Albertans have every right to feel angry and betrayed by government officials who flouted restrictions and travelled out of the country over the holiday season, two cabinet ministers say.
The mea culpas on behalf of the United Conservative Party government came from one minister who has been at the centre of the province’s 10-month battle to slow the spread of COVID-19, which has now killed 1,168 people, and from another who had held his portfolio for less than an hour.
“I’ve been on the phone a great deal in the last several days, and I’m hearing from Albertans who are angry,” said Ric McIver, who took over as municipal affairs minister about 30 minutes before Tuesday’s news conference, replacing Tracy Allard, who resigned after it emerged she had travelled to Hawaii for a Christmas holiday.
“Sometimes they’re yelling, sometimes they’re using hard language,” McIver said. “And I guess the message that I would say to Albertans is, you have every right to expect good behaviour and a high standard of conduct from your government. And Albertans get to judge whether your government has met those standards of behaviour.
“And from what I’ve heard, Albertans have said very clearly that we have not met those high standards. What I have to say is, our government agrees. So if you’re yelling at us, interestingly enough, my message is, thank you. There is no doubt in our mind, we didn’t get it right.”
Asks for patience
McIver was joined by Health Minister Tyler Shandro, who also said the public has every right to be angry after learning that a cabinet minister, the premier’s chief of staff and five other government MLAs travelled outside the country.
“All I can say is this, I can say that we’re sorry,” Shandro said. “But I’m not asking for their forgiveness. I’m trying to make that very clear. I don’t think we can ask for forgiveness at this time. What I’m asking from Albertans is patience.
“There were over a million Albertans who voted for us because we campaigned on hard work and humility. And some folks from our team forgot about that last part. It is going to take us time to be able to earn back that trust, to earn back that credibility and to show people that humility is still important for our team, our caucus, our party and this government.”
The apologies came as the province announced that a second health-care worker, a woman in her 50s from the Edmonton zone, had died from COVID-19, just a day after the public learned that a health-care aide from Calgary had died from the respiratory illness.
Tuesday’s news conference came one day after Premier Jason Kenney accepted the resignations of Allard as minister of municipal affairs, and of his chief of staff, Jamie Huckabay.
Kenney also demoted five other MLAs who travelled internationally over the holidays.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s chief medical officer of health, also weighed in on the travel imbroglio.
“I would echo what the minister said with respect to understanding why Albertans are so angry about this,” she said. “As you know, I often, when I’ve stood up here, have asked Albertans to be compassionate with each other when we all make mistakes and when we do things that we shouldn’t do.
“And so today, like every other day, I’m going to say I can absolutely understand that anger. I also know that all of us, all Albertans, are really sick and tired of COVID, and sometimes that leads to lapses in judgment.”
Defends vaccination rollout
At the news conference, Shandro defended the province’s vaccine distribution system, which some critics say has been too slow. He said 26,269 people had been vaccinated as of Monday.
“They’re on track to do another 3,000 today,” Shandro said. “That means by the end of today we should be at about 29,000, the initial goal that we set in mid-December. It was an aggressive goal and we’re getting there only a few days later than we had hoped, in spite of the need to plan around delivery times and amounts that are consistently and constantly shifting.
“We’ll get the vaccines out as soon as we get them in.”
The minister noted the next shipment of vaccine was on the way on Tuesday and said the province is working as fast as it can.
“We were on a bad course in December but we changed it,” Shandro said.
More doses coming
The province is finding ways for the immunization program to be more efficient and bring the vaccines to where people who need them are, Shandro said.
Alberta Health Services has launched an online appointment booking tool for health-care workers, he said.
AHS is doing everything it can to immunize as many people as possible, including providing immunization in the evening, on weekends and on holidays, he said.
“They’re working across every zone to give the shots at more locations. There’s currently 45 sites across the province and more will be added as more vaccine becomes available to Alberta.”
The province expected another 13,000 doses of vaccine to arrive this week.
Alberta reported 26 more deaths on Tuesday and 843 new cases, with a total of 13,411 active cases in the province.
Across the province, 919 patients are being treated in hospitals for the illness, including 140 in ICU beds, said Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s chief medical officer of health.