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‘We could have prepped people a little better’: Mayor Nenshi year-ender, Part 1

Looking back at the Calgary COVID-19 pandemic response in 2020, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he was proud of how quickly the city responded early on.  

But, there’s one thing he thinks could have been done different to ease the COVID-19 burden being faced today.

In the first piece of a series from a year-end interview with Calgary’s mayor, we talked about Calgary – and Alberta – in this crazy COVID-19-impacted year.

While Mayor Nenshi said there were small things – like opening skate parks a week earlier than they should have – that, in retrospect, they could have done better, there was major big flaw in how it all went down.

Mayor Nenshi said history told us that the second wave was going to be worse than the first.

“The so-called Spanish Flu killed five million in its first wave and 15 million in the second,” he said.

“I think that we could have prepped people a little better.”

Alberta’s re-opening plan may have been a little too aggressive, giving people the impression that COVID-19 was somehow in the rearview mirror.

“We likely weren’t clear enough within the summer with people that this is your recess,” he said.

“This was your break to go do stuff, but that it was going to get worse. So, take advantage of this time and prepare people for what was going to happen in the fall.”

Provincial response to COVID-19

When the COVID-19 case count started to climb in the fall, the province played a waiting game.

It wasn’t until late November that the province took enhanced action. Case counts were nearing 2,000 per day.

But, that first set of measures didn’t fool anyone, the mayor said.

“I remember sitting, listening to the Premier (Kenney) make the first announcement about restrictions, and he went on a long meander around the charter rights, and then ended up with we’re going to close bars at midnight, and kids sports. And yoga classes,” the mayor said.

“I don’t think there’s one person in Alberta, probably including the premier, who actually thought that was going to work.”

Mayor Nenshi said it comes as no surprise to anyone that he believed the province should have acted sooner.

“Then finally, when the city said, ‘well, the province isn’t going to act, we will,’ at that point, the data had also convinced the province, so we didn’t have to do that on our own,” he said.

After the first set of restrictions, cases counts stayed in the 1,800 per day range. Then, stricter measures were announced Dec. 8. Case counts on Dec. 16 were in the 1,200s.

Enforcement of COVID-19 public health rules

Mayor Nenshi said something he’s repeated many times: He’s not a police or peace officer.

“I’m very thankful that we live in a world where the politicians can’t tell the police what to do,” he said.

“That would not be a good society if I directed the police.”

He said he’s also been clear recently that his patience is over with education.

“Everybody knows what they should be doing,” the mayor said.

When we asserted that maybe some were taking liberties because no one was enforcing rules upon those deliberately flouting them, the mayor challenged that notion.

“I’m not sure that people who are watching the radical fringe of COVIDIOTS… are actually looking at that and going, ‘well, I should take liberties in my life,’” he said.

He believes that people who are abiding by the rules and taking public health precautions are getting frustrated seeing others blatantly turn their nose up at the law. He said they’re angered by those wandering the downtown, threatening shopkeepers and scaring what few shoppers are there.

“I too, am angry and frustrated by that,” Mayor Nenshi said.

“I don’t want the police to be kettling people like at the G7 protests and causing all kinds of violence and different problems. But certainly, I would like to see a more proactive take.”