Education Minister Adriana LaGrange was designated to act as health minister while Tyler Shandro vacationed last August and cases of COVID-19 skyrocketed in Alberta, according to calendars obtained by the Opposition NDP.
The calendar pages, obtained through a freedom of information request, indicate LaGrange was the acting minister of health from Aug. 3 to Aug. 29. Shandro, who was in charge of the health portfolio at that time, was on vacation, as was Premier Jason Kenney.
NDP MLA Sarah Hoffman, who represents the Edmonton-Glenora constituency, believes LaGrange needs to take responsibility for not taking action.
"The case counts tripled during the time that Adriana LaGrange was left in charge of the health-care system." Hoffman told reporters at the Alberta legislature Thursday.
"She needs to own up to that."
Kenney's decision to lift nearly all public health restrictions on July 1 and the subsequent fourth wave of COVID-19 has dogged the United Conservative government for several months.
The UCP were criticized for not taking action to curb cases until the first week of September. Since then, the government has cancelled at least 15,000 surgeries to ensure the health care system could handle the surge in hospital and intensive care unit admissions.
LaGrange did not make herself available to take questions from reporters Thursday. Questions directed to her by Hoffman in the legislature Thursday were handled by Kenney.
In an email, LaGrange's press secretary Nicole Sparrow said Shandro was still closely involved in decision-making.
"Although Minister LaGrange was prepared to step in if required, Minister Shandro was available and remained working throughout his time away," Sparrow wrote.
"At no point was he unreachable or unable to fulfil his duties as health minister. He continued to attend briefings, and COVID cabinet committee meetings throughout this time."
Kenney's cabinet ministers are involved with government business even when they are on vacation, the premier said.
The letter Hoffman was referring to delegated signing authority to LaGrange, nothing more, he added.
"The former minister of health... was fully engaged, spending hour after hour, day after day, while he wasn't in the office to sign things," Kenney said.