On February 9th our United Conservative government lead the way to normalcy by being the first province in all of Canada to eliminate our vaccination passport system, and by announcing that we would eliminate all remaining restrictions such as masks and curfews on the sale of food and alcohol in a matter of weeks.
It has been a long road to get here. As someone who is fully vaccinated, myself, I supported the government’s initiatives to make vaccines available to all who wished to receive them. Efforts to open mass AHS vaccination clinics in our urban centers, deploy roving vaccination buses to smaller communities, make vaccinations available at rural pharmacies, give vaccination priority to towns such as Banff where there existed a uniquely high risk of viral transmission, and even go so far as to offer lotteries and incentives, ensured that COVID-19 vaccinations were easily accessible to every Albertan who wanted one. Still, I fiercely maintained that vaccination should only be encouraged – never mandated.
In my role as Deputy Chair of the Public Health Act Review, I actually championed the creation and passage of legislation which made illegal the power for the Alberta government to force and mandate vaccinations in Alberta. I strive to be a politician of integrity and honesty, and to reflect those values in my communications with you. That is why I have spoken out several times over the past year to express my true feelings on pandemic-related matters, and why I have always been frank and candid with those of you whom I’ve had the pleasure of conversing with. For those who have been, or who have had family members that have been negatively impacted by Alberta’s vaccination passport system, I want you to know that I have been by your side as an advocate since the beginning. I have a deeply held belief that no individual should be segregated from society, no child denied the ability to play with their friends, and no adult forced out of work due to a personal medical decision that they have made for themselves. Every human being deserves to live free from discrimination, and to be treated with respect. Week after week, I consistently made this belief known to my colleagues and Premier. You may not have heard about it in the media, but trust me, very few matters are best settled on CBC. My moral values aside, the case to again eliminate public health measures in Alberta was twofold. Our province’s active case counts have consistently remained over 80% amongst the fully vaccinated, which demonstrated that the passport system failed to limit transmission of the virus. There then remained no scientific or data-driven reason to continue denying good people entry to public places nor the ability to participate in society to the fullest and be treated with dignity. Data does suggest that the vaccine has been successful in limiting severe outcomes from the virus, as our ICU admittance rate is now only 0.1%, however that has no relevance to the allowance of people’s free movement.
As legislators, myself and my government colleagues also have a duty to listen to the people we represent. This isn’t to say that politicians should capitulate to any movement that causes their government some level of distress, but it is to say that we must listen. As freedom protests descended upon every major town and city across our nation, it became clear that the majority of those participating in the protests were not anarchists. Rather, they were our friends, neighbours, dentists, and hair stylists – ordinary, good people, pushed to their brink by pandemic related restrictions and left bewildered, wondering what became of the free and compassionate country they once called home. Throughout their demonstrations there was not one statue toppled down, one flag defaced, one piece of private property set ablaze, nor one business window smashed. Instead, these people stayed up all night to man the National War Memorial and ensure it was respected, cooked and distributed meals for the homeless, shoveled sidewalks of businesses and homes, and jubilantly flew our country’s maple leaf with pride as they demanded better treatment for their children and future. The Miriam Webster Dictionary eloquently defines democracy in two profound ways: common people constituting the source of political authority, and an organization or system in which everyone is treated equally and has equal rights. Given the events of the past few months, reflecting on those definitions should give you shivers. As Alberta takes this step forward into our future as a province, we can take solace in knowing that the healthcare data told us it was time, the people of our province told us it was time, and the defining principles of our country told us it was time.
The local division of the NDP for Banff- Kananaskis has already come out and stated publicly that they would keep the vaccine passport around longer, and reopen restaurants slower, if they had their way – as if two years hasn’t been long enough. Based on the more than 30,000 emails my office has received and responded to in the past year, I know that that isn’t what the majority of you want. The majority of you are ready to take an optimistic step forward into your future.
COVID-19 policies have divided us – physically, and metaphorically – for the better part of two years. As a society, we cannot continue to live with heightened fear and reliance on government for safety and morality forever. That isn’t the Albertan way. The Albertan way is to return to the old normal we all knew and loved, where people lived without fear, walked with confidence, and smiled at passersby at their local grocery store. Our country is at a crossroads. I am happy to say that Alberta has chosen the path of freedom and self-determination, and can only hope that the rest of Canada will soon follow.