Jason Kenney addresses Albertans on COVID-19 pandemic through Facebook Live
By Noel Harper, News Editor
For nearly a year now, the Alberta government has held afternoon press conferences with key political figures to address the COVID-19 pandemic — most often featuring Premier Jason Kenney, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw and/or Health Minister Tyler Shandro.
These 3:30 pm appointments with the province at large — while taking place less often and at later hours as the pandemic has gone on — are accessible to all Albertans, being broadcast through a variety of mediums including television, radio and the government’s official YouTube channel.
This is for good reason, as it gives the government a chance to announce changes to public health guidelines, address the concerns of Albertans and take questions from the media — albeit in a limited capacity with a lack of follow-up.
However, Premier Kenney has increasingly opted to have an audience with the province in a different manner altogether: Facebook Live videos. During these livestreams, he answers questions from Facebook users who comment in real-time. An active Facebook account is required to view these videos, and a user must follow Kenney’s page in order to ask a question.
Kenney’s most recent Q & A session of this sort was held on Feb. 3, in which he was joined by Dr. Hinshaw from what appeared to be the same backdrop as the province’s COVID-19 press conferences.
Kenney and Hinshaw addressed comments for nearly 90 minutes on a variety of topics. One asked if university students would be allowed to attend in-person classes if safety protocols could be met.
“We do have very specific post-secondary guidance, which does currently allow for some small classes to be able to meet in person, but of course … many of the larger classes are not able to do that,” said Dr. Hinshaw, adding that a return to campuses depends on the province’s vaccination abilities.
Some comments throughout the Q & A delegated to conspiracy theories and falsehoods about the pandemic, which Kenney addressed, laughing through a question which asked, “are you working with [Prime Minister Justin] Trudeau and [founder of the World Economic Forum] Klaus Schwab on the great reset?”
Holding up a chart showing the province’s COVID-19 hospitalization trends, Kenney said, “That is not a conspiracy, it is not politics … it’s not fake news, it’s cold, hard numbers,” continuing that if those who are prone to conspiracies do not believe the numbers, they ought to believe those who have been directly impacted, including those who work in, and are sick in, hospitals.
Schwab and the ‘great reset,’ a set of post-pandemic economic ideals he proposed, were addressed by Kenney in a previous Facebook Live recorded in December 2020. Short clips from the premier’s Q & A sessions are often cut and posted separately to Facebook, with his answer on the ‘great reset’, which were viewed nearly 2 million times.
Kenney’s use of Facebook to answer questions from the public about the pandemic drew some criticism, suggesting that the platform restricts Albertans’ access to this information.
“[Dr. Hinshaw] doing a FB Live with details and dialogue that are of critical concern to all Albertan’s [sic] is unacceptable,” tweeted Katy Ingraham, an Edmonton restaurant owner.
“Is a poorly advertised Facebook Live the right platform for the Premier and CMOH to be using as a town hall on public health?” asked Calgary doctor Joe Vipond.
During one of Kenney’s past Facebook Live sessions just after the new year, he addressed why he, at the time, had not spoken to the media in several days, as his government was gripped by a holiday travel scandal.
“The way we work these things is, when my schedule allows me to add in an hour or 90 minutes of Q & A on Facebook like this, it’s usually the day of,” the premier said.
Kenney’s Facebook page is followed by more than 277,000 users.