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Photo of Jason Kenney. // Photo courtesy of the Government of Alberta/Flickr.

Alberta’s premier owes the South Asian community an apology

By Manahil Hassan, January 5 2021—

Jason Kenney has never ceased to amaze me, and I do not mean that in a good way. 

Less than a year ago, when the premier and his United Conservative Party government began to implement change where it was not needed, protests ensued. About a year later, it seems as though nothing has changed. Whether it was lowering the wages of doctors and nurses or increasing tuition fees for undergraduate students, UCP policies have struck again. This time the changes, or lack thereof, are in direct response to the rising COVID-19 cases. 

On Nov. 28, the premier announced his new pandemic-related policies and introduced a ban on indoor gatherings, declaring a fine of $1,000 dollars and up if this rule was broken. Moreover, gatherings of more than ten people in outdoor spaces were, and continue to be, not allowed. The desired changes that we did not see were mandatory mask laws and sweeping lockdowns that mirror the actions of other provinces with much lower case numbers. What this “competent” leader managed to do, however, was scapegoat an entire community as being the main cause for the rising COVID-19 cases. 

Jason Kenney sat down for an interview with RedFM’s Rishi Nagar and cited South Asian traditions and large family gatherings as the reason for the rapid rise in cases. There were many reasons his statement rightly outraged the South Asian community, but to maintain the remaining dignity this leader has left, I will only name a few. 

Firstly, the leader failed to consider that most individuals in the NE area blue-collar frontline workers. Many men and women work as train operators, grocery store clerks and truck drivers. These people have no choice but to come to work seeing as they have limited employment benefits and cannot access a compensated sick leave. Many of them not only work hard to keep our city clean but to provide for their families. Disappointingly, there was not one acknowledgment of this fact. What Jason Kenney did instead was make a general and sweeping statement of a whole community, whilst threatening them with monetary fines and increased policing for their “irresponsible behaviour.” It is true that most cases come from the NE, but it is not because of our traditions or our stupidity. 

Secondly, anti-mask protests have been occurring all over Edmonton, Red Deer and Calgary, even after the new restrictions were put into place. Although these protests broke the 10-person limit in outdoor spaces, it did not seem to faze the premier one bit. Jason Kenney gently reminded protestors that even though protesting was a right, citizens should be more careful. The hypocritical behaviour of Jason Kenney is the reason the South Asian community is outraged and deserves an apology. Choosing to engage in anti-mask protests is a choice while providing for your family and working is not. Using common-sense makes this distinction clear yet it seems Jason Kenney’s intent to blame the NE seems targeted, and quite frankly, prejudiced. 

Finally, the disregard for the needs of the people is another reason many of us are enraged. A recent poll done by ThinkHQ Public Affairs showed that 81 per cent of the 1,100 Albertans questioned supported a mandatory mask law. The citizens of this province do not need someone to blame and point fingers. They need solutions and actions. 

If pointing fingers is what Jason Kenney wishes to do, then I implore him to look at his own incompetent behaviour during this pandemic. Perpetuating harmful narratives of ethnic minorities is not providing us with solutions and is not a good indicator of a competent and fair leader. 

What Jason Kenney should do is not only sincerely apologize to Calgary’s South Asian community, but also to the 11,000 healthcare workers whose jobs his government wants to outsource. Finally, he must apologize for the havoc wreaked due to his government’s lax attitude and policies made to appease his supporters. He should begin to alleviate the burden on the healthcare system by listening to healthcare professionals and workers.

It may be a while before we can even begin to return to normal, but change is good, and it begins at the top. It begins with Jason Kenney and his government. 

This article is part of our Opinions section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet’s editorial board.

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