Bridging the COVID divide

COVID-19 has caused a great divide in Alberta, how would you and your party address the issue of COVID in a way that progresses us towards a conclusion?

This question was posed to Brooks-Medicine Hat byelection candidates Premier Danielle Smith, NDP candidate Gwendoline Dirk and Leader of the Alberta Party Barry Morishita, all of whom presented a different approach.

Dirk feels it would have been a difficult time for any government to make all the right decisions based on the science available when the pandemic hit. Morishita, who was Mayor of Brooks at the time, believes the divide was created by a government who began making political decisions rather than remaining transparent and truthful.

“We moved quickly on what we knew,” stated Morishita. “We tested 3,500 people in three days. We created isolation spaces for their families, as there is lots of multi-generational housing, to get the infection to slow down. We informed the community daily about everything we knew and encouraged them to protect themselves, their neighbours and friends.”

Smith said it takes good leadership to help people understand the government has the situation under control and they don’t need to be fearful.

“It was a scary time two and a half years ago when we didn’t know what we were dealing with,” she said. “We’ve learned a lot about effective therapeutics and how to keep people safe.”

Smith says she believes the real issue was Alberta Health Services’ failure to build surge capacity.

“People need to realize that we were given bad advice,” she said. “The reason why all the different restrictions were recommended is because we were told it was necessary to take stress off the health-care system as we were building surge capacity. I think people were prepared to do whatever it took to allow AHS to build surge capacity and they failed.”

Both Morishita and Dirk feel it is time to move on and there is no reason to continue precipitating the divide. Dirk says she doesn’t understand why society continues to discuss the hurts of the past, suggesting it’s time to use the best information for moving forward. While Smith recently suggested unvaccinated Canadians are the “most discriminated against group” she has seen in her lifetime, Morishita begs to differ.

“In Canada, you can go anywhere and do anything you want, I don’t see any discrimination there,” he said. “My grandmother was born in Canada was told she could either leave the country or go to an interment camp because she was Japanese, that’s discrimination. Nobody here was forced to leave the county, wasn’t a Canadian anymore, we all had restrictions.”

Under-capacity in the health-care system is something Smith says she feels needs to be addressed without continuing to punish people.

“In the meantime, AHS did precisely nothing to make capacity to handle (the) respiratory virus season,” said Smith. “I’m not going to punish parents, kids and business owners for a problem with Alberta Heath Services. People need to know the health-care system will be there when they need it, and that isn’t the case right now. I got elected on a mandate to fix it and I intend to.”

SAMANTHA JOHNSON, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Medicine Hat News