Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a news conference at Rideau cottage in Ottawa, on Friday, March 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand

Trudeau rejects Alberta cabinet minister accusation he wants COVID health disaster

EDMONTON — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is rejecting an accusation from Alberta’s justice minister that the federal government is part of a trio wanting the province’s health system to collapse under the pressure of COVID-19.

“It’s a shame to see people pointing fingers and laying blame and suggesting that anyone in Canada wants anything else than to get through this pandemic as safely as possible everywhere,” Trudeau, responding to remarks by Kaycee Madu, said in Ottawa on Tuesday.

“Playing politics at this point is just not what Canadians want to see.”

Alberta has recently had COVID-19 case rates that are the highest in North America.

Trudeau noted he reached out to Premier Jason Kenney and Alberta’s big city mayors last week to offer further support if called upon.

“Every step of the way the federal government has been there to support Canadians, with $8 out of every $10 in pandemic support coming from the federal government,” said Trudeau.

“We will continue to work with all governments across this county to make sure we’re getting through this.”

Last week, Kenney introduced tighter public health restrictions. He warned that hospitals were otherwise on course to be overwhelmed in a matter of weeks.

Madu, in a Facebook post last Friday, wrote that the province can’t risk giving the COVID-19 virus a chance to “overwhelm our health-care system.

“That’s what the NDP, the media and the federal Liberals were looking for and want,” he wrote.

Madu was not made available for an interview, but his spokesman, Blaise Boehmer, has said Madu stands by the remark.

Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley said her caucus has pushed for Kenney’s government to enact rules and messaging to reduce the spread of the virus, while giving businesses financial aid to survive and workers support to allow them to isolate but still provide for their families.

“A minister of the Crown would be best served to listen to the proposals that are put forward by the Opposition as well as, heaven forbid, the critiques, because that is actually the way our system works,” said Notley.

She said Madu’s comments in the justice post are Kenney’s responsibility.

“You don’t tend to see that sort of incendiary, thoughtless messaging or tone from someone who takes on the role of justice minister,” she said.

Alberta has well over 25,000 active COVID-19 cases. There were 690 people in hospital on Monday and 158 of them were in intensive care — the highest since the pandemic began.

Kenney, after resisting calls for more health restrictions, acted last Tuesday. He closed schools and brought in sharper limits on businesses and worship services.

He had been facing criticism that his government waited too long to react to the pandemic’s third wave, but replied that no one should point fingers and politicize the fight against COVID-19.

Kenney and his minsters have repeatedly accused Trudeau’s government of hamstringing the relief effort and, as late as April 29, Kenney blamed Alberta’s third wave on Ottawa for a slow vaccine rollout.

Also Tuesday, Alberta Health confirmed it won’t give out more first doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for the time being.

Spokesman Tom McMillan said the decision was made because there aren’t any confirmed shipments of AstraZeneca coming and the province only has 8,400 doses left. Those are to be used as second doses.

“Unlike with AstraZeneca, Alberta is receiving the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in large and consistent shipments,” said McMillan, who noted that more than 236,000 doses are arriving this week alone.

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