In 1775, the noted English essayist Samuel Johnson famously observed, “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.” In the ensuing centuries, many a scoundrel has cloaked oneself in regional grievances to deflect popular outrage of their shameful conduct.
This week Alberta Premier Jason Kenney trotted out this cynical tactic when asked whether he accepted any responsibility for ballooning COVID-19 cases under his watch. “I don’t accept the Alberta bashing that is going on here,” Kenney fumed.
He did so even as his government planned to call on the Canadian Armed Forces to construct emergency field hospitals to deal with the sick and dying overwhelming beleaguered health-care workers.
In the upside down world of regional politics, self-styled patriots can righteously bemoan having to belong to a larger nation.
Alberta currently leads the country with more than 20,000 active COVID-19 cases — 4,000 more than Ontario with three times the population. Weekly cases per 100,000 people are double that of Quebec, and 70 times higher than New Brunswick.
If Alberta succeeded in becoming a separate country, as many Wexiteers wish, it would now have the fifth highest rate of infection in the world — and the highest greenhouse gas emissions per capita.
Confederation is often a subject of scorn in Alberta but now might be a good time to itemize some of the benefits of being included in the rest of Canada. More than a million Albertans accessed the federal CERB program, or about one quarter of the provincial population. Nationwide, some $81 billion in benefits were rolled out in short order by federal public servants to support workers displaced by the pandemic. While far from perfect, such newly-minted programs helped avoid the heart-breaking health and economic tragedies now unfolding south of the border.
Another $100 billion in national support was earmarked for businesses through the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy program. Two Alberta-based companies — Imperial Oil and Finning — were among those that enjoyed over $90 million in federal aid, while also doling out millions more in shareholder dividends.
If anything, the Canadian government is guilty of too much generosity and lax oversight, but don’t expect to hear anyone complaining about that at the next UCP rally where Wexiteers again yell for Trudeau to be tried for treason.
Yet as expensive as these federal efforts are, they have utterly failed to move the nation towards zero transmission as has been achieved by many other nations. Ottawa has instead been relegated to shovelling money or cleanup detail, as loud local leaders like Kenney are allowed to indulge ideology over sound science.
Members of the Canadian Armed Forces — who did not sign up for bedpan or morgue duty — are once more being called on to mop up after incompetent provincial oversight. This spring when Montreal nursing homes were the sites of a horrifying human tragedy, our servicemen and women were ordered into the maw of an avoidable catastrophe created under the jealously guarded authority of the “National Assembly” of Quebec.
So cowed is Ottawa by competing provincial fiefdoms bellowing about their sacrosanct jurisdictions that Trudeau has yet to invoke any of the sweeping emergency powers at his constitutional disposal — even as over 13,000 Canadians and counting are carried away by COVID-19. The Canadian Emergencies Act may as well be tossed in the ash can for all its practical utility. The feds are so afraid of offending perennially prickly premiers like Mr. Kenney that even temporary national standards are apparently a non-starter during a once-in-a-century pandemic.
Our enfeebled national response is a direct result of decades of calculated posturing by regional opportunists, particularly from Alberta and Quebec. Kenney is a exceptionally odious example of this cynical and simple playbook: Engage in ritualized battle with some outside straw man, enflame the partisan base with perceived grievances, and angle for another four years on the public payroll. Rinse and repeat.
Bonus question: which two provinces have the worst COVID-19 response records in Canada? The two biggest crybabies of Confederation.
To see what might be possible in an alternate political universe, consider the coronavirus outcome in Australia. Strong standards backed up by tough and transparent enforcement have resulted in their country essentially returning to normal. Christmas is not cancelled. Stadiums are packed with sports fans. People are able to crowd nightclubs or host gatherings in their homes. Masks are no longer ubiquitous and the economy is rebounding.
While the same effective restrictions might be legally possible in Canada, they have been made culturally inconceivable by leaders like Kenney. The premier admitted as much when opining that rural Albertans would stop wearing masks if they became legally required. Where did such hostility to elected governments come from?
As they say in business, there is no free lunch. Every separatist ploy like the bone-headed “Buffalo Declaration” (they are bison by the way) comes at an incremental cost to our country, and those costs are coming home to roost.
Hospitals in Calgary are now at over 100 per cent capacity. Doctors are being forced to ration access to ICU beds. The Armed Forces are not only on call to construct field hospitals, they are being braced for the moral injury of watching hundreds of fellow Canadians perish for no good reason.
The UCP has belatedly brought in COVID-19 restrictions they spent months resisting. There are grim projections that daily cases could reach 4,000 by Christmas. This was all so avoidable, if not for opportunistic scoundrels like Mr. Kenney.