It was a speech that symbolized Alberta’s pandemic politics in 2021: Premier Jason Kenney’s boastful, loud and unprecedented victory over COVID-19 preceding a crushing hospital crisis.
In 2022, Kenney and his United Conservative government aim to get ahead on the economy and catch up with the thousands of surgeries canceled when hospitals were overwhelmed in the fourth wave of COVID-19 in the fall.
Health Minister Jason Copping said it will take some time. The goal is to catch up to the 68,000 waiting list for pre-pandemic surgery by the middle of next year.
“This is my No.1 job outside of responding to COVID, of course,” Copping said earlier this month, announcing that the number of canceled surgeries has stabilized at around 81,000. reduce that waiting list. “
The wind is in the sails of the UCP, at least in the short term, with a premium in oil and gas revenues at the end of the year reducing the expected budget deficit by two-thirds to less than $ 6 billion.
There was more good economic news.
Tech giant Amazon Web Services announced in November that it had opened a $ 4.3 billion cloud server hub in Calgary.
Alberta’s unemployment rate has fallen below eight percent.
Big-budget film productions have leveraged tax credits to shoot in the province – including HBO’s “The Last of Us” – and injected millions of dollars into local economies.
“Albertans are natural optimists. They just need a reason for their optimism. Well, there are a lot of reasons right now, including the fact that we are leading Canada far in terms of economic growth.” , Kenney told the Calgary Chamber of Commerce this month.
Alberta Premier @jkenney is banking on a # strong economy in 2022 after a tough COVID year. #ABpoli # Covid19
There was a $ 3.8 billion deal with the federal government that will see child care costs start to drop in January and drop to $ 10 a day by 2026.
Doug Schweitzer, Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation, announced, “This is the year Alberta regained our arrogance.
Kenney set a similar triumphant tone on June 18 in his speech on a sunny day near the Edmonton River Valley.
COVID-19 did not receive the memo.
The government then failed to act as cases spiked in August and only changed course in September. Deaths have risen, authorities have rushed to double the capacity of the intensive care unit, army medics have been called and 15,000 surgeries reported across the province, including operations for cancer, have been delayed.
Kenney introduced some form of vaccination passport and other restrictions that boosted vaccinations and reduced hospitalizations. It seemed to help pull the system from the brink.
The Prime Minister took his responsibilities by declaring that “the responsibility ends with me”.
But the mea culpa had asterisks: other provinces also had problems; he didn’t act sooner because he wasn’t sure COVID-19 would tire out – Albertans would follow the rules; he would have acted sooner, but he was waiting for Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Chief Medical Officer of Health, to suggest changes.
Conflicts and controversies over COVID-19 have plunged Kenney’s popularity figures and opened up deep and, at times, public divisions within his caucus and his party.
Critics have said Kenney has been slow to impose health rules for the last three waves, endangering the capacity of the healthcare system, because he fears he alienates his party’s anti-vaccination elements.
Kenney tried to contain the internal conflicts. Dissenters Todd Loewen and Drew Barnes were excluded from caucus. Cabinet Minister Leela Aheer has become a former Cabinet Minister.
Kenney, under pressure from cabinet and later from around two dozen constituency associations, agreed to take his leadership review to a one-day vote on April 9 in Red Deer from late from 2022.
Problems remain, starting with his former rival in the leadership of the UCP, Brian Jean.
Jean, one of the party’s co-founders, won the nomination to represent Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche in an upcoming by-election. He’s running on a platform to end Kenney’s tenure as leader, saying Kenney’s top-down style and botched decisions on COVID-19 cannot be redeemed and the party needs a new one. leader if he hopes to win the 2023 election.
“Kenney sets everything (oil and gas prices) in place,” said political scientist Duane Bratt of Mount Royal University in Calgary. “The other story of 2021, obviously, is COVID.
“At almost every step of the way, the government acts later than anyone else in the country and reacts more weakly than everyone else in the country, is suspicious of what it is doing, and then gradually changes course. We’ll have to see what happens in January if Omicron (variant of COVID-19) becomes as bad as some believe. “
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on December 29, 2021.