By Kevin J. Sabo
For the Advance
Fourteen months into the COVID-19 pandemic, the issue of and public displeasure with health restrictions have become no less contentious.
With the latest restrictions being imposed on April 6th, it didn’t take very long for Premier Jason Kenney to begin taking push back, from the general public, and from within his caucus.
Within 24-hours of the renewed restrictions being announced, a letter signed by 16 MLAs was released disagreeing with step backwards.
One of the members to sign the letter was Drumheller-Stettler MLA Nate Horner, who has taken issue with the entire province being blanketed with the same restrictions everywhere.
“I’ve been pretty consistent with caucus leadership,” said Horner.
“I’ve been trying to advocate for a more flexible approach. I don’t believe that a blanket policy across the province makes much sense. I thought there was a case to be made for our (area) to do it differently. That’s why I allowed my name to go on that letter.”
Horner is advocating for the province to switch back to a regional management of the health emergency, instead of urban and rural areas being treated the same.
The rural areas of the province, such as the riding of Drumheller-Stettler, have not been hit with the virus as significantly as their urban counterparts.
“The goal is to protect the capacity of the health care system, and after 14 months our area has shown that transmission just happens differently,” said Horner.
“We certainly get cases, cases do spread, but they spread in such a different way.”
One part of the restrictions that Horner was particularly vocal about was the subject of restaurants, and how restaurants in the rural setting are being unfairly punished by the restrictions.
“I head to Edmonton every week,” said Horner. “I see the restaurants there, and they are upbeat and ready to take on the challenge. They’re pressure-washing the umbrellas and setting up rooftop and street-side patios. They are using Skip the Dishes and Doordash. Most of (the restaurants in my area) are closed because they don’t have the margins, amenities, or volume of traffic to do those things. It’s an order of magnitude difference – the actual economic impact.”
Horner did acknowledge that though he stands behind his opposition of the policy of blanket restrictions, the final decision is not his to make.
“As far as our riding, making a case that it could be treated differently as far as restrictions, I certainly stand behind that, but I acknowledge that it’s not my choice to make,” said Horner.
“It’s a difficult one for sure.”
The restrictions, and the resulting fractures within the party, are not the only issues facing the United Conservative Party. While receiving some positive reports, the general consensus of the party’s K-6 curriculum has not been completely favourable.
“It’s a mixed bag in the sense that I’m hearing good things about the reading, math, and financial literacy,” said Horner.
“I have yet to hear much positive regarding the social studies. I’m reminding my (school) boards that it is a draft, and please work proactively to help us make it better.”
With the handling of the pandemic, the curriculum, the soon to be held coal policy discussion which is not going to cover water contamination or land-use issues, the United Conservative Party has taken a hit in the some recent polls as well.
“It’s a very difficult time for sure,” said Horner. “The economy, oil, this prolonged pandemic, the inability to get vaccines in a timely manner. It’s probably more difficult for conservative governments to impose restrictions. It just naturally goes against the feeling of the base. I can see that.”
Despite everything though, Horner remains optimistic.
“I think we are very close,” said Horner. “We’re working closely with health; we’ve had some good policies brought in regarding high school rodeos and outdoor events. I’m optimistic we’ll get something in place for 4-H clubs, maybe by next week. Even though case counts are rising, this is going to be a big month for vaccines. I encourage everybody who is willing to get theirs (to do so) as soon as they can. As dark as it is right now, I’m actually optimistic about the next (while).”
Horner acknowledges that with a province as diverse as Alberta, there are no easy answers.
“It’s a tough time. The province is so different. It’s so diverse,” said Horner.
“It’s a tough nut to crack.”