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Notley says Kenney's COVID-19 changes are pandering to 'extremist views within the UCP'

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Alberta's Opposition Leader called the premier a "weak leader" and accused him of failing to consult with Albertans Wednesday, after Jason Kenney terminated the province's proof-of-vaccination program.

Rachel Notley said Kenney didn't bother to get the opinions of healthcare workers, teachers, school boards or municipalities, instead she accused him of listening only to his MLAs.

"It was designed only to pander to the extremist views within the UCP party. I am deeply concerned about what this means for our province," Notley said Wednesday morning in Calgary.

"He doesn’t have the strength to lead the divided opinions within his caucus and the loudest voices seem to be the ones leading the day."

Several UCP MLAs were demanding that Kenney scrap COVID-19 restrictions immediately and at least two backbench members participated in truck protests.

"My position on vaccine mandates is that they need to end. I’ve told this to the Premier, to caucus, and now to you. You’ll note that the Premier said they’ll be gone imminently, and I’ll hold him to it," House Leader Jason Nixon announced a week earlier.

The Alberta Teachers Association, the chair of Edmonton Public Schools and the mayors of both Edmonton and Calgary have criticized the UCP for not consulting with them.

Amarjeet Sohi said he and Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek were told about the changes just 30 minutes before the public announcement.

"We were absolutely excluded from any process or any consultation," Sohi said.


'WE HAVE THE BURDEN OF LEADERSHIP HERE'


Kenney defended his process in a sit-down interview with CTV News Edmonton Wednesday afternoon.

"There's been constant consultation, discussion, over the past two years over every aspect of COVID policy, but at the end of day the government has to make a decision. We have the burden of leadership here," he said.

The premier said the proof that this is not a political decision can be seen in similar moves being made in other jurisdictions across the globe, as Omicron waves fade.

"If this is about domestic political considerations, then why is it effectively the same decision that was made over the last month by England? Ireland? Scotland? Denmark?" he said Tuesday night.

But at least three political scientists – Duane Bratt, Keith Brownsey and Lisa Young – have said that Kenney's actions appear to be motivated by politics and self-preservation.

The premier faces a leadership review on April 9 in Red Deer.

"It seems to me that most of the government's actions at the moment can be seen through the lens of that leadership review," said Young, a professor at the University of Calgary.

New case numbers appeared to be fading in Alberta, but the amount of patients with COVID-19 in hospital remained above 1,600 for the eighth time in the last nine days, according to Wednesday’s preliminary count, with 1,615 patients receiving care.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, said last week that hospitals were still under strain and she believed it was too soon to move to an endemic response.

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Chelan Skulski

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