Almost since day one, Alberta’s UCP government has struggled to come to grips with the COVID-19 pandemic and the myriad impacts it has had on “lives and livelihoods” since the world succumbed to lockdown in early 2020.
The roller-coaster we have witnessed since, where infection numbers decline, pandemic restrictions are eased, and then numbers begin to escalate again and further restrictions are imposed, has landed a devastating blow to the province’s business environment.
Just how many of these stutter-step reversals can be weathered by small businesses in Alberta — even whole industries, like tourism — is far from certain at this point. And almost every day brings us another story or headline of a struggling business operator forced to close their doors, often permanently, or more layoffs or temporary shut-downs due to outbreaks.
With infection numbers in Alberta in recent days and weeks seemingly on the verge of spiraling out of control, Premier Jason Kenney finally took the step of reversing the province back into “Phase 1” a couple weeks ago. And while this acknowledgement — or surrender, depending on your viewpoint — has been met by mixed opinions among the public and business community, most have usually conceded that something needed to be done to bring infection numbers back under control.
Here’s where things get a little more complicated, however. Just what that “something” might be is open to some pretty varied opinions, with some recommending only limited restrictions, many none at all, while others are advocating for a strict “circuit-breaker” lockdown.
Finding a happy medium on that file has been a political nightmare for Kenney and the UCP, and many have wagged the finger of culpability at the government for their fit and start approach to pandemic restrictions, and all of the fallout that has resulted from those decisions, not the least of which has been the everyday Albertan’s fatigue over seemingly endless restrictions and reversals.
And speaking of political nightmares — aside from the generally corrosive nature of the coronavirus on Kenney’s own popularity in the province — he is now being forced to deal with a backbench revolt of 15 recalcitrant MLAs, mostly representing rural areas, who are opposed to a return to “Phase 1” restrictions.
One suspects Kenney has learned walking the COVID tightrope between maintaining good relations with some of the more right-wing elements of the party and province while trying to strike a balance with public health measures has proven to be an outright impossibility. Many lay the blame for the UCP’s sometimes hesitant approach to imposing new restrictions on attempting to strike that very balance.
We hope the premier has learned this lesson, despite political fallout, because Albertans have certainly learned that a haphazard approach to easing or imposing pandemic restrictions has resulted in many hardships, both personal and financial, on the citizens of this province.
This editorial originated in the Lethbridge Herald