As reported COVID-19 infection rates increase across Alberta, anxiety and economic devastation are making the province an increasingly divided and polarized society.
A group of 17 UCP MLAs released a letter to Albertans in early April saying they didn’t support the return to “Phase One” restrictions announced by Premier Jason Kenney.
While a growing number of Albertans balk at restrictions, those in support of restrictions are demanding even harsher lockdowns.
Kenney’s balancing act between the two sides is leaving him with an ever-shrinking base of support. An April 9 poll conducted by Angus Reid records fully 75% of Albertans disapprove of Kenney’s handling of the pandemic, made up of people on both ends of the debate. Alberta is the only province in Canada where a plurality tell pollsters the restrictions go too far. Only 12% say the government’s restrictions strike a roughly correct balance.
Alberta’s polarization is becoming increasingly dangerous. It’s clearly dividing the province socially, economically and politically.
On the political front, this polarization is extremely dangerous for Kenney. While NDP voters are relatively uniform in their support for lockdowns and tighter restrictions, a clear majority of UCP voters are opposed, while a minority favor them. Wildrose voters – most who used to support the UCP – are overwhelmingly opposed.
In north-east Calgary, a few residents came home to find letters left at their doors late last week. One is the front page of the ‘Alberta Bill of Rights’ and the other, a form letter to be written to the MLAs from their constituents.
The letter reminds the MLAs of their oath to the constituents and that failure to act now would result in legal action.
On the other hand, Members of the Calgary and Area Medical Staff Society (CAMSS) and the Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association (EZMSA) joined hands for a virtual panel, shedding light on the present situation and the steps needed to ensure it does not get worse.
Closing flights to India and Pakistan is also dividing communities. In an open line on my Punjabi-language Red FM radio program, fully 100% of callers demanded the reopening of the flights for the people in emergency. Many lost their loved ones and some are there for medical treatments.
The Indian parents of one work permit holder were earlier anxious for the well-being of their son as he was fighting for his life in a Calgary hospital. He passed away Sunday. None of his parents can even attend his funeral. A sister in Canada failed to attend the funeral of her younger brother in India. Two brothers are stuck in India who traveled there to attend the funeral of their mother. They are truckers, and the cancellation of flights is harming their business here.
But COVID-19 transmission from Indian and Pakistan is a real issue. Before April 22, at least 32 flights from Delhi and two from Pakistan landed in Canada carrying dozens of passengers who later tested positive for COVID-19. When these passengers boarded the planes they had ‘negative’ test reports with them. Hence the demand to control Canadian borders is not unjustified. But what about those who suffer for no fault of their own?
Kenney is riding a political see-saw. He says he will focus on targeting hot-spots one day, after imposing province-wide restrictions on everyone, everywhere. He said restrictions don’t work, and then introduces stricter lockdowns.
Banff has a case rate of 1,115 per 100,000 residents. Edmonton has the case rate of 406.2 per 100,000. Edmonton gets mores restrictions but Banff doesn’t. The premier has tried to keep his rural and urban colleagues equally happy, but has made them equally unhappy.
The divide between the rural and the urban Alberta is not new, but the boiling culture war over restrictions and lockdowns is widening it to new levels.
Unless Kenney’s UCP can overcome the toxic polarization dividing Alberta, he may just pay the price during the next election.
Rishi Nagar is a Columnist for the Western Standard