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Alberta NDP Leader Notley says Premier Kenney is pandering to COVID-19 protesters

Alberta’s Opposition leader says Premier Jason Kenney is treating illegal blockaders with kid gloves to curry favour with them and their supporters at a crucial upcoming party leadership vote.

Rachel Notley said it’s indicative of a premier and a United Conservative government too often willing to sacrifice principles for short-term votes and support.

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“We are a nation of laws and it’s time this UCP government remember that these laws apply to everyone — even if you happen to want their vote in the leadership review,” she told reporters Monday.

“The sight of an elected government being bent to the will of criminals should be of grave concern to everyone regardless of their political beliefs.

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“The UCP has tossed out their values for votes.”

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Alberta premier speeding up restriction easing timeline amid convoy protest raises questions

Notley made the comments as protesters against vaccine mandates, in trucks and other vehicles, continued a weeklong demonstration at the Coutts border crossing in southern Alberta, tying up traffic in both directions.

On Monday, Alberta RCMP said there were about 300-400 protestors taking part in the Highway 4 and Highway 501 demonstration near Milk River, Alta., and up to 100 at the Coutts protest.

“Our traffic enforcement has been stepped up,” RCMP spokesperson Fraser Logan told Global News.

He said, “overall, the protesters have been peaceful,” adding the RCMP has no timeline for any resolution to this protest.

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On Monday after 10 p.m., RCMP tweeted: “Both north and southbound lanes at the Coutts border have now been blocked by the unlawful blockade on Highway 4. Motorists are still being asked to avoid the area.”

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Sympathy vehicle-driven protests in Calgary and Edmonton that began on the weekend have subjected residents to traffic tie-ups and honking horns while some businesses have been forced to close early.

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Downtown Edmonton businesses frustrated over ongoing protests

A week after saying Alberta’s vaccine passport would probably be in place until the end of March, Kenney now says he’ll announce a timeline this week to end health restrictions earlier, starting with the passport.

The Restrictions Exemption Program has been in place in Alberta since September, during the fourth wave of COVID-19.

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While COVID-19 hospitalizations remain high — 1,542 as of Monday — Kenney has said the data suggests the numbers have stabilized and that the current fifth wave of Omicron-driven COVID-19 has peaked, allowing for health rules to be eased.

Notley said this accelerated timeline is not tied to medicine but due to protesters putting the squeeze on a premier facing low poll numbers, a restive party and a potentially fractious leadership review in just over two months.

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She added that Kenney and his government members have spoken out and acted swiftly when confronted with previous blockades, making their denunciations of this blockade mere whispers by comparison.

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In October 2019, Kenney’s government members swiftly denounced climate change protesters blocking the Walterdale Bridge in downtown Edmonton for 70 minutes during morning rush hour.

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In 2020, when an environmental protest blocked railway tracks west of Edmonton for 12 hours, Kenney’s government passed legislation to add penalties to those who would block critical infrastructure.

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Alberta tables bill to stop protestors blocking infrastructure

UCP members are slated to meet up April 9 in Red Deer to vote on whether they continue to have faith in Kenney’s leadership.

That vote had been slated for the fall but was moved up late last year as Kenney faced renewed discontent in caucus.

Kenney has been whipsawed by party members over his handling of COVID-19. Some believe he has acted too late and done too little on health restrictions, pushing the hospital system beyond normal capacity while others say he has gone too far and invoked COVID-19 health rules that needlessly violate personal freedoms.

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Kenney is also facing pushback from municipal leaders over his planned cancellation of health rules.

The premier has said he may change laws governing municipalities to prevent cities and towns from keeping their own health restrictions, putting them out of step with the province and thereby causing confusion among residents.

Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said last week his city may keep some health rules if they feel it’s necessary to keep vulnerable Albertans, particularly young children, safe and said he expects Kenney to respect local autonomy.

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City of Edmonton exploring options to keep Restrictions Exemption Program once scrapped by province

Alberta Municipalities, the organization representing towns, cities and villages, echoed that sentiment, noting Kenney made the announcement without any prior consultation with local leaders.

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Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek called for a meeting with the province and municipal leaders, saying on Twitter: “Municipalities must be engaged in reviewing data and understanding the science behind the provincial direction.

“This is a collective responsibility.”

— with files from Global News

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