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Alberta and Saskatchewan are responsible for the highest per-capita death rates from COVID-19 in the country, and it’s not even close.Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

It all sounded so wonderful back in July: freedom from the straitjacket of COVID-19 restrictions. At least that’s how Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and his Saskatchewan counterpart Scott Moe were selling it.

On July 1, Mr. Kenney was the first to quash the need for masks, social distancing and public-gathering constraints, declaring Alberta “open for summer.” On July 11, Mr. Moe followed suit in his province, prompting his close ally next door to send out a congratulatory message on Twitter. “Once again,” Mr. Kenney said, “the prairies are showing the rest of Canada how it’s done!”

Or not.

The country’s two Prairie provinces have gone on to become consumed by an ugly public-health emergency. The provinces are responsible for the highest per-capita death rates from COVID-19 in the country, and it’s not even close. And there’s one major reason why: In their zeal to pander to noisy anti-lockdown folks in their provinces (and in their respective parties and parliamentary caucuses), the Premiers decided to ignore the many loud warnings about opening things up too quickly, and went all in. Not long after, the Delta variant arrived and found two provinces with tens of thousands of vulnerable people to infect.

Mr. Kenney has been under intense criticism for a few months now over his decision-making around the crisis. There have been growing calls for a leadership review within his party. His popularity rating sits at a dismal 22 per cent – the lowest of any provincial leader in the country. The Premier has had to put out a call to the military to help with overburdened hospitals. Patients have been airlifted to hospitals in other provinces.

Saskatchewan is in even worse shape. On Thanksgiving Monday, the province’s normal complement of critical care beds were taken up with COVID-19 patients. In the three months since the province reopened, case numbers have shot up 47 per cent. The COVID-19 death rate is 6.62 per 100,000 people – the worst in the country. (Alberta has come in second, at 4.7 per 100,000; Ontario’s rate, by contrast, is 0.67.)

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Like Mr. Kenney in Alberta, Mr. Moe was reluctant to introduce vaccine passports until he was literally left with no option, finally announcing such a policy in September. Now the bread basket of Canada is simply a basket case.

Mr. Moe’s popularity has also taken a tumble. In a new poll by the Angus Reid Institute, the Premier’s approval numbers crashed from 61 per cent in the last survey to 43 per cent. Mr. Moe’s Saskatchewan Party won a majority just last year, so he’s likely not too worried, though he’s surely hoping the public has short memories.

But while it would be easy to simply blame this all on a lack of political leadership, it’s not that simple. Saskatchewan and Alberta have the lowest rates of full vaccination of any province in the country – at roughly 64 per cent each – despite regular pleas from their Premiers for people to get inoculated. But thanks to the governments’ slow adoption of vaccine passports and other measures designed to halt the spread of the virus, the unvaccinated have not been convinced to do what is necessary – which has produced the bedlam we are now witnessing.

There is something particularly odious about all this. Many of these folks have ignored warnings about what could happen to them if they didn’t get vaccinated, and now they are getting the disease, ending up in hospital and testing the limits of overburdened health care systems.

When these people chose not to get vaccinated – in most cases, without good reason – they demonstrated what they really thought about the nurses and doctors who have spent the last year-and-a-half exhausted and stressed beyond belief. The same nurses and doctors now have to save the lives of many of these same people – all because they were too selfish to spend five minutes in a clinic to get their first shot, and too selfish to spend another five to get their second.

Now, children, seniors, immunocompromised people and other Canadians who have followed all the rules are having medical procedures postponed and enduring breakthrough infection – all because some tough guy read somewhere that he might grow a third eye if he got vaccinated, and got deadly ill instead.

Mr. Kenney was wrong. The Prairies aren’t showing Canada how it’s done. Too many folks there have shown just the opposite. And it’s not a pretty sight to behold.

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