the river during the flood, well, if they drowned, they drowned. But these folks are not only putting other people at risk of infection … they are the ones who are running the risk of filling up our hospital beds, filling out our health care system despite the fact they did this to themselves.”
He pointed specifically to people “coughing and hacking and saying they have bronchitis.”
“We’re not that stupid,” he said.
Alberta is currently grappling with one of the worst third waves in the country.
Infection rates have soared in recent weeks as the province races to roll out available doses of vaccines to its population, and as public health officials urge people to hold on for a little while longer.
New restrictions went into effect last week in an effort to slow the spread of the virus: restaurants and bars closed to in-person dining, outdoor gatherings are capped at five people, salons are closed for three weeks and religious indoor services are capped at 15 per cent capacity.
“We don’t yet know if we’ve hit the peak of new cases,” said Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s chief medical officer of health. “Our provincial R value of 1.12 last week tells us cases are continuing to grow. That’s why implementing these measures now is so critical.
“The spread in our province is extremely high which means the risk of being infected is also extremely high.”
Three Albertans under the age of 50 died last week from the virus.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Friday that the federal government is “ready to assist in any way possible” if requested to do so by Premier Jason Kenney, and that the two spoke by phone last week.
Nenshi said he spoke with Trudeau last week as well.
“I think we’re under control,” Nenshi said, but added he thinks the focus increasingly needs to shift from how to get more vaccines to how best to get them into people’s arms as quickly as possible.
“When I hear stories of people waiting two or three hours at our vaccine clinic in downtown Calgary, I think we can be more efficient. So I did ask if there were any resources the federal government could help us with in the actual putting it into people’s arms side.”
“We’re going to talk more about how to manage that,” he added.
Nenshi was mayor during the devastating 2013 floods and made headlines for his criticism of Calgarians who ignored emergency orders to stay away from the Bow River and bridges crossing it.
“I can’t believe I actually have to say this, but I’m going to say it. The river is closed. You cannot boat on the river,” he said at the time.
“I have a large number of nouns that I can use to describe the people I saw in a canoe on the Bow River today. I am not allowed to use any of them. I can tell you, however, that I have been told that despite the state of local emergency, I’m not allowed to invoke the Darwin law.”
He announced in April that he will not seek a fourth term as Calgary’s mayor.
Bimman asked whether that means he is considering a federal or provincial run.
“I am doing something I never do. I pride myself to be a strategist, to always know the next moves on the chessboard, and I have no idea,” he said, adding he will have a “long to-do list” after leaving office.
“I will find a way to serve that’s in my blood. But probably outside of elected office for now.”