Alberta legislature has emergency debate over COVID-19 response

The Alberta legislature held an emergency debate on Monday to discuss the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Premier Jason Kenney said the outbreak is one of the most challenging things Albertans have faced in the history of the province.

“Let me commend all of those working in our health services for their remarkable efforts under trying circumstances,” he said. “Let me thank, in particular, our chief medical officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw who has provided thoughtful, measured advice to the government on this response.”

Kenney spoke of how the province is facing an urgent health threat coupled with massive economic and social challenges.

“That is why it is incumbent upon all of us as Albertans… to come together to the greatest extent possible in unity to tackle and overcome these historic challenges that we face together,” he said.

Kenney said the province is working with Ottawa and other provincial and territorial governments to ensure there is adequate income support for people who are self-isolating, so they don’t have to choose between following medical advice and taking care of their families’ financial needs. He said his government is working on an economic rescue package for businesses and households.

Kenney asked Albertans to be patient in getting through to the Health Link helpline with questions about the virus, adding that “Alberta is leading the way” in testing.

He said losing lives to COVID-19 is inevitable but the spread rate of the virus is something Albertans can help to reduce.

Official Opposition Leader Rachel Notley echoed Kenney’s statement about health-care workers, saying they are putting themselves at risk on the frontlines to help Albertans.

The pandemic has been compounded by a drop in oil prices, she said, adding that there are going to be “significant economic consequences for all Canadians.”

Notley said the provincial government’s budget is being jammed through by “ripping up the fundamental principles of parliamentary democracy.”

“By passing a budget which includes cut after cut after cut to the very public servants I was just describing, who Albertans need more than ever — it’s not that we just ripped up the deal with the doctors… it’s that this government is wanting us to jam through a budget, that taking into account the simple factors of population and inflation will result in less money being dedicated to our health-care system this year than last year,” she said.

Notley said the province is going to have to invest in hospital beds, mental health supports and staff in long-term care centres to address the pandemic.

“I can’t imagine that anybody in Alberta thinks that right now is the time to ask people running our acute care wards to implement and execute operational best practices, which by the way is a way to take stuff away from nurses, to reduce their hours and push more jobs onto nurses aides,” she said.

“I can’t imagine that this is a time you’d want to do that.”

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