EDMONTON — Following the release of a third-party review into the government’s response to the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the official opposition in Alberta is calling for an independent judicial review to provide accountability.
On Friday, the long-awaited external report prepared by accounting firm KPMG assessing Alberta’s handling of the first wave was released by the province. It provided five recommendations and discussed aspects of the pandemic response, including provincial communication strategies, economic supports offered by Alberta, and health care staffing shortages.
Sarah Hoffman, NDP deputy leader, said at a press conference Saturday the report was “damaging” to the United Conservative Party (UCP).
“The report contains serious concerns,” she said. “It provides very real evidence and recommendations that the government ignored entirely.
“It only covers the first wave, when we know so much heartbreak, pain, and suffering occurred as well in the second and third waves.”
The official opposition is calling for an independent inquiry into the entire response to the pandemic to provide “accountability” to Albertans, including frontline health care workers, small business owners, and those who have lost loved ones.
“At bare minimum, I think what Albertans deserve is accountability, transparency, and openness,” Hoffman said.
The member of the opposition said she was disappointed it took so long for the UCP to release the report.
“Yesterday, as most Albertans set off for their weekends, the UCP finally released the report addressing their response to the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Hoffman said.
Brett Boyden, government spokesperson, said in a statement that the government appreciates the KPMG report.
“We want to thank KPMG for their work on this report, which will help inform Alberta’s approach to widespread emergencies in the future,” Boyden said.
“The report shows Alberta was on the right track and on par with other provinces dealing with the early stages of an unprecedented global pandemic.”
STAFF SHORTAGES FELT NOW WERE WARNED ABOUT: NDP
Hoffman said the UCP did not listen to the report when it predicted health care system staffing pressures due to the pandemic.
“As KPMG was warning about staffing changes, the government continued down their path to undermine our public health system at a time when we needed it most,” she said.
“Look where we are. We are at bed shortages in hospitals, in at least 26 Alberta communities and we have whole emergency departments closing for days at a time.”
Boyden said the report showed that “significant progress” had been made toward ensuring staffing pressures were dealt with.
“Over the last year, Alberta Health Services (AHS) filled more than 1,000 vacancies for registered nurses,” he said. “In fact, AHS employs 1,700 more RNs today than in 2019.”
‘FAILED COMMUNICATION’ FLAGGED IN FIRST WAVE, NOT IMPROVED UPON
She also highlighted how the report mentioned communication with municipalities, businesses, and other stakeholders was flagged in the report as an area for improvement.
“Failed communication with businesses was flagged in the KPMG report as a concern in the first wave,” she “And then the government did an even worse job in the second and third waves.”
Throughout the first wave, small and medium-sized business supports offered by the province had an uptake that was “lower than expected,” the report said.
According to the third-party review, only 32 per cent of businesses surveyed by the province took advantage of Worker’s Compensation Board (WCB) premium deferral and used the provincial relaunch grant during the first wave.
“Alberta’s NDP put forward more than two dozen recommendations to support these businesses. Most were ignored or mocked by the premier, the minister, and their political staff.”
Hoffman added that the report highlighted that while other provinces in Canada implemented special supports for vulnerable populations, like youth, to lessen the blow the pandemic had on them, Alberta did not.
“This report highlights how terribly we failed Alberta’s youth,” she said. “B.C., Ontario, and Quebec all introduced programs to address youth unemployment during the pandemic. But Jason Kenney did nothing.
“Now we have the highest youth unemployment rate in the country.”
Read the report here: