Kenney’s Roleplay as Someone Knowledgeable Falls Short

Jason Kenney’s need for approval is clouding his better judgement in the communication to Albertans regarding Covid-19. 

On Tuesday evening the Premier delivered a prime-time address to Albertans regarding the potential outcomes we could face based on Alberta Health Services’ modelling for the pandemic. 

It was a stark warning that the challenge Covid-19 poses to Alberta is serious, but it also struck a hopeful tone of us having the power to determine which outcome we faced collectively. Would we pull together and protect each other and try to keep deaths as low as 400? Or would we see ourselves facing the loss of 6,600 Albertans. 

Other than a brief foray into his conspiratory musings of a plot to suppress Alberta, the speech struck the right balance of frank warning with hopeful potential. It was serious, rational, and mostly fact based. The type of direct communication that a population needs to receive in a time of crisis. 

Premier Kenney noted the technical briefing and data would be shared and broke down in a subsequent availability on Wednesday afternoon. 

The media, and many interested and concerned Albertans tuned in on Wednesday expecting that like in BC and Ontario, public health officials would be able to walk through the data, the assumptions and the likely outcomes. 

Instead they got Premier Kenney doing his best impression of a high school science fair project presentation. (Hat tip to Carrie Tait for that apt assessment). 

Whether this was advised by his communications team or driven by his own need for approval and to be seen as competently managing the crisis, it was a spectacular misstep to not rely on the experts who understood what they were presenting and the work that went into it. 

For nearly an hour the premier stumbled through charts, graphs, and numbers, fumbling to articulate what they meant and how they were arrived at. It was a bewildering piece of amateur hour performance that as many questions as answers. Particularly, what the hell was he thinking?

“Sorry, do you have presentations, doctor, I’m sorry I took so much time, I apologize,” Kenney asked as he looked towards two infinitely more qualified doctors in Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the Chief Medical Officer of Health, and Dr. Verna Yiu, the President and Chief Executive Officer of Alberta Health Services. 

Competent, capable leaders will be visible and engaged in their communications but will defer to experts as a means of sharing important information. 

Were the premier to get up and say “I am happy to be here today to introduce two very qualified and capable leaders in Alberta’s Covid-19 response, they will walk through the data underpinning my speech last night, and then we will take questions,” he would have received full marks from me. 

I’ve yet to see any evidence that roleplaying a public health official or data scientist has any positive impacts on the outcome of our pandemic response; But as the premier continues to demonstrate, his need to put politics first always trumps rationalism. 

This post contains opinion and informed analysis.

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