David Staples: Will Alberta Premier Jason Kenney deliver on his make-or-break “Best Summer Ever” promise?

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Is this really going to be Alberta’s “Best Summer Ever,” as Premier Jason Kenney promised on April 1?

“If we just stick to our guns for a few more weeks we’ll head into what I truly believe will be the best summer in Alberta history,” Kenney said.
It’s a good line, bold and memorable. It’s become something of a slogan for the United Conservatives. But the statement could very easily come back to bite Kenney hard.

He will soon be pushed hard to lift restrictions and conjure up this fantastic summer. Many Albertans — and a huge percentage of Kenney’s base — are already much more fed up with the harm caused by the lockdown than they fear COVID. The numbers supporting more freedom will only go up as more of us get vaccinated.

We’ve already seen major festivals like the Edmonton Folk Fest and the Big Valley Jamboree in Camrose cancelled. For many people, these festivals are part of any best summer ever.

But our summer doesn’t have to be exactly like pre-COVID days to qualify as the best summer ever. It’s not an impossible goal, mainly because we’re now craving simple pleasures, not anything fancy, as I discovered when I asked folks on social media about what they are missing most:

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Some examples:

  • “I miss watching NHL and CFL on big TV screens in noisy and crowded sports bars.”
  • “Movie date with my wife. Swimming with my son.”
  • “Miss watching my children play the sports they love. Yesterday was my daughter’s last minor hockey practice ever and she didn’t even get one game in this season. Also miss seeing my family in Newfoundland.”
  • “Not what I miss most but this is a big one for me … teaching in my classroom without a mask on, without worrying about COVID, with kids being able to handle all the science equipment and have fun learning again …”
  • “Not analyzing relationships with others based on our political views about how the pandemic has been handled.”
  • “The spontaneity of life. Being able to gather with friends wherever and whenever you want.”
  • “I am tired of telling my kids the next thing they don’t get to do anymore. Piano recitals, sports, 4H public speaking and shows, birthday parties. It’s tough on them.”
  • “A hand shake. A hug.”
  • “Hosting friends around great food.”
  • “Going into a crowd of people and not feeling anxious.”
  • “Weirdly, meeting with customers, shaking hands, face-to-face presentations.”

Will we get back to enjoying these things soon? It’s heartening that in the fight between the vaccine and the variants, vaccines are starting to have a huge impact, including here in Alberta. On Tuesday, Dr. Deena Hinshaw pointed to good news from long-term care homes: “Thanks to the high (vaccine) uptake in these locations, we have seen a dramatic decline in severe outcomes.”

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On Dec. 30, there were 776 active cases in long-term care homes. Now there are just 37, Hinshaw said.

Hospitalizations have decreased by about 93 per cent there, deaths by 94 per cent. “That is the difference immunization makes. That is the power of vaccines.”

Of course, it’s great that vaccination is working. But Hinshaw’s reference to the success in long-term care homes gave me pause, mainly because the dramatic increase in vaccine-induced safety hasn’t led to much more freedom for residents.

My own parents are in long-term care. They’ve been fully vaccinated for several months now. But they have suffered grievously from the impact of isolation. It’s amounted to near imprisonment. It’s included weeks of complete isolation and is now limited to visitation but no outside visits.

My own fondest hope for a best summer ever? To get out my parents for a family dinner.

I get that vaccinated people aren’t completely safe from infection, but my parents on are their last legs. Many in long-term care are in a similar spot.

On April 9, Hinshaw said when it comes to lifting restrictions in long-term care she’s trying to balance the fact that not everyone there is vaccinated against the devastating impacts of isolation. Nonetheless, she promised action, saying, “We need to figure out how to make life worth living in these facilities.”

It’s almost two weeks later now. I checked with Hinshaw’s office on Tuesday but still no action.

I get that Hinshaw is weighing costs and benefits but I’m frustrated by what I see as an ultra-cautious approach.

What good is vaccination if it’s not an endgame on harsh restrictions? Is an ultra-cautious approach going to be the norm?

If so, the Summer of ’21 will be a major disappointment.

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