Alberta Opposition urges Premier Jason Kenney to make sure all caucus members are vaccinated

Click to play video: 'Kenney announces new proof of COVID-19 vaccination policy for Alberta public servants' Kenney announces new proof of COVID-19 vaccination policy for Alberta public servants
WATCH ABOVE: Premier Jason Kenney announces a new proof of COVID-19 vaccination policy for Alberta public service employees. – Sep 30, 2021

Alberta’s Opposition is urging Premier Jason Kenney to make sure every member of his United Conservative caucus is vaccinated against COVID-19. The push comes as Alberta identified 1,630 new COVID-19 cases Friday and 14 additional deaths from the disease (Full COVID-19 data below).

Thomas Dang, the NDP’s deputy house leader, says anyone who is not vaccinated should be removed from caucus.

He says with Alberta hospitals overcrowded with infected patients, it’s imperative that political leaders set the right example and get their shots, as is being required of the governing caucuses in Ontario and Saskatchewan.

“Alberta has some of the lowest vaccination rates in Canada and we are currently paying an incredibly heavy price for this,” Dang said Friday.

“You cannot be a government MLA and refuse to be vaccinated. That selfish choice leads to directly preventable deaths and human suffering. I’m calling on Jason Kenney to require that every single one of his MLAs be vaccinated for COVID-19 or be immediately ejected from the government caucus.”

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Dang says all 24 NDP legislature members and 30 staff have received both vaccine doses.

It’s not clear how many in Kenney’s 60-member caucus have been vaccinated, but there has been internal division over health restrictions and vaccinations.

The NDP has also sent a letter to Speaker Nathan Cooper, in which the party calls for a meeting of the member services committee to bring in a rule that all legislature members be vaccinated to be in the chamber.

Cooper, in an interview, said that the all-party committee can make recommendations to the house, but the legislative assembly “is the overarching body and the primary decision-maker … with respect to access to the chamber or otherwise.”

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Kenney’s office did not return a request for comment.

Read more: COVID-19: Kenney says Alberta to accept help from feds, N.L. as health system under ‘enormous pressure’

On Thursday, Kenney said he is pursuing mandatory vaccinations or proof of negative tests for all house members, but added there are constitutional issues that must be worked out first.

“It’s a long-standing legal principle that you can’t prohibit an elected member from entering the chamber,” Kenney said.

He made the comments after introducing mandatory vaccines for all 25,000 members of Alberta’s public service. Workers must be fully vaccinated by the end of November or show regular proof of negative tests at their own expense. Anyone who doesn’t comply will be put on unpaid leave.

All Alberta Health Services staff, including front-line doctors and nurses, have already been directed to be fully vaccinated by the end of October.

Read more: Alberta Health Services to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for physicians, staff, contract employees

Alberta is trying to get more people vaccinated to stop a surge in COVID-19 cases that has overwhelmed hospitals.

Provincial ICU capacity sat at 84 per cent on Friday afternoon, including additional surge beds. Without surge spaces, provincial ICU capacity would be at 183 per cent.

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The province currently has 374 ICU beds open, including 201 additional spaces. As of 12:15 p.m. Friday, there were 316 patients in ICU across Alberta, the vast majority of whom are COVID-19 positive, Alberta Health Services said.

Kenney has reintroduced a provincewide indoor mask mandate, renewed gathering restrictions and brought in a modified vaccine passport to encourage more people to get vaccinated.

Since introducing the passport two weeks ago, Alberta’s sluggish vaccination rate has been ticking up. Almost 84 per cent of those eligible now have at least one shot.

Read more: Reality check: Comparing Alberta’s COVID-19 vaccine uptake after $100 incentive and passport

The province has also offered $100 for shots along with three $1-million prizes and other rewards. On Friday, Hayley Hauck of Sherwood Park, Alta., was announced as the third and final million-dollar winner.

The province announced her name was one of more than 1,935,951 entries that were received between June 10 and Sept. 23.

In total, 623 Albertans have received lottery prizes, including three $1-million cash prizes, travel, sports and entertainment prizes.

The lottery was launched to incentivize Albertans to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

To date, 83.8 per cent of eligible Albertans have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, including 74.5 per cent who are now fully vaccinated with two doses.

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The province is still offering up $100 debit cards for those considering getting their first and second doses.

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Kenney says  ‘no other measures… currently under consideration’' COVID-19: Kenney says ‘no other measures… currently under consideration’
COVID-19: Kenney says ‘no other measures… currently under consideration’ – Sep 30, 2021

Kenney has said he heard that vaccine hesitant Albertans would be more willing to accept the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine and he’s asked the federal government to provide it.

Ottawa is working to secure more, but doesn’t have any Johnson & Johnson doses right now following concerns about quality control at some manufacturing facilities.

Pressure remains great on Alberta’s hospitals and medical specialists from the Red Cross, the Canadian Armed Forces and Newfoundland and Labrador are expected to arrive in days.

Friday's COVID-19 data

Overall hospitalizations from COVID-19 decreased slightly Friday from the day before, while ICU admissions remained stable.

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As of Friday afternoon, there were 1,066 people in hospital with COVID-19 in Alberta, down from 1,083 people on Thursday. There are 263 people being treated for COVID-19 in intensive care, unchanged from Thursday.

The 14 additional deaths reported to Alberta Health in the last 24 hours bring the province’s death toll from COVID-19 to 2,731.

There are now 20,215 active cases of COVID-19 in Alberta, down very slightly from 20,255 active cases Thursday.

Of the active cases, 5,080 are in the Edmonton zone, 4,834 are in the Calgary zone, 4,015 are in the North zone, 3,995 are in the Central zone, 2,273 are in the South zone and 18 are not tied to any zone.

With files from Global News.

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