Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro answers questions at a news conference in Calgary, Alta., Friday, Sept. 3, 2021. Shandro, accused of not doing enough to stop a COVID-19 surge swamping hospitals, says the government wants to see the effect of recent health restrictions before adding any new ones. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol

Sources say Alberta Premier Jason Kenney to replace health minister amid COVID crisis

Province has reached out to the federal government for help in dealing with COVID-19

Sources say Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro is expected to be out of a job.

The sources have told The Canadian Press that Premier Jason Kenney is expected to replace Shandro with Labour Minister Jason Copping as the new health minister at a ceremony Tuesday.

The change comes as Kenney’s government announced it has reached out to the federal government for emergency help in dealing with COVID-19 hospitalizations that threaten to collapse the province’s health system and force doctors to ration life-saving resources.

Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver is asking specifically for air transportation to move patients to care facilities outside Alberta and for more intensive care nurses and respiratory therapists.

McIver made the request in a letter dated Tuesday to Bill Blair, the federal minister of public safety and emergency preparedness.

“Federal assistance in these two areas has the potential to create significant relief to the health-care system,” McIver wrote to Blair.

Alberta asked other provinces for help last week when it declared a state of public health emergency.

At that time, Kenney reintroduced new gathering restrictions and launched a form of a COVID-19 vaccine passport, a step he had long promised not to take.

Alberta has more than 20,000 active cases. On Monday, there were 954 people in hospital with COVID-19 and 216 of them were in intensive care with the illness, well over normal ICU capacity.

There has been mass cancellation of surgeries provincewide and Kenney said last week it is estimated the health system is on track to be overwhelmed by month’s end without direct action.

Kenney is facing not only public but internal backlash from his own United Conservative rank and file and caucus members over his handling of the pandemic.

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health has said the current spike was ignited when Kenney lifted almost all COVID-19 health restrictions on July 1, faster than any other province, saying it was safe given 70 per cent of eligible Albertans had at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.

At that time, Kenney announced COVID-19 was effectively defeated and that even a future rise in cases would be accommodated in the health system. He said he was so sure COVID-19 was finished that he didn’t envision needing a fallback plan, and accused journalists of fearmongering for discussing the possibility of a dangerous rise of COVID-19 in a fourth wave.

His government then failed to act during July and August as case numbers spiralled.

Last week, Kenney said he didn’t act because he didn’t believe Albertans would follow renewed health restrictions.