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Alberta Premier Jason Kenney makes an announcement at a news conference in Calgary on Sept. 15, 2020.

Todd Korol/The Canadian Press

With military field hospitals on standby to deal with the growing number of Albertans sick with COVID-19, Premier Jason Kenney finally said enough is enough.

Casinos will have to close.

Mr. Kenney this week summoned the courage many in his province were urging him to demonstrate much earlier, instituting a suite of measures that effectively amount to a shutdown of the province.

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The new orders close restaurants, pubs, bars, lounges and cafés except for takeout. They also shutter bingo halls, private clubs and, yes, casinos. The fact that gambling joints remained open as the number of cases grew to almost 1,800 a day was perhaps the most jarring example of the United Conservative Party government’s disjointed and irresponsible handling of the second wave of the pandemic.

But don’t dare suggest that to Mr. Kenney. That would be anti-Albertan.

A Premier who excels in being on the offensive found himself with his back against the wall this week when it came to answering for his government’s woeful record on the public-health crisis that has gripped his province.

Mr. Kenney had, until this week, eschewed the hard measures put in place by almost every other provincial government in the country, saying he didn’t want to infringe on the personal freedoms of rights-loving Albertans – otherwise known as his political base.

When he was asked whether he accepted any personal responsibility for an approach to the pandemic that arguably had cost hundreds of people their lives, Mr. Kenney took great umbrage with the reporter’s proposition.

“You have just joined the folks who are doing drive-by smears on Alberta,” the Premier huffed.

The next day, during a radio interview, it was put to the Premier that when it came to handling the second wave of the virus, his government’s record was among the worst – if not the worst – in the country. Mr. Kenney again called the notion downright unpatriotic: “I don’t accept the Alberta-bashing that is going on here.”

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Alberta-bashing. Drive-by smears.

That’s what Mr. Kenney calls completely legitimate questions and observations about his government’s atrocious handling of the novel coronavirus this fall.

This, from the man who launches drive-by smears in the direction of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal federal government at every opportunity he gets. I guess if you’re a true Albertan, a good Albertan, you don’t ask the province’s Premier uncomfortable questions about life-or-death matters that are 100 per cent within his mandate to answer.

Mr. Kenney tried valiantly, but mainly fruitlessly, to reframe questions about his government’s inept handling of COVID-19′s second wave by pointing to the province’s excellent track record in the spring and summer. And it’s true: Alberta did have the virus mostly under control for the months that preceded the fall outbreak everyone in the world had predicted. Alberta received kudos for its low numbers.

But that’s history now. No one cares about what the situation was in April or May or June. They care about the 20,000 Albertans who are sick now. They care about the 685 people who were in hospital as of Thursday, 121 of them in intensive care. They care about the 653 deaths, 317 of which occurred in the past month, during which many were screaming for greater restrictions to curb the province’s soaring infection rate. Alberta has the highest number of active cases of COVID-19 in the country – more than Ontario, which has three times the population.

I’m sorry, Mr. Kenney, but those are the numbers for which you must be held to account. Questions about your failed pandemic response this fall aren’t anti-Albertan at all; they are questions you should expect as Premier. Put on your big-boy pants and deal with them, instead of trying to make the questioner feel badly for asking them.

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I feel incredibly sorry for the businesses and individuals in Alberta who are going to be affected by the measures announced by the government this week, just as I do for the businesses and individuals in other provinces that have been similarly affected by pandemic-related edicts. It’s horrible, and it just feels worse given this is a time of year when we’re normally celebrating life.

But it needs to happen so Albertans’ lives can be saved, and, finally, the province’s Premier is acting. “If stronger action is not taken now, we know that hundreds, or potentially thousands more Albertans could die,” said Mr. Kenney in announcing his lockdown. “We cannot let that happen. We will not let that happen. We must act to protect lives.”

It’s a statement he should have been making weeks ago. That’s not Alberta-bashing. That’s just a fact.

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