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A woman and her daughter, dressed in a witch Halloween costume, walk through Queen's Park Cemetery in Calgary, Alta., in this file photo from Oct. 30, 2016.Richard Erlendson

There’s little chance trick-or-treating will be banned in Alberta, no matter how bad the pandemic gets.

It’s not that the situation in Alberta is so much better than in Ontario, where public-health officials have recommended kids don’t go door to door on Halloween in areas such as Toronto or Ottawa, where there are high positive-test rates for COVID-19.

In fact, with less than a third the population of Ontario – where there were 841 new daily cases reported on Thursday – Alberta’s daily case count was 427, a new pandemic high. The positive-test rate in Alberta, as a whole, is about 3 per cent – similar to Toronto this week.

What keeps more questionable public-health orders at bay in Alberta is the belief by Jason Kenney and his government that its strategy of less-onerous restrictions will be more effective in the long run. He wants to keep the economy going, and he wants to keep those Albertans who are the most hostile to government orders in the fold.

There’s also something very distinct to Alberta’s political culture, both historical and current, that has the government asking people to restrict their social interactions on a voluntary basis versus any mandatory orders.

Yes, Mr. Kenney and Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro took pains to say that the province’s pandemic rules are based on the advice of Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw. But even health officials weigh a multitude of factors beyond public-health concerns, including how much an order or recommendation will worsen mental-health issues, the economic impact and even whether a decision could provoke a counterproductive backlash.

Dr. Hinshaw warned Thursday that the coming days are “our chance to avoid stronger measures,” and politely asked everyone be extra careful over the weekend. But both she and the Alberta Premier held the line, saying it’s not yet time for any new mandatory restrictions.

In a news conference, Mr. Kenney said definitively that Alberta wouldn’t cancel Halloween, and argued that his province, with a relatively strong testing regime, has been successful at maintaining “the least stringent health restrictions while having some of the best results in the Western world.” (He carefully added that was true “until the last couple of months.”)

“I think the intuition of Albertans who are skeptical about lockdowns is pretty correct," he said.

However, there are certainly risks to this strategy. Some doctors and epidemiologists say with rising daily case numbers, the time is now to right the ship with targeted, middle-of-the-road, highly visible mandatory restrictions. This will help protect already overworked, and stressed, health care and contact-tracing systems.

“There’s a big problem with false polarization,” said Lynora Saxinger, an infectious-diseases specialist at the University of Alberta.

“It becomes lockdown versus the economy. It’s become conceived as an all-or-nothing phenomenon, and it’s not.”

For his part, Mr. Kenney said his government won’t exclude the possibility of “limited, discreet" and targeted mandatory measures if case growth jeopardizes the health care system. But life, including restaurants, schools, some return to travel and Halloween, must go on, he said, especially as the province faces the particularly intense economic challenge of weak oil demand.

This messaging is part and parcel of a conservative vein in the province’s political culture – one that places a high value on entrepreneurship, embraces an idealized version of rugged Western North American individualism and is hostile toward what it views as unwarranted government intrusion.

An Angus Reid Institute poll in August found that in Alberta (and Saskatchewan and Manitoba), three-in-10 residents are “cynical spreaders” – those who have expanded their social circles in the pandemic, don’t physically distance and are ambivalent toward hand-washing and mask-wearing.

“This last group also professes a clear dislike for the way public-health officials and political leaders have handled the pandemic,” said the polling firm. And this month, Dr. Hinshaw said Alberta contact tracers are running into an increasing number of COVID-19-positive people reluctant to provide information about who they met with and where they were.

Why does the province often stand apart politically from other parts of the country? It has to do with history near and far. The formative years for Alberta as a young and rapidly growing province coincided with a massive influx of American settlers that no other province experienced in the same way, writes University of Toronto political scientist Nelson Wiseman.

In 1911, Americans accounted for only 3 per cent of Canada’s total population, but made up 22 per cent of Alberta’s. “They hailed largely from the rural Midwest and Great Plains states, and settled overwhelmingly in southern rural Alberta,” he writes.

Development of the oil industry in more recent decades was heavily controlled by U.S. companies who transferred their employees north. This added to the American influence, especially in Calgary. This history is also part of why the political landscape in Edmonton has often looked much different than that of Calgary.

Still, there is political variation in all parts of the province – it is not the monolith that outsiders often see. Over the years, sources of immigration have changed, of course, to become much more diverse. And the differences between Albertans and other parts of the country are often overstated, especially before the past six years of heightened economic anxiety and clashes with the federal government over energy policy, contributing to the creation of fledgling separatist parties.

Many outsiders attribute any political diversity in Alberta solely to once-strong levels of interprovincial migration and immigration. In fact, the most prominent progressives in the province – think of Alberta Liberal Leader Nick Taylor (who died this month), NDP Leader Rachel Notley, former Edmonton mayor Jan Reimer, Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi – are homegrown.

And the sentiment against mandatory COVID-19 measures certainly isn’t singular to Alberta, or a particular political ideology. While campaigning in British Columbia’s provincial election this week, NDP Leader John Horgan said “mandatory anything” can lead to greater frustration and hostility.

I say this with some affection – the converts are the worst. The relative newcomers have sometimes (but not always) been the most boosterish Albertans you’ve ever met. That’s because they moved to the province to make a fortune, or to get a job, when the economy, oil sector – or health or education sector – were flush. Many were drawn to the gold-rush-like environment.

Either they accepted what they were getting into when they moved here, or they were drawn to the province exactly because of it.

And that same distinct political culture is a big part of why Mr. Kenney, or Dr. Hinshaw, won’t cancel Halloween.

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