Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has emerged from a weeks-long public hiatus.
Kenney, who had been on vacation, appeared in a Facebook Live video on Wednesday night where he answered select questions.
The social media event was not an official media event and there has been no comment from his office on how questions were selected.
Kenney’s last public event was on Aug. 9 at a brewery in Edmonton.
Since then, the number of COVID-19 cases in the province has risen dramatically and hospitalizations from the disease have increased as well. Health professionals and the Opposition have called on his government to do something to address the worsening health crisis.
Kenney explained his decision to go on vacation and to not speak publicly as the health crisis intensified.
“August is typically a quieter time in politics and government,” he said. “I think most governments have been trying to catch a breather after the last 18 brutally tough months. But also we’re respectful of the fact there’s a federal campaign going on.”
Kenney added that it’s not healthy for anyone to go too long without a break.
“For everybody, especially in a high-pressure job, having a chance to recharge your batteries, rest and reflect, catch up on your sleep is very important,” the premier said.
“It’s important a person in my position doesn’t burnout.”
As of Thursday night, nearly 50,000 people had watched Kenney’s Facebook event, including the United Nurses of Alberta’s Danielle Larivee.
She said she was happy to see the premier speaking publicly again, but that was about the only praise she had for the more than an hour-long question-and-answer session.
Larivee said she and other nurses were angered when the Kenney mentioned the importance of avoiding “burnout.”
“The fact that he made that reference was incredibly offensive,” she said. “(To say) that it’s OK for him to take the time to avoid burnout but he won’t take any actions whatsoever to protect front-line health workers who are overwhelmed and go to work, many of them crying every single day.”Y
As of Thursday, 487 Albertans are in hospital with COVID-19 and 114 of those are in the ICU. Those numbers have roughly quadrupled since the last time the Kenney spoke publicly about the pandemic.
To deal with rising hospitalizations, Alberta Health Services can now call nurses back from their vacations and mandate them to work overtime. Larivee said nurses are burning out.
The UNA stresses that members do not begrudge Kenney or anyone a vacation. The concern is over a perceived indifference to rising cases. Larivee said she wanted someone to share information or answer questions about what is or isn’t being planned.
“When our health system is in crisis, there’s an expectation from me — and I would expect all Albertans — that our government shows leadership, take action and communicate with us,” she said.
Lori Williams, an associate professor of policy studies at Mount Royal University, said she believes “this isn’t an ordinary August or an ordinary election period.”
“This is the fourth wave of the pandemic where Alberta has the highest case count and the lowest… (vaccination) rate (in Canada),” she said.
“If he could not be available to answer questions and reassure Albertans in this very difficult time then he should have made his minister of health or the chief medical officer of health available.”
Duane Bratt, another political scientist at Mount Royal University, said he was struck by Kenney’s tone in his address.
“He just seemed to be minimizing why people were concerned about where he was,” Bratt said.
He added that Kenney’s appearance isn’t necessarily a sign Alberta’s COVID-19 approach will change but he thinks people in the province should be given a chance to better understand it.
“I don’t expect the government to do anything differently,” Bratt said. “(But) I would hope we would have a better explanation about why they don’t want to do anything differently.”
Kenney did say a news conference that includes chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw is planned for later this week to discuss Alberta’s COVID-19 situation. No specific date has been set.
The premier was asked Wednesday about the whereabouts of Hinshaw. Kenney said he was briefed by her shortly before he went live on Facebook.
Because the premier has yet to host an official media availability, Global News has not been able to independently question the premier.
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