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Alberta Premier Jason Kenney was adamant this summer that health restrictions were a thing of the past, and labelled those who questioned him as fearmongers, but the province’s health care system is now on the verge of a full-blown crisis as the number of COVID-19 cases surge.Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

Demand for ICU beds in Alberta has never been higher, and could exceed capacity within 10 days. Exhausted health care workers are training in triage protocols. The province is in the humiliating position of pleading for front-line staff from other parts of Canada. Jason Kenney is correct it shouldn’t be about him right now.

“I don’t think this should be about politics or personalities,” he said Wednesday, while announcing an Alberta version of a vaccine passport system and a long list of new health restrictions.

“I don’t think this is about me. I think this is about protecting our hospitals.”

Here’s what else the Premier is right about, that COVID-19 is “an invisible and ever-changing foe, and we have no choice but to face the threat of this fourth wave head on.” His instinct to try to keep small businesses and schools open even in the darkest days of the pandemic has been a good one.

He’s right to implement health measures this week that depressingly snatch some of the best parts of regular life away from people, once again. There is no choice. You can only delay so many elective surgeries, or deploy so many labour and delivery nurses to help out in intensive-care units filled with the unvaccinated.

Alberta declares health emergency, will bring in vaccine passports as COVID-19 surge threatens health-care system

The Premier is also right there’s stronger resistance to getting vaccinated and vaccine mandates in some quarters of Alberta than in other parts of the country. There are more people here who don’t believe in the legitimacy of any health restrictions, don’t trust numbers and data presented by the government or mainstream media, who don’t get tested or isolate when they’re sick, and don’t go to hospital until their health status is dire. Many of them voted for his United Conservative Party in the last election.

All of that is true. But actually, the list of what Mr. Kenney has been wrong about is much longer.

It’s about a Premier who was adamant this summer that health restrictions were a thing of the past, and labelled those who questioned him as fearmongers. It’s about hitting back at his critics then so hard he didn’t take a moment to consider whether they had valid points about the dangerous unknowns of COVID-19′s Delta variant.

It’s about a revisionist history presented on Wednesday, where the Premier said he only “predicted” the province was “open for good” in the summertime – when in fact he near-declared the pandemic over and that health restrictions “will be history.” A brief apology he made near the beginning of the news conference this week became made narrower and narrower in scope as the reporters’ questions went on.

He continues to present the government’s choices as binary – between “permanent, unmovable, consistent, hard, lockdown-style policies,” and throwing everything open. In fact, there is a lot of grey area in between.

It’s about being absolutely determined in August and early September to keep a low profile and not change course, even as hospitalizations soared – coincidentally through a close-fought federal election campaign where angst in Alberta could play negatively on Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole’s campaign.

We have heard a lot about members of the UCP caucus who are against these health restrictions. But there are others who are publicly complaining now that they tried to get action weeks ago.

Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Richard Gotfried wrote on Facebook Wednesday that the government’s previous pledges to never introduce a vaccine passport and the insistence that Alberta was “open for good” would “go down in embarrassment and infamy.”

“We clearly had 30 days’ notice that a crisis was looming … and nothing was done while we lacked any leadership at the helm,” the former chair of the UCP Calgary caucus wrote.

“It will cost us lives and I am gutted by the lack of responsiveness to unequivocal advocacy and clear warning signals.”

So, yes. The province’s health care system is on the verge of a full-blown crisis. It shouldn’t be about Jason Kenney. But it still is.

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