Documents obtained by NDP show LaGrange was acting health minister in August
The Official Opposition says documents it obtained show who was in charge of Alberta's healthcare system in August when active cases skyrocketed and the premier and health minister were on vacation.
On Thursday, the NDP said documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIP) request indicate that Premier Jason Kenney and then-Health Minister Tyler Shandro were on holiday as the fourth wave of the pandemic began.
From Aug. 3 to 29, an official calendar for Education Minister Adriana LaGrange — also obtained by a FOIP request by the Opposition — shows she was the acting health minister during Shandro's absence.
While Kenney and Shandro were away, COVID-19 hospitalizations and cases increased significantly. The number of Albertans in hospital with COVID-19 went from 156 on Aug. 12 to 422 on Aug. 30.
On Aug. 1, the province averaged 192 new infections every day. By Aug. 31, the daily average was more than 1,100 cases.
"For weeks, we've been asking the premier a simple question: Who was in charge in August when active cases tripled and the fourth wave devastated the health care system," said Sarah Hoffman, NDP deputy leader.
"It was totally irresponsible of Jason Kenney, and Tyler Shandro to both leave their posts at the same time," she added. "But Adriana LaGrange was responsible for the health care system and the public health of Albertans. She did absolutely nothing as thousands got sick."
SHANDRO WAS READY TO STEP IN: SPARROW
Nicole Sparrow, the education minister's press secretary, confirmed LaGrange was the designated acting health minister at the time.
"Although Minister LaGrange was prepared to step in if required, Minister Shandro was available and remained working throughout his time away," Sparrow said.
"At no point was he unreachable or unable to fulfil his duties as health minister. He continued to attend briefings and COVID cabinet committee meetings throughout this time."
Kenney has previously said in the legislature and at media availabilities that while he was away on vacation for 19 days in August, from Aug. 12. to 30., he was in "daily" or "constant" contact with staff and officials.
Documents previously obtained by CTV News through FOIP suggest there were only two COVID-19 briefings on the premier's calendar — on Aug. 18 and Aug. 25 — during the duration of the time he was on vacation.
'COMPLETE RUBBISH': KENNEY
Kenney responded to questions in the legislature on Thursday directed to LaGrange about her time as acting health minister.
"The former minister of health continued to be on the job every single day, seven days a week," he said. "It's true. He took a period of time with his family to have a bit of personal time."
"What complete rubbish," Kenney added. "I'm just trying to figure out if the member actually knows how ridiculous this is. The letter to which she is referring to is a formality for signing authority. Period."
Last month, the Opposition revealed a different FOIP request indicating the premier did not exchange emails with the province's top doctor while he was on holiday in August.
At the time, the premier's office told CTV News that since the Chief Medical Officer of Health is under the Health Ministry, "communication would typically go through Health - not direct from CMOH to PO (premier's office)."
The Opposition has asked the auditor general to conduct a performance review of the premier's office's protocols to delegate executive authority to an acting minister during the premier's vacation.
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