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Groups speak out on Premier Kenney's lack of leadership during the COVID pandemic

Union leaders say government's emergency measures are too little, too late.
Government announcement of emergency measures to combat COVID-19 don't cut it, say provincial union groups. Photo: Metro Creative Connection

On Wednesday, Alberta declared a state of public health emergency and plans to implement new health measures to expand capacity, increase vaccination rates and reduce transmission of COVID-19.

For some, the move is too little, too late.

"Like many Albertans, I think of the families of the thousands of people who have died from COVID and the people who have suffered as a result of the cancellation of surgeries over the past month," said Gil McGowan president of the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL). "Alberta needed leadership throughout the pandemic, but especially now. Leadership means taking responsibility and owning your mistakes."

McGowan says that while Kenney acknowledged the crisis, he refused to apologize for his decision to prematurely lift public health measures. "He refused to apologize for pandering to the vocal minority of anti-mask and anti-vaccination activists that protested at hospitals, and he refused to apologize for saying Albertans concerned about rising case numbers were “promoting fear”. He instead defended his actions by falsely accusing people of wanting “permanent lockdowns”, rather than sensible measures to prevent the spread of the virus."

For its part, the Alberta Union of Public Employees (AUPE) responded to the Sept. 15 declaration of emergency measures with an urgent demand to reverse all cuts the UPC has made to the healthcare system and to immediately trash the ones it has planned.

“Beds, ventilators, staff, medications – you heard Dr. Verna Yiu,” said AUPE Vice-President Bonnie Gostola.“These are things our hospitals are running out of right now – literally the most basic, life-saving components. Now, AHS is on the verge of triaging. That shouldn’t be happening in our hospitals.”

Gostola said a pandemic and second state of public health emergency calls for a full-stop to the UCP’s plans to outsource 11,000 AHS jobs, which will put even more pressure on rural Alberta’s collapsing healthcare system.

“Our urban populations are getting crushed by COVID, and our rural communities are absolutely starved for hospital resources,” she said. “AHS says it won’t seek outside help until we’ve ‘exhausted every single option,’ but I can tell you right now, the most important part of our healthcare system is already beyond exhausted – and that’s the frontline staff. The people who deliver care. It’s time for Alberta’s officials to stop playing games and ‘step up’ like they keep telling the rest of us to do. Albertans need solutions because the pain is far from over."

New temporary health measures that now apply provincewide include restrictions on restaurants, indoor gatherings, weddings and funerals, retail, entertainment venues and indoor sport and fitness, beginning Sept. 20.  Measures in workplaces, indoor private gatherings, places of worship, schools and children’s activities, as well as mandatory masking and physical distancing in all indoor public spaces are in place now.

"With COVID-19 hospitalizations continuing to rise, particularly among the unvaccinated, we have no choice but to implement the proof of vaccination measures and temporary restrictions," said Premier Kenney when announcing the emergency measures.

Though there are huge waits to try to get into the portal, the government is asking Albertans to access copies of their COVID-19 vaccination records through MyHealth Records. The printable card, which was going to be made available on Sept. 16, will now be available on Sept. 19.

More than 79.5 per cent of eligible Albertans are now protected with at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine and 71.4 per cent are fully vaccinated.