Alberta’s justice minister says a COVID-19 disaster is what the provincial Opposition, the federal government and the media “were looking for and want” in the province.
Kaycee Madu, in Facebook comments posted Friday, said the province can’t risk giving the disease a chance to “overwhelm our health-care system, then create public panic, and see Albertans in field and makeshift hospitals gasping for breath because we have run out of ventilators, manpower etc.
“I don’t think it will be responsible to simply wait until we have a disaster on our hands,” he added.
“That’s what the NDP, the media and the federal Liberals were looking for and want.”
Madu was not made available for an interview Monday.
His spokesman, Blaise Boehmer, said in a statement: “The minister was referring to the increasing tendency of different groups, including the NDP, to exploit the pandemic for their own political purposes.
“We see this every day with the NDP’s overcooked and incendiary rhetoric both in the legislative assembly and on social media.
“The minister won’t apologize for stating the obvious.”
NDP health critic David Shepherd said “what we want, and what we’ve wanted for the last 14 months, is to see responsible action from (the United Conservative) government… so that we would not be in the position now of Alberta being the worst jurisdiction in North America for COVID-19 new cases.”
The Official Opposition is asking Madu to apologize for his comments.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responded to Madu’s comments on Tuesday, saying Canadians do not want politicians using the pandemic to play politics.
“I think it’s a shame to see people pointing fingers and laying blame and suggesting that anyone in Canada wants anything else than to get through this pandemic as safely as possible everywhere,” Trudeau said.
“Last week, I reached out to the mayors of Calgary and Edmonton to offer all the help for Albertans. Every step of the way, the federal government has been there. We will continue to work with Canadians working with all governments.”
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and his minsters have repeatedly accused Trudeau’s Liberal government of hamstringing the relief effort and, as late as April 29, Kenney blamed Alberta’s entire third wave on Ottawa for a slow vaccine rollout.
Trudeau reached out last week, offering extra help if needed. Kenney declined the offer.
During a news conference about the COVID-19 situation in Alberta on Tuesday, Kenney was asked for his reaction to Madu’s comments.
“I haven’t seen those comments but I believe no one wants the pandemic,” the premier said. “We shouldn’t be pointing fingers.
“COVID(-19) has caused a lot of us at various times to say things that we regret… And I just encourage everybody, whatever side of the political spectrum they’re on, to try to give each other a break right now.”
When asked if he would ask Madu to apologize, Kenney did not provide a direct answer and accused the NDP of not being supportive of the government in the early days of the pandemic as some other opposition parties were in other provinces.
“I’ll take a look at the comments and talk to Kaycee. He is a passionate defender of his community and we’re all frustrated by where we’re at with COVID(-19),” the premier said. “COVID(-19) should not be a political football.
“From the very beginning, we had an Opposition that never sought to be supportive of broader efforts, unlike in other provinces where oppositions largely came together with government — at least at the beginning of the pandemic. That wasn’t the case in Alberta.
“My commitment is that we should all try to work together and assume the best about people’s motives.”
Political scientist Jared Wesley said Madu’s comments raise concerns about the line in politics between respecting opponents while trying to defeat them politically versus trying to delegitimize them altogether.
“When you start accusing your opponents of literally wishing death on Albertans, that’s a bridge too far,” said Wesley, who’s with the University of Alberta.
“When it comes to being a minister of the Crown, when you are governing on behalf of the entire population, there’s an extra onus on you to rise above that type of tribalistic rhetoric and behaviour.”
Kenney’s government, in recent weeks, resisted calls for new health restrictions as Alberta COVID-19 cases climbed to record levels and doctors were given guidelines on how to triage patients should the health system become overwhelmed.
Kenney acted last Tuesday, sending all schoolchildren home to learn online while imposing sharper restrictions on capacity in businesses and in worship services.
The province also promised a renewed effort at enforcement. On the weekend, police made arrests and handed out violation tickets in Calgary and in central Alberta for public gatherings that violated health rules.
Madu’s comments came days after Kenney, facing criticism that his government waited too long to react to the third wave, said no one should point fingers and politicize the fight against COVID-19.
On Monday, Alberta recorded 1,597 new COVID-19 cases for a total active case count of 25,438. There are 690 people in hospital. Of those, 158 patients are in intensive care — the highest since the pandemic began.
Also Monday, Alberta opened up vaccine bookings for those as young as 12, with thousands getting processed soon after the online bookings went live at 8 a.m.
Alberta Health Services said it had booked almost 130,000 appointments by 4 p.m.
The expanded eligibility means that 3.8 million Albertans, out of a population of 4.4 million, are eligible to get vaccinated.
Global News has requested an interview with Minister Madu.
Political scientist Duane Bratt said Monday that Madu’s statement was implying the NDP, the federal Liberals and the media “wanted people to die,” and believes the minister should apologize.
Bratt, a professor in the department of economics, justice and policy studies at Mount Royal University, also questioned why Madu was on Facebook in the first place, rather than focusing on his high-profile government portfolio.
“He is one of the key ministers, and that’s why he was at the press conference on Wednesday, strengthening the enforcement,” Bratt said, referencing examples over the weekend in Calgary — and further north in Mirror — of officials cracking down on blatant rule-breakers.
“That’s his domain, that’s what he should be working at. Why did he spend time scrolling through Facebook posts (and responding)?”
Bratt said there’s also been “message discipline” over the last week, and pointed to Premier Jason Kenney’s backing off from criticizing the federal government, which he often did earlier on in the pandemic.
However, Bratt said Madu not only implied both that the Liberals “were looking for and want” a COVID-19 disaster in Alberta, but also criticized the federal government’s stance on international travel, something Kenney and other ministers have not recently taken issue with publicly.
“There was this message discipline that seemed to erode with Kaycee Madu’s post. So it’s a very curious thing,” Bratt said.
— With files from Global News