Good morning! It’s James Keller in Calgary.
Restaurants, hair salons and other businesses in Calgary that were shut out of the first stage of Alberta’s relaunch plan have received the green light to open on Monday.
The province allowed a wide range of businesses to open May 14, but Calgary and Brooks were put on a different timeline from the rest of the province. While retailers were permitted to open along with the rest of the province, restaurants, cafes, pubs and some personal-service businesses such as hair salons and barber shops were told they would need to wait until at least May 25.
Calgary has had the highest infection rate in the province, accounting for more than half of COVID-19 cases in Alberta, while an outbreak at a beef slaughterhouse in Brooks infected hundreds of workers and spread into the community.
Premier Jason Kenney credited residents of those communities for following public-health advice and continuing to flatten the infection curve and said the “vigilance” of Albertans was helping to win the war against COVID-19.
Alberta has recorded a total of 6,800 cases of COVID-19, 865 of which are considered active, and 134 deaths.
There were 32 new cases reported yesterday and two additional deaths.
Mr. Kenney has said that Alberta is performing better than much of the country when it comes to infections and death.
Alberta has the fourth-highest rate of infections, well behind Quebec and Ontario, while the province is slightly behind B.C. In terms of fatalities, the province’s rate of three deaths per 100,000 puts it far below Quebec and Ontario, and about tied with B.C.
In both cases, Alberta is well behind the national rates.
Leaders in Calgary and Brooks are welcoming the decision to expand the relaunch in their communities.
The decision to delay some openings in Calgary and Brooks was announced with less than a day’s notice, which angered restaurateurs who said they suffered substantial losses after spending money buying food and preparing to open.
Sandip Lalli, president of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, said yesterday’s decision, which provide a three-day notice, was a welcome “course correction.”
Ms. Lalli told me that businesses still aren’t sure whether they’ll be able to turn a profit in the current environment of physical distancing and reduced capacity, and they’ll be looking to what happens next month for a sign of how things might go in the near-term.
“This is just gonna be a little bit of trial and error for us.”
That last point has become an issue across the economy as it becomes clear that even when businesses reopen, things will be far from normal.
For example, a survey of British Columbia businesses found that only 26 per cent said they believed they will be able to turn a profit as the province allows more businesses to resume operations, in many cases with similar restrictions as Alberta and elsewhere.
This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here. This is a new project and we’ll be experimenting as we go, so let us know what you think.
Around the West
SAFE SUPPLY: The green light to prescribe a safer supply of opioids, made possible by changes to the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and provincial prescribing guidelines, was heralded by drug-policy experts as a significant step toward tackling an overdose crisis that has killed thousands largely because of a highly contaminated illicit drug supply. In the two months since the announcement, about 450 people are confirmed to have been prescribed pharmaceutical alternatives to illicit drugs under the new guidance, according to health-authority data. But the rollout has been halting. A reluctance by many physicians and nurse practitioners to prescribe, in part because of liability concerns, means people who could benefit from these regulated medications have no way of accessing them.
TENT CITIES: Some advocates have called for sanctioned tent cities, with services such as bathrooms and running water, even as the province is wrapping up a process to move about 600 people from three homeless encampments: Oppenheimer Park in Vancouver and the Topaz Park and Pandora Avenue sites in Victoria. Vancouver won’t make such a request, Mayor Kennedy Stewart said. “Instead, we need permanent housing solutions. The federal and provincial governments have the means to deliver the housing we need, all that’s required is the will to do so,” he said in an e-mailed statement.
HUMAN TRAFFICKING: The Alberta government recently announced a panel to look at the issue of human trafficking with a curious person at the helm: country musician Paul Brandt. Though perhaps not so curious when you consider Mr. Brandt’s extensive history as an advocate for victims of human trafficking. Janice Dickson spoke to Mr. Brandt, whose interest in the issue began 15 years ago during a trip to Cambodia, as well as skeptics who question his qualifications to run a government task force. Mr. Brandt said he welcomes the criticism as a way to keep him and the panel accountable: “I understand people’s concerns, but I see it really as a great privilege to bear the brunt of criticism and controversy in the act of standing for freedom."
HATE CRIMES: Vancouver’s police department says it’s seen a dramatic spike in reported hate crimes against people of East Asian descent – 29 since March, compared with just four in the same period last year. Howard Chow, the department’s deputy chief constable for operations, says hate crimes are a surge that spreads beyond the people targeted: “Hate is insidious. Right now, it’s anti-Asian, but it spreads like a virus and impacts us all.”
