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UCP backbencher Leela Aheer urges Kenney to admit he botched COVID-19 response, take action

Click to play video: 'UCP Caucus meets to discuss COVID-19 in Alberta' UCP Caucus meets to discuss COVID-19 in Alberta
The UCP government met Tuesday to discuss the current state of COVID-19 in Alberta and whether stronger restrictions are needed. The COVID Cabinet Committee met then the entire caucus met. Tom Vernon has more.

One of Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s legislature members is calling on him to admit he botched the fourth wave of COVID-19 and to outline a plan to fix it.

“He must show some humility and admit he was wrong and tell us how he will make it right,” Leela Aheer posted Wednesday on Twitter.

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The tweet was a word-for-word repeat of critical comments in a Calgary Sun newspaper column on Kenney’s latest handling of the pandemic.

Aheer, who represents the constituency of Chestermere-Strathmore, is Kenney’s former minister of culture, multiculturalism and the status of women.

Read more: ‘I regret that’: Kenney apologizes for Sky Palace dinner that broke COVID-19 rules

She was critical of Kenney’s actions earlier in the pandemic and was kicked out of cabinet in July, although the premier has denied the demotion was punishment for her remarks.

Her latest comment comes as Kenney’s COVID-19 cabinet committee met for the second consecutive day to find a solution to spiralling cases that have pushed intensive care beds beyond normal capacity and forced mass cancellation of non-urgent surgeries.

Read more: Edmonton Catholic Schools taking COVID-19 contact tracing into its own hands

Kenney was scheduled to make an announcement later Wednesday.

Meanwhile, his United Conservative government faced renewed criticism from school officials for downloading COVID-19 health decisions, including mask mandates, to individual boards.

The board of trustees for Red Deer Public Schools, in a letter to Education Minister Adriana LaGrange, called that decision a failure of leadership.

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Read more: Red Deer school trustees condemn Alberta government for causing ‘division and chaos’

“Your government abdicated what was rightfully within the purview of government and public health, laying it on the feet of school boards,” said the letter.

“In doing so, you have further caused and increased division and frustrations in communities across Alberta, which is having a negative impact on the teaching and learning of students, who have already been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Alberta has more than 18,000 active cases — the most of any province. On Wednesday, it also had more than 877 people in hospital with COVID-19, 218 of whom are in intensive care.

Aheer’s comments reflect the ongoing polarized debate within Kenney’s caucus over how to balance personal choice with collective responsibility over the virus.

For months, Kenney has faced pushback from many of his UCP backbenchers, most from rural constituencies, openly challenging and criticizing his health restrictions as ineffective, intolerable intrusions on individual freedoms.

One of those critics, Peter Guthrie, called out Kenney last week for singling out the unvaccinated as the cause of the current crisis.

The vast majority of COVID-19 patients in intensive care are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated.

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The Opposition NDP accuse Kenney of continually kowtowing to the angry anti-restrictions base of his party in order to keep the rift within his caucus from becoming an open fracture that could see members cross the floor, imperilling his leadership.

Two UCP members — Drew Barnes and Todd Loewen — were expelled in a caucus vote in May over criticism of Kenney’s leadership and his approach to the pandemic.

The key question facing Kenney’s government now is whether to bring in a provincewide vaccine passport — a move that has led to rising vaccination rates but also public protests in other jurisdictions.

Kenney has resisted calls to implement such a passport, which would deny access to non-essential places like restaurants, pubs and sports events to those who are not fully vaccinated.

Other provinces, including Ontario, B.C., Quebec, Manitoba and Nova Scotia, have brought in passports or will soon do so.

Kenney has questioned privacy law implications of passports.

Critics say his concerns are not about privacy but politics. They say he fears scalding-hot blowback from the anti-restriction wing of his caucus, party and other supporters if he brings it in.

Kenney announced an end to almost all health restrictions as of July 1.

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His government then took no policy action for weeks while cases and hospitalizations took flight.

This week, the province’s chief medical health officer, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, acknowledged the decision to drop restrictions was wrong and set the fuse on the current skyrocketing caseload.

The government changed course on Sept. 3. Kenney offered $100 to anyone who would get a vaccine shot, put in an alcohol curfew and reinstituted a mask mandate for public indoor spaces and workplaces.

Politicians are to return to the house in late October, but the NDP is calling for an immediate recall to pass measures to fight the fourth wave, including paid COVID-19 sick leave.

“Our caucus is ready to work — to do whatever it takes — to protect Albertans and walk a path out of this crisis,” said NDP house leader Christina Gray.

–With files from The Canadian Press’ Alanna Smith

Click to play video: 'Hinshaw says Alberta’s ‘Open For Summer’ plan was premature, led to spike in COVID-19 cases' Hinshaw says Alberta’s ‘Open For Summer’ plan was premature, led to spike in COVID-19 cases
Hinshaw says Alberta’s ‘Open For Summer’ plan was premature, led to spike in COVID-19 cases

 

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Read more: Alberta adds COVID-19 measures, vaccine passport in effort to prevent health-care system’s collapse

 

Read more: Alberta doctors, chambers of commerce push for COVID-19 vaccine passport

 

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