Premier Jason Kenney to snowbirds: Go straight home

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has a strong message for snowbirds returning to the province from south of the Canada-U.S. border: Go straight home.

With "tens of thousands" of Albertans scrambling to get back home from where they have been wintering in the U.S., Kenney on Monday said snowbirds must go straight home without making any stops.

"We need to send a message to all of them that they must self-isolate at their home immediately upon their return to Alberta," Kenney said.

"It doesn't mean going to the grocery store; it does not mean going to the kennel to pick up your dog; it does not mean dropping your RV off at a service company to be serviced; it does not mean going and visit the grandkids.

"It means one thing and one thing only.

"When you come into the country, whether you're driving north through Coutts or you're landing at one of our airports, you must go directly and immediately to your home without stopping.

"And if you need supplies ... you've got to call family friends or neighbours to help."

'Stronger legal tools' if needed

Kenney said he has heard too many stories of people taking the 14-day period of self-isolation as "a vague general hint or suggestion."

"It is an imperative. We are prepared if necessary to use stronger legal tools to impose that obligation on people and stronger penalties if they violate that directive," he said.

"We will not tolerate people coming in from overseas and mixing with the general population."

Stop hoarding, premier says

Kenney told Albertans who are hoarding to stop the practice because they are hurting others.

Social agencies feeding homeless people are finding it harder to get supplies as demand rises, he said.

"This is outrageous. The poorest amongst us are being hurt by people unnecessarily hoarding."

He also railed against cyber-criminals and other scam artists who are using the pandemic to steal identities with fake websites and phishing emails.

"To those who are trying to exploit seniors and others during this time of a public health emergency, there must be a special place in hell for people like that. Just stop it.

"It is completely un-Canadian, it is un-Albertan, it is unacceptable, it is illegal and if we catch anybody engaged in these kinds of frauds or scams I guarantee you, the book will be thrown at them and they will face the full force of the law."

Kenney also said Monday he doesn't see a need yet for Alberta to declare a state of emergency, which would give the province the power to close its borders. He said he favours instead moving additional public health resources to airports and the Coutts-Montana border crossing.

He said he is "interested" in Nova Scotia's move on the weekend. On Sunday that province declared a state of emergency. Border entries will be managed at ferry terminals, airports and the land border with New Brunswick.

"We're going to keep that option open but right now we don't see a compelling need to do that."

Education property taxes frozen

Also Monday, Kenney announced three moves to give Albertans and employers financial supports as they deal with effects of the COVID-19 crisis.

The government is cancelling a decision made in Budget 2020 and freezing education property taxes at last year's levels. That will save households and businesses about $87 million in 2020-21 — $55 million for households and $32 million for employers, Kenney said.

Education property tax deferral for business

Effective immediately, the government will defer education property tax for businesses for six months. That means $458 million will remain with employers to help them pay employees and continue operations, he said.

The government expects municipalities to set education property tax rates as they normally would, but to defer collection. The deferred amounts are to be repaid in future years.

Kenney urged commercial landlords to pass on these savings through reduced or deferred payments, Kenney said.

WCB payments deferred

As well, Workers' Compensation Board premiums can now be deferred. Private sector employers will have their WCB premiums deferred until early 2021. Employers who have already paid their WCB premium payments for 2020 are eligible for a rebate or credit.

For small and medium businesses, the government will cover 50 per cent of the premium when it is due. That will cost government about $350 million.

In a Facebook message Monday, Kenney said Alberta has run nearly 27,000 COVID-19 tests, the highest number of tests per capita in North America and the third-highest per capita in the world.

He referenced the new testing protocols unveiled Monday morning by Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health.

The new protocols will give priority to people who are most at risk of developing extreme symptoms or infecting others in the community.

"Today, we announced we will continue with robust testing, while ensuring its focus is on those highest at risk," Kenney said in his post.

"As Dr. Hinshaw has said, we don't have the ability to test every Albertan with a cough or a cold — but you don't need a test result to do the right thing."

"If you're returning from international travel, or have mild symptoms, you need to stay home and self-isolate to help prevent the spread of #COVID19AB."