Two members of Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party caucus have quit a national coalition against public health restrictions, after the group’s founder compared measures to slow the spread of coronavirus to Nazi Germany.
Drew Barnes, MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat, and Angela Pitt, MLA for Airdrie East, the deputy speaker of the house and chair of committees, said in a letter to the End the Lockdowns national caucus that they have withdrawn from the group, as they “can no longer be affiliated with someone who trivializes the horrific history of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany.”
Ontario MPP Randy Hillier is the founder of the caucus, which includes other current and former federal and provincial politicians, including Maxime Bernier, leader of the federal People’s Party of Canada, Independent Ontario MP Derek Sloan and Paul Hinman, the interim leader of the Wildrose Independence Party of Alberta.
On Thursday, Hillier posted a photo of Adolf Hitler on Twitter, comparing Ontario’s response to the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic — which is seeing fitness centres and restaurants close for on-site dining for a few weeks to stem a surge of thousands of new daily cases — to the Third Reich.
“It is fair to debate decisions made during the pandemic. But comparing the actions of democratically-elected governments today to a regime that deliberately murdered millions of innocents is truly beyond the pale,” Pitt and Barnes wrote in the letter, which was sent to media by the United Conservative Caucus on Friday.
“Our focus will continue to be representing our constituents of Airdrie-East and Cypress-Medicine Hat, speaking for the small businesses, gym owners, dance studios, and other organizations in our communities.”
Rising COVID-19 cases
The two MLAs said they would also continue to stand against lockdowns as a public health measure. Alberta has not experienced a strict lockdown during the pandemic, and the government has not introduced further restrictions in recent weeks despite rapidly increasing case numbers.
Kenney called Hillier’s post vile on Twitter.
“There is — and should be — a vibrant debate about how best to deal with the pandemic. But equating the public health measures of democratically elected and accountable governments to the genocidal antisemitism of the Nazi Third Reich is odious. And bonkers,” he wrote.
On Friday, Kenney begged Albertans to abide by health restrictions amid rising cases.
“Instead of delivering a message of openness and optimism, I’m here instead with a plea: Please, please, follow Alberta’s health restrictions and guidelines this weekend and in the weeks to come,” the premier said.
“All of our leading indicators are telling us that we are now in a significant new wave of COVID-19. How bad that wave will be is up to all of us.”
Alberta seeing its highest number of daily case numbers of COVID-19 in months, and around one-third of active cases in Alberta are variants of concern.
A briefing being prepared for the Ontario government suggests the variants substantially increase the risk of serious illness and death when compared to earlier dominant strains of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
As of Friday, the province reported another 1,100 cases of COVID-19. There were at least 8,653 active cases of COVID-19 across Alberta and 49,568 across Canada. More than 23,000 Canadians have died, and many of the survivors are dealing with long-lasting effects like organ damage.
Duane Bratt, a political science professor at Mount Royal University, said it was a bad move from the beginning for sitting MLAs to join the anti-public health measure group due to the “egregious” views of many members.
“When you look at specifically Randy Hillier, he was ejected from the PC caucus in Ontario, pre-COVID. You know, for mocking … parents of kids with autism. So, lining up with these people on any issue was just playing with fire,” Bratt said.
Hillier has repeatedly stated misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic and has broken public health rules in Ontario. In February, he was temporarily banned from Twitter for urging his followers to shame those who wear masks.
Another member, Sloan, was ejected from the federal Conservative caucus over a variety of concerns, including accepting a donation from a white nationalist.
“It’s good that Barnes and Angela Pitt have removed themselves from these other individuals, but it was expected that something crazier would have emerged because this group of people are not just about COVID restrictions. They hold a lot of other abhorrent thoughts, and that is why they were … kicked out of their parties.”