David Staples: Kenney's lottery announcement misses the mark in one crucial way

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Alberta’s lottery for COVID vaccine recipients? Great idea.

Premier Jason Kenney and Health Minister Tyler Shandro’s explanation of the lottery plan at Monday’s press conference? Solid communication.

Kenney’s failure to praise Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for raising Canada’s vaccine procurement program from the outhouse to the penthouse? A missed opportunity and a telling one.

You might ask why Kenney would ever praise Trudeau, especially on the vaccine file. After all, as recently as early March, the federal vaccine procurement record was a disgrace. Canada had failed to produce its own vaccines and also failed to buy enough early on. Canada was far from first in line for vaccines, as Trudeau had promised.

Indeed, on March 1, 2021, we were way back in the pack. We had just 5.2 doses per 100. The U.S. then had more than four times the vaccination rate of Canada. The U.K. had more than six times Canada’s rate.

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Since that time, however, Canada has shot up fast, vaccinating its citizens at a faster rate than the mighty U.S. and essentially matching the rapid and impressive U.K. rate.

That is a remarkable turn-around led by Team Trudeau. As much as political opponents and media commentators, including me, hammered on Trudeau last winter when our procurement program was a mess, his government now deserves some credit

In his lottery announcement, Kenney quite rightly praised Alberta’s solid vaccine rollout, specifically mentioning the good work of health-care workers and pharmacists. “The result,” said the premier, “is that today we have a level of protection in our population that seemed pretty much unthinkable just a few months back.”

Unthinkable indeed. In early 2021, it did seem highly unlikely we’d improve so fast, no matter what was being promised. But the federal government successfully cranked it up. Kenney would have done well to have recognized that obvious fact.

There’s been a change in the way we process our world since he and the United Conservatives were elected in 2019. He was voted in to make war on Ottawa, but the virus came to make war on the world.

Albertans have been reeling ever since from the frightening pandemic and wretched lockdown. We’re sick about the damage that’s been done to businesses and to the mental and physical health of people locked down most severely. The last thing we’ve wanted is endless strife and stress from bickering politicians.

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Kenney has taken steps to soften and improve his messaging in the past year, but if he had praised Trudeau for the federal government’s vaccine turn-around, he would have matched what many of us feel, that we’re glad the Liberals are now getting it right in a major way. He would have portrayed himself as a healing and credible voice when many Albertans crave exactly that.

Instead, we got backbench UCP MLA Tany Yao complaining bitterly in the legislature on Monday about a recent Globe & Mail headline that praised Trudeau for Canada’s vaccine turn-around.

Yao noted Canada’s low rate of fully vaccinated people, then characterized the federal vaccine response as “pathetic.” As for Trudeau, Yao referred to him as a “charismatic silver spoon Laurentian elitist drama teacher.”

This isn’t the time to blast Trudeau.

It’s time to celebrate how many of us have done our bit for the community by getting the jab, and to praise all those who got us those jabs, including federal leaders.

As for Alberta’s lottery plan itself, it’s a crafty enticement. I suspect it’s aimed at the many people who a) don’t pay any attention to the daily news but b) love lotteries. They will never hear Kenney’s pro-vaccination arguments, but word of these lotteries will likely get to them and could well persuade them to get the jab.

Some people won’t like the $3 million-plus cost of the lotteries, but Kenney and Shandro made two persuasive responses in that regard, first that the lottery will pay for itself by allowing us to open up sooner and stay open, second that with higher levels of vaccine-induced herd immunity, it will be less likely that anyone will get sick from COVID in the future, including those who reject vaccination.

In his best moment of the news conference, Shandro reminded us just how lucky we all are to have access to these vaccines.

“As a province, we’ve already won the lottery,” he said. “Vaccines are safe, they work, we’ve made them readily available and they’re free.”

If the United Conservatives hope to bring Albertans together in this final leg of the pandemic, they would do well to make such wise and uplifting messages their mantra.


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