While the pandemic rages, Kenney panders to anti-maskers in his base

Alberta is careening towards a Christmas lockdown as our COVID-19 rates, already the worst in the country, surge exponentially. But over the last week Premier Kenney and his cabinet appear more concerned with polling and shoring up the support of their base than doing anything to pull us away from this disaster.

You could hear it in the Q&A after the press conference last Tuesday when Kenney announced the province’s tepid new restrictions. Hedged language about civil liberties and personal freedoms. Pandering gestures to the anti-mask crowd. Even an oblique reference to Venezuelan socialism (quickly revealed to be a tale half-fabricated by the Premier.)

The UCP are in no hurry to bring in paid sick leave, or to clean up the horrific mess in our long-term care homes, or to put the funding behind AHS to keep our health care system working. But they’ve got plenty of energy to point the blame for Alberta’s COVID catastrophe at anyone but themselves and their followers.

For Justice Minister Kaycee Madu, it’s those wily NDP. Never mind that NDP MLAs, having been out of government for quite a long time now, barely have the authority to notarize documents. In a bizarre rant that Madu’s staff inexplicably let him post over the weekend, Madu calls the NDP out as “the only opposition government in North America and the civilized world that has used the pandemic to spread fear, division, and cause more anxiety to our population… The NDP record is one of failure and defeat.”

At least Madu was taking a lateral swipe at his political rivals. Kenney instead punched down at the South Asian folks in Calgary, calling in to RED FM on chastise racialized communities in the north-east of the city for having families that are just too gosh-darned big. It was an outrageous repeat of the same racism heaped on the meat packing plant workers earlier this spring who were made vulnerable to the outbreak by their own economic conditions.

I know a couple of UCP staffers still read these emails. Please, explain to the Premier that these folks are working on the front lines. These are people who are working as health care aides, as taxi drivers, as custodians and and at grocery stores--it’s no surprise at all that COVID is hitting racialized and working-class communities hardest, and to blame the people who are bearing the brunt of the pandemic for the systemic racism that has put them in that vulnerable position is just perverse.

Yet throughout all the finger-pointing last week you didn’t hear a critical word from the Premier or his people about the growing mob of anti-maskers or the extra-parliamentary conservative agitators whipping them up. Kenney’s former colleague and ideological ally Ezra Levant’s Rebel Media is offering to fight the tickets of anti-maskers who are caught breaking pandemic restrictions. (His first rescue: Artur Pawlowski, a Calgary street preacher connected to far-right anti-Islam groups.) The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, run by another Kenney ally, John Carpay--an anti-GSA extremist who Kenney compared to Rosa Parks back in 2017--is encouraging its followers to refuse to wear masks, to file human rights complaints against businesses that don’t let them in without masks on, and to “hope that other people in Alberta become tired and frustrated with mask-wearing and refuse to comply in very large numbers.”

And in cities throughout the province we are starting to see demonstrations against masking and pandemic restrictions by the riled-up right-wing crowd. But while Kenney and co are happy to point the finger at racialized communities and politicians who aren’t even in power, you won’t hear a critical word from them about the anti-maskers. Support for his party is cratering and these die-hards are some of the last votes he can still count on. And so hundreds of anti-maskers broke the Premier’s ‘lockdown’ restrictions marching in Calgary on Saturday--and not a single one of them got so much as a ticket.


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*Correction: This article originally mis-identified Rachel Harder as a UCP MLA.