AIRDRIE (660 NEWS) — After coming under fire for joining a group of fellow MLAs voicing opposition to the most recent round of COVID-19 health restrictions, Airdrie representative Angela Pitt said on Wednesday that she stands by her position.
“I disagree with some of the restrictions,” Pitt said in response to questions from reporters during a press conference in Airdrie. “I would like to make it very clear that I in no way, shape or form am advocating for anyone to break any of the rules that are in place, just because I have a disagreement of opinion alongside many of my constituents.”
Pitt and 16 other MLAs signed on to a letter that said the measures are a step in the wrong direction, while the province is in the middle of a third wave of the virus.
The backlash from this letter led to an apology from MLA and Speaker of the House Nathan Cooper, after Premier Jason Kenney said it surprised him to see the normally-unbiased speaker take a very politicized position on the topic.
“The principle of the impartiality of the chair is fundamental to a healthy functioning democracy. I deeply regret my actions,” Cooper said in the Legislature on Apr. 12.
Pitt, who is also the deputy speaker, faced criticism for a recent Facebook post where she appeared to question the efficacy of vaccines and encouraged people to do their own research on the shots instead.
MLA Angela Pitt's non-answer here was in reference to a recent Facebook post, where it seems like she is questioning the efficacy of vaccines, using the coded language around "freedom" and "do your research." #ableg https://t.co/R6coU0nEZO pic.twitter.com/Q3uT0IQlqs
— Tom Ross (@Tommy_Slick) April 28, 2021
The MLA would not say if she would get a shot when asked about this post.
“I’m a big believer in holding health information privately, so I choose not to disclose that information,” she said. “(The post) in no way encouraged or discouraged anyone to participate in their ability to vaccinate themselves, but in fact encouraged them to find the information that they need to make that decision.”
— Courtney Theriault (@cspotweet) April 28, 2021
But only a little over an hour later, Pitt did an abrupt about-face and said in another Facebook post that she will get a shot when it is her turn.
— Tom Ross (@Tommy_Slick) April 28, 2021
Pitt said that she is responding to concerns around restrictions that she hears from residents, and that some of the rules in place just don’t make sense.
“I think that Airdrie has a healthy fear of COVID-19 and respects restrictions that are in place, but also value their own personal freedom and their own frustration in the situation we find ourselves in,” she said. “It’s just simply a fact-finding mission.”
Timothy Caulfield, the Canada Research Chair on Health, Law and Policy at the University of Alberta, said he is disappointed to see these comments from an MLA.
“Her comments are not of the flavour one would expect from a politician who is trying to deal with the public health crisis,” he said.
He said the comments breed vaccine hesitancy and overall doubt around COVID-19 health measures, and Pitt is hiding behind words like “freedom” in order to mask any position she may hold around the issue.
Caulfield suspected that the only reason Pitt walked back her response to the question on vaccines was purely due to the immediate backlash it drew.
“If someone is enthusiastic about these vaccines, of course they should let their constituents know that. Of course they should show some leadership and some modelling, and let individuals know that they’re going to do that. To do otherwise, the implication is that you don’t need to do this.”
Caulfield said people who are openly in favour of the vaccine and health restrictions also clearly appreciate freedom and personal choice, but when it comes to combating the pandemic it would be better to offer a more reassuring message.
“She really is almost more encouraging privacy, encouraging people not to disclose their actions. That’s disappointing, we want to normalize vaccinations. We want to celebrate it, we want to celebrate the science, and we want to make sure that as many people get vaccinated as possible,” he said.
In addition, as Pitt still questions the health measures in place, Caulfield is hopeful that someone will take more of a stand against it within the UCP. Caulfield said this is already a big issue, as conservatives are more likely to question the efficacy of vaccines and the approach to the pandemic as a whole.
“I do think that the conservative leadership should speak up, to make sure that their position is clear and they can help to counter the hesitancy that exists in their community.”