Red Deer South MLA Jason Stephan is critical of the government’s vaccine program. (Advocate file photo)

Red Deer South MLA Jason Stephan is critical of the government’s vaccine program. (Advocate file photo)

Restriction exemption program divides Albertans, says Red Deer MLA

Red Deer-South MLA Jason Stephan says vaccine passports breed resentment

Red Deer-South MLA Jason Stephan took aim at the government’s COVID-19 Restriction Exemption Program in a letter to constituents.

In an open letter, Stephan said that “some businesses and other organizations find themselves now subject to restrictions that threaten their ability to survive unless they participate in a Restriction Exemption Program.”

The program amounts to a vaccine passport, which Premier Jason Kenney previously said he would not support, writes Stephan in his letter posted on his Facebook page last Thursday.

“Vaccine passports use coercion to indirectly do what is illegal to do directly — to compel vaccination. Seeking to compel others against their wills produce resentment.

“Albertans should choose to take COVID vaccines on their merits, believing they are safe and effective, not because of lotteries or cash payments or intense coercion with vaccine passports or under threats of losing livelihoods or educations.”

Stephan, who has been vaccinated, says the exemption program divides Albertans and that many constituents are “dismayed with increased division and contention in our families and communities.”

Raising concerns about some restrictions should not be framed as opposition to all restrictions, he says. Some are labelling or condemning entire groups for the actions of a few and others are making “sweeping judgments and assumptions about others who do not agree with their opinions …

“Our friends, family members or neighbours who do not share our opinions are not evil or selfish. The truth about those friends, family members or neighbours is more complex, more nuanced, each of them possessing unique contexts and circumstances, all of which can be valued and respected.”

Stephan says throughout the pandemic he has raised concerns about various restrictions, especially their impact on children, youth and young adults, none of whom, vaccinated or not, are overwhelming the health system.

A review of Kenney’s leadership tentatively set for fall 2022 has now been moved to the spring.

“The leadership review process supports principles of accountability and good governance and should occur sooner than later.”

Stephan points out that Alberta is budgeted to spend $23 billion on health, among the highest per capita spending rate in the country. He questions why with that amount of spending Alberta has only 300 to 400 intensive care unit beds.

COVID has a survival rate over 99 per cent and some Albertans are at higher risk than others or have different risk tolerances, he states.

“For all of us, our quantity and quality of life are important, interrelated considerations. Albertans value these aspects differently,” he said, adding that how they are valued can change over a lifetime.

Stephan supports acknowledging Albertans’ differences and respecting people’s right to make decision for themselves and their families while being respectful of their neighbours’ views.

Given the “widespread, profound impact of COVID restrictions on Albertans, Stephan says he will continue to push for a comprehensive public inquiry, including a full cost analysis of restrictions.

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