MLA pushes for regional COVID response

·4 min read

West Yellowhead MLA Martin Long is calling on the government for a more regional approach to COVID-19 restrictions and the provincial economic relaunch plan.

“I’m personally in favour of a more regional approach, so I’m disappointed with the reintroduction of some restrictions in areas less affected by the virus,” Long told the Hinton Voice.

A new caucus working group is being formed to work on potential regional reopening plans with Dr. Deena Hinshaw.

Long noted that the premier has always welcomed debate and a diversity of views within the caucus.

Fifteen UCP MLA’s, mainly from rural Alberta, signed a letter the day after Alberta returned to Step 1 of the provincial economic relaunch plan to publicly speak against the move.

While Long did not sign that letter, he later put out his own statement on Twitter to raise his concerns with the restrictions.

He tweeted that the province can’t keep making decisions that exacerbate uncertainties every time there is a ripple or a wave of COVID-19 cases.

“Let me be clear: COVID-19 is real. The virus has impacted many lives and families in irreparable ways. That being said, the public health measures have impacts on businesses, mental health and other aspects of people’s everyday lives and that’s a tough pill to swallow. However, there is hope with our vaccine rollout plan that restrictions could be eased heading into the summer. That is welcome news for everyone,” Long wrote in an email.

Work is being done to find the right balance with a more targeted response to COVID-19, but Long urges residents to continue to abide by the public health measures.

As a Parliamentary Secretary for Small Business and Tourism, Long has met with many affected businesses. Alberta’s government has provided historic support throughout this pandemic, he said.

The Small and Medium Enterprise Relaunch Grant will be expanded and provide further critical and immediate support to businesses impacted by the pandemic and restrictions.

Long is optimistic to see a greater return to normal as the warmer months approach and more Albertans have access to COVID vaccines.

He tweeted, “I have been assured in discussions with medical professionals that “vaccines mean freedom.” That “normal” does not mean that everyone needs to be vaccinated, but “normal” is when “enough” people are vaccinated.”

More than one million Albertans have now received at least one dose of vaccine that should protect them from severe outcomes and reduce the spread of COVID-19.

All adults in Alberta will be offered a first dose of vaccine by the end of June, depending on the supply of vaccines, Long said.

“Alberta, like other provinces, relies on the federal government for the vaccine supply. Justin Trudeau’s failure to provide any province with an adequate supply of vaccines is exactly why Alberta, and other provinces, have been forced to reintroduce firmer public health restrictions,” Long said.

Despite any delays, Alberta is on pace to distribute more than 300,000 doses a week.

Like the MLAs who signed the initial letter on April 7, Long tweeted that he would continue to push for restrictions to be lifted, as well as for personal responsibility to be the focus, and freedom in Alberta.

“I will continue to work hard to represent the residents of West Yellowhead and our government will continue to work to support lives and livelihoods,” he said.

The letter did not acknowledge the recent rise in COVID-19 case or the variants, which prompted the step back in the relaunch plan.

David Shepherd, the NDP health critic, stated that with the sharp rise in cases, it is incredibly irresponsible and dangerous for elected officials to campaign against the public health measures.

“This is not about a public debate or a difference of opinion,” said Shepherd. “This is about elected officials using their positions to actively attack and tear down Alberta’s health care heroes for their own political gain.”

He stated that MLAs taking this stance are undermining healthcare workers doing their jobs to keep Albertans safe. Long did not provide a response specifically to these comments.

Masha Scheele, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hinton Voice