By Tim Kalinowski
Alta Newspaper Group – Lethbridge
Several hundred Albertans gathered in Edmonton yesterday to demand the Alberta government consider ending the COVID-19 lockdown, and begin a phased reopening of the provincial economy.
The protest was organized by the group “End the Lockdown Alberta,” and took place in front of the Alberta Legislature. Raymond resident Skouson Harker, who is a CP Rail engineer by trade, lead the convoy to Edmonton starting in his hometown, and gathered others at other communities along the way. Harker is the founder of the group “For Southern Alberta” which shares many of the same goals as “End the Lockdown Alberta.”
“We just want to be able to reiterate to our politicians we are working middleclass families who, in order to put food on the table, have to get to work,” he explained in an interview prior to the event. “As soon as small businesses close there is no guarantee they will be back, because you could only stay afloat for so long if you’re not bringing in any money. That’s kind of the main focus of (our action). We just kind of want to go, and we think it’s going to be safe. We’re just going to stay in our own groups who we come up with; so we are not going to be gathering in any groups bigger than 15. We’ll just stick with our own vehicles.”
Harker hoped his group members would be able to avoid fines for violating public health orders if they followed protocols, and they sought a legal opinion on the matter. He was also conscious of the need for social distancing while undertaking the protest action.
“I don’t think (COVID-19) is a hoax, but I do think there has been some government overreach,” he explained when asked his reasons for taking both the potential legal and medical risks involved in gathering at the legislature. “That’s my personal opinion, and the opinion of others, too. At some point if you get too far along into infringing on people’s freedoms, I think that can be dangerous as well.”
“I think what really woke up a lot of people,” he said, “is our top Doc Deena Hinshaw didn’t say, ‘Let’s wait a month and see where we are.’It was just last week, she said, for the next four months everything shut down. I think for a lot of people that was a little bit of, ‘Holy cow. What’s going on here?’I think that frustrated a lot of people, and that a lot of people are feeling like there should be more of a measured approach in different areas of the province with different solutions.”
Harker feels the blanket approach for issuing COVID-19 health orders by the Alberta government should be replaced with a region-by-region or community-by-community approach instead to limit the risk of COVID-19 spread. More importantly, he says, he and his group are frustrated the province has yet to unveil any kind of phased plan for reopening the economy like the Saskatchewan and Ontario governments have done recently.
“I think that’s what everybody is after,” Harker says. “They want to see it laid out with the government saying, ‘This is our plan. We’re moving forward.'”At this stage, it is not going to be a magic wand and everything opens the next day, but everyone wants to see that plan like Saskatchewan kind of is moving that way, Ontario is moving that way, and I think where you see in Quebec starting to see them get back into school a bit. We are going: ‘Maybe, we should be trying to move this thing a little bit as far as for our economy, and getting our economy started up a little bit and see how it goes.'”We haven’t seen that in Alberta yet,” he states. “People are getting impatient, naturally, and wanting to see that. We want to see a plan of action, and see that is being rolled out sooner rather than later.”
The “For Southern Alberta” convoy departed at 8 a.m. from Raymond on Wednesday.