United Conservative leadership candidate Travis Toews says his presence at the cabinet table has eased the intensity of COVID-19 restrictions in Alberta.
Toews, who was Alberta’s finance minister from 2019 until he resigned to run for leadership, insists his contribution and that of a handful of ministers led to health measures public less strict during the first waves of the pandemic.
“The fact that there were a few rural ministers around this table definitely made a difference in terms of the outcome,” he told CBC News.
Toews said he was considering resigning from his position and that these COVID cabinet meetings were “the most difficult hours of my life”.
Ultimately, he said he decided that Albertans and his constituents in Grande Prairie-Wapiti would be better served with him in cabinet.
The Alberta government has come under heavy criticism for its policy decisions regarding the virus, including its ‘open for the summer’ plan which many health experts say has contributed to more serious outcomes for patients and the health system.
Call to UCP members
The province has seen intense polarization over COVID since the spring of 2020 – both in terms of control measures and vaccination against it.
The government’s COVID decisions have figured prominently in the UCP leadership race so far, with large portions of debates and candidate forums devoted to discussing the province’s response to the virus and what each candidate would have done differently.
“You hear someone who was on this COVID committee insinuating that it was political considerations that were made,” said Duane Bratt, a political scientist at Mount Royal University.
Bratt added that Toews is playing in front of the expected 100,000 UCP members who will be able to vote in this leadership election.
“He fights against [candidates] which are very anti-COVID restrictions. But there was a deep suspicion among Albertans at large that the Kenney government had not gone far enough, that it had instituted restrictions too late, that it had removed them too quickly. »
Alberta recently experienced a seventh wave of COVID, with an average seven-day PCR test positivity rate of approximately 23%. However, the province is only doing a limited number of tests. Wastewater data indicates that the trend is beginning to decline again.
Despite his resistance to some of the COVID public health proposals, Toews stuck to the results that came out of the cabinet.
“Regardless of the personal opinions you’ve had and the positions you’ve taken during the debate, when you emerge, you support the outcome,” he said. “That’s the basic principle of board governance.”
Seven candidates are vying to replace outgoing Prime Minister Jason Kenney when UCP members elect their new leader in October.
The race has so far been led by former Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith. Polls by external companies and internally by campaigns suggest that Toews is installed in second or third place.
Two MPs who initially backed Toews recently swapped support for Smith’s campaign.
“That surprises me, quite frankly,” Toews said. “[To] in a way, going back on that decision is, I think, quite meaningful.”
Toews has the most support from sitting MPs, around two dozen, which he says indicates his ability to unify the party after a turbulent few years.
Bratt has a different analysis on Toews’ status in the race as some MPs switch support for a different candidate.
“He’s floundering,” Bratt said.