ALBERTA INTERNATIONAL TRAVELLERS: As of next week, all passengers arriving in Edmonton and Calgary from destinations outside Canada will be subject to scans by infrared temperature-sensing devices. If someone is found to have a high temperature through this initial screen, provincial officials will do a second check with a touchless thermometer. Anyone who has a fever will be subject to a questionnaire about other symptoms. The push to take travellers’ temperatures stands in contrast to the position of Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, who said earlier this month that checking for fever as a means of screening for COVID-19 “is not effective, at all," in part because there are large numbers of asymptomatic or presymptomatic people.
DAYCARE: A universal daycare program was a key election promise of the NDP, but three years into its mandate, there are only 50 sites offering $10-a-day childcare as a pilot project. Now, advocates say, this program could play a critical role in helping British Columbia rebuild from the pandemic-induced shutdown of the economy by allowing parents of young children to get back in the work force. But the government isn’t ready to expand.
MANITOBA LIFTING RESTRICTIONS: The Manitoba government is looking at loosening more restrictions on public and business activities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Premier Brian Pallister has released a draft plan for bars, tattoo parlours, dine-in restaurants and other establishments to reopen. The draft also proposes that film productions and organized sports for adults and youth restart. There is no date set for the changes, and Pallister says a timeline will be set in the coming days based on public input.
SASKATCHEWAN LIFTING RESTRICTIONS: The Saskatchewan government says restaurants, gyms and nail salons can reopen in about two weeks. Starting on June 8, restaurants will be allowed to operate at half capacity and restrictions will also lift on some personal-care services, childcare centres and places of worship. The government also plans to increase its 10-person gathering limit to 15 people indoors and to 30 for those outdoors. The increase wasn’t supposed to happen until a later date.
LONG-TERM CARE VISITS: The updated guidance around who can visit residents in long-term care homes in B.C. is in response to concerns by members of the public that an earlier order allowing essential visitors only was being interpreted differently by different care staff and facilities. Some facilities believed this to mean end-of-life visits only, for example, while the new guidance states explicitly that an essential visitor can be someone assisting with personal care, communications or decision-making. Designated representatives for people with disabilities are also allowed, including to provide emotional support. Health Minister Adrian Dix said the revision is intended to give health care providers clear guidance about considerations they need to make when deciding whether a visit is essential.
ALBERTA’S SAFE CONSUMPTION SITES: A recent report from Alberta Health Services says the site, known as Safeworks, has had a steady increase in use since opening in late 2017, but that usage dropped during March and April. While supervised-consumption sites are allowed to stay open as an essential service, they are operating at a reduced capacity to facilitate physical distancing and limit the spread of COVID-19. The report was released as supervised-consumption services in Alberta face an uncertain future. It has been more than two months since the provincial government issued a scathing report that concluded supervised drug-consumption sites are a blight on their neighbourhoods. Premier Jason Kenney has said some of the sites could be closed or relocated.
Kelly Cryderman on the Alberta Energy Regulator cutting back on environmental monitoring: “It raises the obvious questions as to why restaurants, child care and barbershops can be opened up now, but programs that search for volatile organic compound releases, or some wildlife monitoring programs at oil sands sites have to be shuttered.”
Alison Cretney and Juli Rohl on why we need a non-partisan approach to Alberta’s energy sector: “As governments look toward reopening the economy and returning to some semblance of life as we knew it, this “Team Canada” approach should be brought to bear on other issues faced by the country – perhaps especially so on the messy intersection of energy, climate change and Indigenous rights in Alberta, where the economic fallout of current events has already been devastating.”
Tania Miller on what we lose when orchestras and operas shut down: “In the days and weeks ahead, if you read of orchestra and opera companies shuttering for the summer or longer, take a moment to feel the deep shock and pain that this is, for all of us. This is the pain I felt when I heard that the Victoria Symphony and Pacific Opera will no longer be open for the 2020-21 season.”
Adrienne Tanner on why masks should be mandatory: “Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s Provincial Health Officer, suggested this week ever so gently, as is her wont, that there are certain situations when we should all wear non-medical masks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. She mentioned small shops, hair salons and transit; places where physical distancing is impossible. With the greatest respect – this is a woman who has enabled us to weather a pandemic lightly scathed – when it comes to transit, she should have gone a step further.”
Nick Schumacher on what kind of investment the oil and gas sector really needs: “What Alberta’s oil and gas industry really needs is serious public investment in green technology to diversify the province’s asset mix and reduce emissions. This would enable companies to attract investors concerned with ESG performance to become less susceptible to oil price drops and mitigate opposition from the environmentally minded. Furthermore, public investment in clean technology could create more jobs than similar investments in fossil fuels.”