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Braid: UCP shuts down legislature, faces charges of cowardice

Calgary Herald logo Calgary Herald 2021-05-03 Don Braid, Calgary Herald
a man standing on the sidewalk talking on a cell phone: Alberta Premier Jason Kenney leaves the Alberta Legislature on April 8, 2021. © Provided by Calgary Herald Alberta Premier Jason Kenney leaves the Alberta Legislature on April 8, 2021.

There are many things a government with a severe crisis on its hands probably shouldn’t do. Leaving town is one of them.

In a Sunday move with no compelling logic behind it, the UCP unilaterally suspended two weeks of the legislature session , arguing that there’s a health risk.

“Having MLAs return to Edmonton from all over the province after constituency week is no longer prudent,” government house leader Jason Nixon said in a statement.

“Suspending proceedings is the right thing to do as case counts increase.”

NDP Leader Rachel Notley said the government has “gone into hiding.” She branded Premier Jason Kenney personally as “a coward.”

Perhaps the shutdown is meant to signal more severe COVID-19 measures across society, coming soon.

But only last week Kenney’s secret cabinet committee voted down a recommendation to close restaurants and patios. Would they overturn that just a few days later?

Notley also said Kenney isn’t crazy about being in the same room with his MLAs.

There may be something to that. These days, the premier seems to face two opposition legislature parties — the NDP and half of his own caucus.

But the shutdown may be pretty much what it seems, a symbolic gesture to show Albertans the seriousness of the COVID crisis.

The province has now moved into top spot in all of Canada and the U.S. for infections per 100,000 people.

Sunday’s count of new cases — 1,731 — was down from more than 2,400 the day before . But weekends are almost always lower because testing slows.

We could know by the end of this week whether COVID in Alberta is peaking or still surging. The politicians and health officials are surprised by its current power — and very nervous.

Kenney went on a Twitter tear Sunday against the people who staged an anti-masking rodeo event in Bowden.

“Not only are gatherings like this a threat to public health, they are a slap in the face to everyone who is observing the rules to keep themselves and their fellow Albertans safe,” he said.

The reason for the high COVID-19 numbers, the premier added, “is precisely because too many Albertans are ignoring the rules we currently have in place.”

Kenney was instantly reminded that patios are still open, thousand are jamming into malls, and people who openly flout the rules are scolded but seldom punished.

Whatever the reasons for the legislature shutdown, public health in the building itself can’t be a major one.

Nixon said there are no cases among legislature staff or MLAs. Chamber meetings are held with masking rules and plenty of space between MLAs.

Many meetings were already being done remotely without cancelling sittings in the legislature itself. Cabinet and committee meetings will be entirely virtual as well.

Normally, a decision like this would require an adjournment motion and a vote in the house. But the UCP earlier brought in changes to standing orders to allow a unilateral, vote-free shutdown.

a large building:  The Alberta Legislature in Edmonton on Nov. 5, 2020. © Ian Kucerak/Postmedia The Alberta Legislature in Edmonton on Nov. 5, 2020.

Responding to the shutdown, the Opposition laid on rhetoric that’s extreme even for these divisive times.

Notley said “the NDP adamantly opposes Jason Kenney’s cowardly decision to flee the legislature while critical public health measures such as paid sick leave have not been enacted, and the government’s larger response flounders.

“The premier has now run and gone into hiding. He’s a coward.

“He’s running from his own caucus. This is a government in complete meltdown — you can’t have them in the same room together.”

Now, they won’t even be in the same legislature together.

But will Albertans in general be upset because the daily shouting match ceases for two weeks?

Maybe not. Solutions are what matter today.

The UCP is scrambling to find some, with striking lack of success.

Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald

Twitter: @DonBraid

Facebook: Don Braid Politics


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