Thousands of Albertans gathered last weekend to attend the No More Lockdowns Rodeo at Bowden (between Calgary and Red Deer) to show their contempt for public-health measures aimed at curbing spread of COVID-19. The event was held in blatant defiance of an Alberta health order limiting outdoor gatherings to 10 people. Masks were not worn, and no effort was made to keep people two metres apart.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, who has been keeping restrictions to a minimum in deference to the anti-mask faction within his ruling United Conservative Party, said he was angered and saddened by the Bowden rodeo, which threatened to increase spread of the COVID-19 virus. While the two-day event was in progress, the province reported 1,731 new cases of COVID-19, following three successive days with more than 2,000 new cases.
In terms of its third-wave viral outburst, Alberta has suddenly become Canada’s India, with rates of infection far exceeding any other part of Canada. Mr. Kenney thinks the virus is spreading so fast because too many Albertans are not following his instructions. That may be part of it, but the premier himself has also been slow and timid in closing businesses and reducing the size of gatherings.
The Alberta government on Sunday suspended the spring sitting of the legislature for at least two weeks. This would spare elected officials from gathering in the chamber and perhaps infecting each other with the virus. It will also spare Mr. Kenney from facing the NDP Opposition and explaining his ineffective pandemic management.
Mr. Kenney has also been peppered recently with friendly fire from members of the government caucus who thought he was restricting restaurants, stores and private gatherings much too severely. In early April, 17 UCP members of the legislature — one-quarter of the governing caucus — issued a letter saying Mr. Kenney’s restrictions on business were moving the province in the wrong direction. Suspension of the legislature this week could help the premier evade attacks from that quarter, as well.
The Alberta experience should encourage Manitoba’s premier and chief public health officer to maintain — or, if necessary, tighten — restrictions in this province according to the facts of the case, even at risk of offending people who find the restrictions irksome. Premier Brian Pallister and Dr. Brent Roussin reduced crowd sizes on April 26; numbers of new cases were still rising on the weekend, as could be expected. If they continue their upward trend, however, additional restrictions may be required.
The conservative movement in Alberta has a long, tumultuous history of dumping leaders, splitting, merging and anointing new leaders. That was how Mr. Kenney got where he is today.
The Bowden rodeo shows how unruly the anti-mask movement can get when they sense fear or hesitancy in the authorities. Mr. Pallister should aim to exude confidence and consistency. His ill-considered invitation to Manitoba teachers to seek vaccination in North Dakota showed a weak grasp of practicalities. Wobbly leadership of that sort can only undermine public confidence.
In Alberta, Mr. Kenney’s rough ride seems to be getting rougher still, even with no legislative session to challenge him. With his own caucus in revolt and his rural base sneering at his policy, it is far from certain how much longer he can stay in the saddle. The conservative movement in Alberta has a long, tumultuous history of dumping leaders, splitting, merging and anointing new leaders. That was how Mr. Kenney got where he is today.
It’s entirely possible that someone will see the No More Lockdowns Rodeo as the political opportunity they have been waiting for and the basis for a new Alberta insurgency.