Dr. John Cowell, the new administrator of AHS, had an interesting response when I asked his opinion on vaccination and masking mandates.
Cowell said it was a question for either Health Minister Jason Copping or the new Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Mark Joffe.
“My focus is not on public health. It is laser focused on availability and robustness of the care system.”
Good healthcare delivery would seem to be about public health, but never mind.
The point is that everyone in government is dancing around Premier Danielle Smith’s views on these issues.
It’s pretty certain that Cowell and Joffe, both veterans of AHS and Alberta health care, align with traditional views on the benefits of mask use and widespread public vaccination.
Smith hired them both, and they are good picks. They also make her look more moderate than many people expected.
It’s part of an effort to appease Albertans alarmed by her record of challenging expert advice in many areas, particularly health care.
But intellectual strangeness is part of Smith’s political DNA. People who worked with her earlier in her elected career still describe spending hours talking her out of the latest outlandish theory.
Right now she has the entire government stuck at an absurd point.
She would not recommend mask use. Therefore neither can anyone else.
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Political people have a group mind for words from above. They hear and comply as efficiently as an ant colony.
The Prime Minister says people should wear a mask if they are so inclined. But every time she’s asked if she actually recommends masking, she won’t say the words.
She simply returns to the same point – wear one if you will – as if giving advice on a hat for the day.
But it’s one thing to say she won’t force people to wear masks and another to refuse to say they should, especially in light of a multi-virus wave currently challenging hospitals.
Smith has been prime minister for only five weeks. She may not yet fully realize how much power her words carry. Many Albertans actually listen to the messages of a premier and take them seriously.
Her refusal to recommend masks is most likely reducing their use and causing some school children to get sick. Masks really do help prevent the spread of disease, as people like Cowell and Joffe have certainly known for their entire medical careers.
But in Smith’s UCP there is a small but powerful core of people who think masks are part of a communist plot to subjugate us all. For them, the sight of a masked person indicates cowardice and stupidity.
Smith plays to them, while at the same time presenting herself as a moderate on health care.
On the economic front, her Friday speech certainly pleased a friendly audience at the Calgary Chamber of Commerce.
But her government still seems determined to bring in reforms that most Albertans simply don’t want.
There is little desire for an Alberta pension plan — in fact, any attempt to create one could send people nearing retirement age into a panic.
The UCP is also pushing for an Alberta revenue agency to collect personal provincial income taxes. This means filling in two returns.
Did it years ago in Quebec, don’t care again.
Rural municipalities and politicians are also strongly opposed to the push for an Alberta police force to replace the RCMP.
Metropolitans will still have their local powers and may not care much. But this is one expensive, complex project. Serious reform of the RCMP makes much more sense.
Then there is the controversial Sovereignty Act, which is coming in less than two weeks.
At this early stage, we see a prime minister who is very clever at managing the effect of her attitudes and ideas. She is a very good speaker and a genuinely friendly, pleasant person.
But after five weeks of her premiership, Albertans are fully entitled to ask a question. What will happen if she wins a four-year majority next spring?
Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald