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Anti-lockdown and anti-mask protesters take part in a rally outside the Alberta Legislature in Edmonton on April 12, 2021.JASON FRANSON/The Canadian Press

In just about every province, physicians have emerged as crucial voices in the fight against COVID-19.

Their front-line insight and passionate pleas for stronger measures have often galvanized public opinion. In Alberta, Joe Vipond, a Calgary ER doctor, has been sounding the alarm in the past few weeks over the third wave that’s now crashing over the province.

And yet, unlike in places such as Ontario or British Columbia, the response from the Alberta government seems to lack the same level of urgency.

The province has, by far, the highest active COVID-19 rates in the country. On April 22, Alberta reported 1,894 new cases – a single-day record – and from April 19 to 25, there were 11,011 new cases. Over that same period, Ontario, the population of which is more than three times the size of Alberta’s, had 28,356 – triggering a political crisis, with Premier Doug Ford apologizing to the public for his handling of matters.

To put this in perspective: If Alberta was its own country, it would have the fifth-highest seven-day average rate of new cases; Ontario would rank 11th.

Meanwhile, Albertans are also enduring a massive testing backlog, with people having to wait six days or more days to find out if they have the virus – meaning the case numbers could be even worse than we know. The situation is so dire in Fort McMurray that a state of emergency has been declared in the region.

Dr. Vipond has been among those beseeching Premier Jason Kenney’s government to enact stronger lockdown measures; the province has so far refused. “It has become evident the government either feels they will be able to vaccinate their way out of this wave or, alternatively, will just allow it to run rampant and suffer the consequences,” Dr. Vipond recently told the Calgary Herald.

Mr. Kenney was recently applauded on social media for posting a picture of himself getting the AstraZeneca vaccine. He even made it his new profile picture on Twitter – a move that was viewed by some as politically courageous.

In what version of cloud cuckoo land is a picture of a politician getting a vaccine amid a devastating virus outbreak considered brave? That would be Alberta, apparently, where the Premier is facing a caucus revolt and a serious backlash within his United Conservative Party ranks – not for failing to take serious enough action to halt the virus, but for taking measures viewed as too restrictive. (Among those measures are a prohibition on indoor dining, restrictions on gatherings to household members only and a cap on normal occupancy rates for indoor religious services.)

Think about that for a minute. If you ever needed evidence that Quebec isn’t the only distinct society in Canada, this may be it.

Last week, the Herald reported on a letter circulating among UCP riding boards that formally asks the Premier to step down immediately. It states that Mr. Kenney has failed to uphold the grassroots principles of the party, “particularly by repeatedly violating our Statement of Principles in attacking free enterprise, personal responsibility, freedom of worship, freedom of assembly and the free use of private property.” Last week, it had roughly 90 board-member and riding-president signatories; there are likely many more now.

Before that letter, 17 members of his caucus sent another to the Premier, castigating him over his handling of the crisis – again, not for failing to do enough, but for doing too much. That complaint arrived while Dr. Vipond and a host of other on-the-ground medical professionals were warning that the province’s health system could collapse under the weight of all the COVID-19 cases with which it is now dealing.

It’s difficult for any federal, provincial or territorial leader to introduce the kinds of measures necessary to halt the virus’s spread. It means introducing rules that affect people’s lives and livelihoods. No one enjoys doing any of that. But the alternative – watching emergency rooms fill up and listening to doctors describe the brutal last hours of another COVID-19 patient’s life – is worse.

What kind of person tries to make a political leader’s job more difficult during a once-in-a-lifetime health crisis by circulating letters asking him to resign for all the wrong reasons? How much of a selfish and petty lout do you have to be to put your name to such a missive?

Mr. Kenney’s approval numbers are lower than a grasshopper’s belly. Yes, some of that disapproval is represented in people like the letter signers who want their freedom and liberty, virus be damned. But more of the disapproval is emanating from smart, conscientious Albertans – the vast majority, I believe – who are demanding tougher actions so the pandemic can be curtailed quicker.

The path that Alberta is on now, unfortunately, will mean that the pandemic will continue to be an ugly, painful and drawn-out affair – the kind of ending that people never forget.

Dr. Kanna Vela worked at the Scarborough Health Network’s pop-up COVID-19 vaccine clinic in between ER night shifts in late April. The one-day clinic at Woburn C.I. filled its appointments in two hours with long lineups for people 18+ in the GTA hotspot neighbourhood.

The Globe and Mail

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