Health policy experts react to Stampede recording of Jason Kenney

A video of a conversation between Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and a member of the public undercuts faith in public health as COVID-19 cases in the province surge, a health policy professor says.

The video was recently posted to social media, and appears to have been recorded without Kenney’s knowledge.

It shows the premier at a Stampede breakfast-related event in July, where Kenney was asked about people who are not vaccinated. 

“They’re younger. Most of them are under 12, and the flu is a greater threat to them than COVID,” he says. 

“The largest other cohort [of unvaccinated people] is in their 20s and they’re very healthy,” he says. “COVID is not a threat to people under 30, effectively.”

Alberta Health reported that there were three children under the age of 18 in ICU as of Thursday.

In the recording, Kenney also says Alberta will be open for good.

CBC Calgary reached out to representatives from the premier’s office for comment, and didn’t receive a response. 

These types of statements create expectations in the public, making it difficult to impose public health restrictions when needed, says Lorian Hardcastle, a health law and policy professor at the University of Calgary. 

In this file photo, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, right, cooks pancakes while hosting the annual Premier’s Stampede breakfast in Calgary on Monday, July 12, 2021. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

She says such statements undercut people’s trust in public health policies. 

“I think that’s the problem that we’re seeing ourselves in right now, where it was promised that we’re open for summer. It’s the end of restrictions,” she says.  

“Now that hospital capacity is where it is — and we may very well need more restrictions — it becomes very hard politically, for a government who made those kinds of promises to do what they need to do to keep people safe.”

Though he does not specify a timeline, Kenney says in the video that “we’re going to be at over 80 per cent vaccination in Alberta.” 

As of Thursday, about two months after the video was filmed, close to 71 per cent of eligible Albertans are fully vaccinated, representing 60.3 per cent of the total population. 

“Those are not numbers that you want to misrepresent,” Hardcastle says.  

“I also felt as though it was concerning that he downplayed the risk by saying that people under a certain age really don’t have to worry about this. That’s not a message that we want to send.”

At the time of filming, health experts had predicted a rise of COVID-19 cases in the fall tied to the delta variant of the virus, she says. 

“It’s concerning if he genuinely believed that delta didn’t pose enough of a threat that we could find our way back where we were, because certainly other experts did,” she says. 

University of Calgary health law associate professor Lorian Hardcastle says statements like the ones made in the recording can undercut people’s trust in public health policies. (Submitted by Lorian Hardcastle)

John Church, a professor of political science at the University of Alberta, says the video shows that Alberta public health experts and political leadership are at odds about COVID-19 messaging. 

“The science on all this has been very clear for some time, and the science has told us — not to mention the actual on the ground experience — has told us that hand washing, masking, social distancing and vaccination are the way for us to get out of this,” Church says. 

The Alberta NDP declined to comment.

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