Cabinet member backtracks after saying Kenney is waiting to act on COVID

·2 min read

EDMONTON — A member of Jason Kenney's cabinet is backtracking on a comment that seemed to suggest Alberta was waiting for hospitals to reach their limit before tightening COVID-19 restrictions.

The move comes amid mounting calls for the premier to impose tougher public health measures.

Jason Luan, the associate minister of mental health and addictions, says he was wrong to suggest that anyone is waiting until the system reaches capacity.

In an online town hall on Friday, he said that the province was waiting to see where hospital capacity and intensive care units "will be pushed to our limit, and then gradually reduce more activities that way."

In a social media post on Sunday, he said the government is "making evidence-based decisions" based on expert advice from the top doctor "to avoid getting to that point."

COVID-19 cases have been rising at an alarming rate for weeks in Alberta, but it still has no mandatory mask directive and bars and restaurants remain open for in-person service.

Luan said Sunday that he is not a spokesperson or involved in any decision making around introducing new restrictions or increasing hospital capacity.

"I truly regret any confusion my statement has caused. My responsibility during this pandemic has been to ensure that mental health and addiction services are available for all Albertans," Luan wrote.

"I encourage all Albertans to follow the public health restrictions. Wear a mask. Avoid unnecessary contacts. Together, we can get through this."

NDP Opposition Health Critic David Shepherd responded that if Luan's remarks on Friday weren't true, Kenney needs to say what the real thresholds for action are.

Shepherd also rejected Luan's claim that he is not a spokesperson.

“This is an unforgivable attempt to duck responsibility by a cabinet minister,” Shepherd said. “As the associate minister of health, Luan is absolutely a spokesperson and a decision maker and he gave Albertans false information about the government’s response to COVID-19.”

Another member of Kenney's United Conservative caucus was also criticized in recent days for a flyer that was mailed to constituents last week claiming the worst of the pandemic was over.

Alberta reported 1,584 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday, the fourth straight day the province announced a record-breaking number of new cases, and more than 12,000 cases were active.

In a statement on her Facebook page on Saturday, Miranda Rosin said the newsletter was sent to print in early fall when Alberta's active cases were still below 2,000.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 22, 2020.

The Canadian Press