Taylor: Alberta Altruism

Is PPE a political tool?

April 7 – Jason Kenney – We believe we have a one-month supply of masks[1]

April 8 – Jason Kenney – Alberta is prepared to share with other provinces if they get more PPE than required[2], when outlining that Alberta Health Services (AHS) has been asked to “go as big as they can” for procuring supplies. 

April 11 – Jason Kenney – Modeling supported the belief that Alberta would have medical equipment beyond its need[3]

April 11 – Tyler Shandro – the province recently signed contracts valued at $200 million, including millions for gowns and N95 masks.

They say a week in politics is a lifetime. As Albertans staying at home are learning, so is a week during a pandemic. As such it’s no surprise that in the span of 4 days, the Alberta government transforms from having only a month of necessary personal protection equipment (PPE) to having a surplus ready to supply to other provinces in great number. $41.2 million[4] in surplus to be exact.

It was also a supply sufficient to make a backdrop for a media announcement too.

Suspending the knowledge of a full-out fight with medical professionals in Alberta, one could consider this an act of empathy and Canadian patriotism by the Premier of Alberta. Something one should expect from our political leaders in a time of crisis. However, Jason Kenney has a long track record of also being a shrewd political operative and such acts usually come with strings attached.

The first thing to note was a letter circulated to all the provincial Premiers with follow-up call on April 9th by the Prime Minister. This call, the consultation with provinces[5], is a required step to implement the federal Emergencies Act; a move that the Prime Minister has repeatedly stated that he doesn’t want to enact. However, Justin Trudeau has also stated that “there are a number of tools that the Emergencies Act provides for, much stronger controls on distribution of necessary medical supplies and equipment.”[6]

While the consensus of the Premiers is not to immediately enact the Emergencies Act, there is varying opinion on whether it is needed at all. British Columbia Premier John Horgan is forcefully opposed to the Act and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe (also chair of the Council of Federation) questions why the topic is repeatedly raised. Yet New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs favors invoking the Act while Ontario Premier Doug Ford said it’s Trudeau’s decision.

If you are Kenney, this is not the time you want to be sitting on the largest stockpile of PPE in the country. In a stroke of a pen (well, an act of Parliament), he could have been forced to share without choice. Even worse, you would have been forced by a Prime Minister you have been fighting with for years without any recourse. Such a battle with Ottawa would be even more difficult when your conservative cabal of Premiers are not in alignment with you and you have to rely on an NDP Premier as an ally.

So, the more political tactful move on Kenney’s part is to distribute the PPE before you are forced to do it. Standing in front of rows and rows of boxes and demonstrating your altruism gets you the positive media you need.

Of course, in Kenney fashion, he also takes the opportunity to attach the strings to his altruism when he points out that the PPE is being sent to two provinces, Quebec and BC, that have previously opposed Alberta pipelines.[7] Lecturing other Premiers and equating the actual lives and safety of citizens of those provinces to the economic lives and health of Alberta is not going to get the results you want.

Alberta wants pipelines to tide water, both east and west. Lording PPE over those opposing the pipelines is not productive, it’s just political. 

[1] https://edmontonjournal.com/news/politics/plans-for-the-legislative-assembly-this-week/

[2] https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/alberta-releases-extensive-modelling-covid-19-1.5526461

[3] https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/alberta-to-send-personal-protective-equipment-to-ontario-quebec-b-c-1.5529989

[4] https://calgaryherald.com/opinion/columnists/braid-in-striking-act-of-generosity-alberta-donates-protective-gear-worth-41-million-to-three-provinces/wcm/87b459f8-94f2-4ed6-aae7-635efeae3fcd/

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emergencies_Act

[6] https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/emergencies-act-premiers-consensus-1.5529119

[7] https://edmonton.ctvnews.ca/alberta-to-send-ppe-to-ontario-quebec-and-b-c-1.4892347?cache=yesclipId104062%3FautoPlay%3Dtrue