Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley said lifting COVID-19 restrictions for what the province called “the best summer ever” was “the government’s biggest failure” this past year.
In a year-end interview, Notley said it was this decision that worsened the fourth wave of the virus and pushed Alberta’s health care system to its breaking point.
More than 15,000 surgeries were delayed as hospitals were overwhelmed. COVID-19 hospitalizations peaked at 1,133 patients, including 267 patients in ICUs.
The Northern Lights Regional Health Centre (NLRHC) brought in seven health care workers from Newfoundland and Labrador to help staff.
During the third wave in the spring, the local ICU was regularly packed and patients were sent to hospitals in Edmonton.
“How many people had their treatment delayed at the same time we saw up to 1,000 preventable deaths?” said Notley.
Premier Jason Kenney; current health minister Jason Copping and his predecessor, Tyler Shandro; and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw have admitted lifting most COVID-19 restrictions on Canada Day put Alberta on course for the fourth wave in the fall.
Meanwhile, the NDP is ending the year on a high note. Party fundraising outpaced the UCP and the Opposition succeeded in getting the UCP to reverse course on multiple files.
This included coal mining along the eastern slopes of the Rockies, a widely-panned draft K-6 curriculum, and wage cuts for nurses.
Notley also attacked Kenney for making a $1.5 billion investment in the Keystone XL pipeline before the 2020 U.S. presidential election was held. President Joe Biden fulfilled his campaign promise to cancel the project during his first day in office.
“You didn’t have to be an oil and gas expert to know that it was a very reckless gamble, of $1.5 billion, at least, belonging to Albertans. We shouldn’t have lost that money,” said Notley.
Notley said her goals for 2022 include a focus on improving Alberta’s health care system and economic diversification. The party has called on the Alberta government to boost supports for long-term problems among recovered COVID-19 patients, particularly in rural Alberta.
“We know affordability is a problem. It’s always been a problem in Fort McMurray but it’s going up across the province,” said Notley . “[The provincial government] can put the cap back in place that we had around utilities They could put the cap on insurance rates back because people’s insurance rates are skyrocketing.”
Locally, the NDP is siding with the municipality’s fight to run its own EMS dispatch. The party is also lobbying for a reversal to changes made to the Disaster Relief Program (DRP). Earlier this year, the province limited homeowners to a one-time payment of $500,000 in government relief after a natural disaster. Municipalities and Métis settlements are also now on the hook for 10 per cent of damages.
“These changes will have sweeping effects on housing prices and the ability to sell a previously flooded home in Fort McMurray,” said Ariana Mancini, NDP candidate for Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche, earlier this month. “This is about protecting our community, encouraging people to raise their families here and ensuring those already living here can retire in peace.”
Mancini’s main opponent is former UCP MLA and Wildrose Leader Brian Jean. Jean lost to Kenney for UCP leadership and resigned in Feb. 2018.
Earlier this month, he announced a return to politics and won the UCP’s nomination by promising to out Kenney. Jean says the premier’s leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic is setting the NDP up for a victory in the next provincial election.
Mancini is also running against Paul Hinman, leader of the separatist Wildrose Independence Party and former Wildrose MLA for Cardston-Taber-Warner and Calgary-Glenmore. A date for the byelection must be scheduled by Feb. 15.
-with files from Vincent McDermott and the Canadian Press