EDMONTON — Alberta’s Opposition says the governing United Conservative Party showed hypocrisy by going ahead with a Christmas party a few hours after the health minister strongly encouraged workplaces to cancel holiday gatherings.
NDP house leader Christina Gray says Albertans are sick of the government not following its own advice to curb the spread of COVID-19.
“This government continuing to ask Albertans to do what they say but not what they do is incredibly frustrating and unfortunately, I think, contributes to the challenges we’re in now,” Gray said Thursday.
Health Minister Jason Copping had asked workplaces Tuesday afternoon to cancel their holiday social gatherings to align with the province’s work from home order, even if their get-togethers were set for venues participating in the vaccine passport program.
“These measures bear an extra weight during the holiday season when we want to gather with family and friends,” Copping told reporters. “I encourage all Albertans to keep their contact with others limited this holiday season.”
He also announced the government was expanding COVID-19 vaccine eligibility, buying more rapid tests and imposing new capacity limits and rules in an effort to curb rising case numbers of the Omicron variant.
A few hours later, the UCP held a Christmas reception at Edmonton’s Parlour Italian Kitchen and Bar.
UCP spokesman Dave Prisco said government officials decided to proceed with the party because the venue was compliant with regulations and the health minister had given the advice only a short time before.
“This event was compliant with the Restrictions Exemption Program and we were at reduced capacity at the venue throughout the evening,” Prisco said in a email.
Prisco added that a UCP holiday party scheduled in Calgary for Wednesday was cancelled.
He did not respond to questions about how many people were at the Edmonton party.
Gray said the NDP caucus cancelled its holiday party, which had been set for Dec. 16, “to limit in-person contacts given rising COVID-19 case counts and other provinces imposing restrictions.”
She said this is not the first time the UCP government has not followed its own advice.
Last holiday season, several legislature members resigned from cabinet or were stripped of their responsibilities after it came to light that they went on international vacations contrary to public health guidelines at the time.
Over the summer, Premier Jason Kenney also apologized for breaking COVID-19 rules at a dinner party with cabinet ministers, which was caught on camera. It took place on the rooftop patio attached to Kenney’s penthouse office, nicknamed the “Sky Palace,” at the Federal Building.
“Jason Kenney needs to lead by example,” Gray said.
“Whether it is the Sky Palace parties we’ve seen, his MLAs going on vacations when Albertans have been told not to, and now having a Christmas party the same day the minister of health told all other workplaces they should cancel their Christmas parties,” she said.
“It is frustrating, it is exhausting, and Albertans are sick of it.”
Also on Thursday, as the province identified 1,625 new cases of COVID-19, the chief medical officer did not respond to multiple questions from reporters about whether she was disappointed to hear about the Christmas party her colleagues attended.
“My job is to provide recommendations, to provide the public with specific details on what we know about variants,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw said.
“So I think if I were to sit in judgment of everyone who perhaps caused increased risk, I would not have enough hours in the day, so I will just say that all of us, everyone across this province, we have an opportunity right now.
“COVID-19, in the form of the Omicron variant, is spreading very fast. In this next week, the choices that we make will have significant consequences, not just for us but, for those around us.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 23, 2021.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Fakiha Baig and Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press