Alberta suspends legislature for two weeks as COVID-19 cases soar to record levels
By Dean Bennett
EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s government is suspending the spring sitting of the legislature due to soaring, record-breaking caseloads of COVID-19.
Government House Leader Jason Nixon, in a news release issued Sunday, said the two-week stoppage is to prevent further spread of the novel coronavirus.
He said it is not due to any confirmed COVID cases among legislature members or staff.
“With COVID-19 continuing to spread across Alberta, the government has determined that having MLAs return to Edmonton from all over the province after constituency week is no longer prudent,” said Nixon.
“Suspending proceedings is the right thing to do as case counts increase.”
The Opposition NDP, however, said the legislature still has critical work to do on the pandemic, including passing rules to allow for paid sick leave.
The NDP also noted that legislature members are now being kept home for their safety while some students must still go to school. Front-line staff at restaurant patios and stores, the added, also have to report for duty as those businesses are not shuttered.
“Alberta needs real leadership at this moment of crisis, but instead Jason Kenney is abandoning his post,” party leader Rachel Notley said in a news release.
“I can’t help but remember his boastful rhetoric this time last year, invoking the memories of the British parliament remaining in session through the (German bombing) Blitz,” she added.
“The suggestion that the legislature cannot sit while servers are still working on patios and people are still crowding into malls is absurd. Now more than ever, Jason Kenney needs to show up to work.”
The tentative return date is May 17, and Nixon says the house can reconvene earlier if an emergency arises.
The decision comes as Alberta’s hospital system braces for a storm surge of patients over the next few weeks, given daily COVID-19 case counts have topped the 1,000 mark for almost a month.
In each of the last three days, Alberta has logged more than 2,000 infections a day.
It has been setting new records this week for active cases, which now sit at 22,504.
There are 646 people hospitalized with the virus, including 152 in intensive care.
Hospitals in Edmonton and Calgary have begun scaling back non-urgent surgeries to handle the pandemic-related influx.
On Friday, Alberta’s physicians were briefed on a triage protocol should the COVID situation ever reach that sobering point.
The 50-page document stresses the plan would be to focus resources on patients with “the greatest likelihood of overall survival” while considering the amount of resources needed for that survival and how long those resources would be needed.
It will be a group call, given the heavy moral burden such life and death decisions would have on individual physicians. Family members of the patient have no say.
For the last 14 months, Kenney has toggled health restrictions on public gatherings and businesses, trying to save lives and keep people’s livelihoods intact.
He was criticized for waiting too long to bring in new rules during the second wave at Christmas, and is now facing similar critiques during the third.
Kenney dismissed bringing in new restrictions on Monday, saying people likely wouldn’t follow them anyway, but by Thursday introduced new rules on so-called COVID hot spots. He said the measures were critical to bending the curve.
Kenney dismissed criticism he was pursuing inconsistent, confusing policy, instead characterizing it as a nimble, flexible response.
Kenney’s government has also been criticized for failing to enforce public health rules, particularly allowing packed congregations to meet for months at the Grace Life Church near Edmonton before shutting it down in March.
Kenney has said his government has no say in how health rules are enforced.
On Saturday, hundreds of people flocked to a “No More Lockdowns” rodeo outside the central Alberta community of Bowden, in full defiance of the province’s health regulations and with no apparent pushback from authorities
Alberta currently doesn’t allow indoor social gatherings and outdoor gatherings are limited to 10 people. Stores remain open at sharply reduced capacity and restaurants can keep their patios open.
On Thursday Kenney announced new rules for high-case zones — encompassing most of Alberta’s urban areas — shuttering gyms and sending home Grade 7-12 students who weren’t already learning on-line.