Braid: Kenney’s popularity plunges and confusion reigns over last-minute school distancing order

Premier Jason Kenney.

Premier Jason Kenney has dropped to 42 per cent approval in a new Angus Reid Institute poll.

He’s getting dangerously close to the point where a leader isn’t just questioned by the public, but by people in his own government caucus. He can’t go much lower without facing trouble.

The biggest threat of a further popularity drop for Kenney is a botched school launch.

And now, right at the crucial moment, there are ominous signs of confusion.

In a stunning surprise, chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw

signed an order

Saturday that clearly says schools don’t have to implement social distancing in classrooms.

This was approved Saturday but not released publicly. It only became

widely known Monday

, less than 24 hours before most schools were set to open their doors.

Hinshaw apologized Monday for creating “anxiety and confusion” but insisted the order is nothing new — it had been policy since early August.

She had hoped to “clarify” things, just the opposite of what she accomplished. The order itself is so detailed and complex as to be nearly incomprehensible. It reads more like a court application than guidance to schools, teachers and parents.

Equally confusing were Hinshaw’s attempts to explain both the order and why she signed it only two days before school started, without public explanation.

Parents, kids and teachers, meanwhile, just want to know what life is supposed to be like in the classroom. This episode gives them very few clues.

And it came as Hinshaw announced the disturbing total of

426 new Alberta COVID-19 cases over the weekend

, including 184 on Saturday, as well as a disturbing Calgary outbreak related to a church.

 Pictured is a classroom in Henry Wise Wood High School that could accommodate a cohort of up to 38 students on Friday, August 28, 2020.

Without mentioning the distancing order, Kenney and Education Minister Adriana LaGrange issued a cheery welcome back to school: “We all know that this school year can and will be a great one,” they said in chorus.

Kenney’s popularity, or what remains of it, now depends on the school launch being both educationally successful and virtually free of COVID-19 outbreaks.

Today, Kenney is probably less popular than NDP Leader Rachel Notley, who’s in the mid-40s in Alberta polling by Marc Henry’s ThinkHQ.

The premier’s rating is now 21 per cent lower than it was after the election on April 16, 2019. He has dropped five points since the Reid poll in February.

Nationally, his companion in the basement is the hapless Andrew Furey of Newfoundland and Labrador, who has 34 per cent approval. He became premier only two weeks ago after winning the Liberal leadership.

The galling thing for Kenney, surely, is that B.C. NDP Premier John Horgan is riding high at 69 per cent, tops in the country.

Next comes Ontario’s Doug Ford (66 per cent) and Quebec’s Francois Legault (65 per cent).

Sacha Kurl, executive director of the Reid Institute, notes an interesting twist: polling history shows that Albertans are the quickest of all Canadians to turn on a premier when they’re unhappy.

This does not mean, however, that the same premier won’t be elected or re-elected.

Marc Henry of ThinkHQ notes that Kenney, unlike any other premier, faces “an absolute assembly of bad issues all at once.”

There’s COVID, Canada’s worst economy, the

crash in oil prices

, funding cuts and the dispute with doctors during a pandemic. Even in rural Alberta, people are angry about changes in taxation of energy companies.

Elsewhere in Canada, there’s an expectation that previously healthy economies will rebound quickly when the pandemic fades. But in Alberta, as Henry says, “people wonder how do we get out of this, when does it start to get better?”

The situation demands brilliant government performance across all sectors all the time.

But on the crucial school front, at least, brilliance is not what we’re seeing.

Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald

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