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Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley says Premier Jason Kenney and the United Conservative government are too often willing to sacrifice principles for short-term votes and support.JASON FRANSON/The Canadian Press

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.

“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.

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

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

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.

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

While COVID-19 hospitalizations remain high – 1,584 as of Friday – Mr. Kenney has said the data suggests the numbers have stabilized and that the current wave of Omicron-driven COVID-19 has peaked, allowing for health rules to be eased.

Ms. Notley said this accelerated timeline is not tied to medicine but owing 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.

She added that Mr. 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.

In October, 2019, Mr. Kenney’s government members swiftly denounced climate-change protesters blocking a downtown Edmonton bridge for 70 minutes during morning rush hour.

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

UCP members are slated to meet up April 9 in Red Deer to vote on whether they continue to have faith in Mr. Kenney’s leadership. That vote had been slated for the fall but was moved up late last year as Mr. Kenney faced renewed discontent in caucus.

Mr. 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.

Mr. 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 Mr. Kenney to respect local autonomy.

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

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.”

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