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Braid: UCP caucus hits boiling point; vaccine passports out next week


‘Early next week the COVID cabinet committee will approve a plan for the careful lifting of public health measures, beginning with the restriction exemption program,’ Premier Jason Kenney said Thursday evening on Facebook Live

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Prepare to delete QR codes from your phones. They will soon be useless.

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On Facebook Live on Thursday evening, Premier Jason Kenney said: “Early next week the COVID cabinet committee will approve a plan for the careful lifting of public health measures, beginning with the Restrictions Exemption Program.”

He promised “a firm date to end the REP and do it in the very near future.”

That still won’t please the large and impatient anti-passport crew in his caucus. They’ve reached peak anger over the program and want it to vanish immediately, especially with more demonstrations and blockades threatening over the weekend.

Their frustration escalated Wednesday evening, when the premier’s communications people told MLAs during a virtual caucus meeting that they’re free to say the passports are now less effective.

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A later communications note to caucus reinforced the point: “The REP has not been particularly effective at limiting the spread of Omicron.”

And yet, after caucus got that message, Health Minister Jason Copping came on the call and defended the passport system.

David Hanson, the UCP member for Bonnyville-Cold Lake, says he’s baffled and angered by Kenney’s delays.

“If we’re gonna remove it anyway, just remove it right now,” he told me Thursday. “I don’t see the value of putting it off. We’ll just have more trouble with demonstrations over the coming weekend because it’s still there.”

A view of Alberta’s vaccine verification app, which is used to read a QR code.
A view of Alberta’s vaccine verification app, which is used to read a QR code. Photo by Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia

The decision on passports will go to cabinet’s priorities implementation committee on Monday, as all such rulings do.

Even the committee breeds mistrust, however, because six of the 10 members are from Calgary.

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Rural MLAs feel their views aren’t represented by big-city types.

Those MLAs believe they’ve now got a strong caucus majority on their side.

During an earlier virtual caucus meeting on Monday, MLAs were asked if they agreed with ending the passport requirement at once.

Not one person disagreed, according to people who were on the meeting. I won’t name sources because revealing details of caucus meetings is grounds for an MLA to be thrown out.

Some UCP members weren’t on the call and ministers were keeping quiet. Only the MLAs from north of Red Deer actually voted.

But since everybody had a chance to speak against the question, and nobody did, people who participated took it as a powerful endorsement of the call for instant abolition.

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The following day, Tuesday, MLAs were further angered when the cabinet committee that approves measures met but didn’t discuss the passports.

UCP members were also told Monday that if they want to disagree with government legislation in the future, they have to get approval in advance to speak out.

A three-tier system based on the type of bill was described, but MLAs took it as a sign that Kenney’s long-standing promise of free debates is over.

Hanson says: “I’m not going to let somebody’s rules stop me from doing my job. I’ll just speak out. It doesn’t always win points with the boss but at least I can sleep at night.”

He wants Kenney to quit. “I’ve firmly lost confidence in leadership, and so have a lot of others.”

Kenney may feel that by sticking to his process for ending restrictions, he shows he’s not giving in to lawlessness on the blockades.

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Trucks were coming and going at the Coutts border crossing on Thursday, February 3, 2022.
Trucks were coming and going at the Coutts border crossing on Thursday, February 3, 2022. Photo by Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia

But he has already publicly moved his target from the end of March, to somewhat earlier, to very soon. Few people will believe that he isn’t already pushed by internal divisions and external protests.

Now, Kenney is obviously pressured even more by truckers’ protests and blockades.

My own view is that restrictions, including the passports, should stay in place until the Omicron wave fades to a lower level.

Ditch them then, by all means, but not when the risk of infection and hospitalization are still so high.

But the vaccine passport system is as good as dead already. Only the burial remains.

Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald

Twitter: @DonBraid

Facebook: Don Braid Politics

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