An off-hand remark in a recent year-end interview has the office of Alberta’s premier defending Jason Kenney’s comments and maintaining they were not of a hateful nature.
In an interview with Rick Bell of Postmedia, Premier Kenney addressed the issue of COVID-19 variant uncertainty with mention of the city of Wuhan, China, where the first known case of the virus was detected.
“Who knows what the next variant that gets thrown up is? I don’t know,” said Kenney in the interview. “And what’s the next bat soup thing out of Wuhan? I don’t know.
“I’ve learned from bitter experience not to make predictions about this.”
The published interview drew immediate criticism on social media over the premier’s comments.
Opposition Leader Rachel Notley called for an apology from the premier.
Mary Ng, the Liberal Member of Parliament for Markham-Thornhill, took exception with Kenney’s “irresponsible” use of “anti-Asian racist tropes.”
Actor and comedian Andrew Phung called Kenney’s racist comments the latest in the long list of the premier’s failures.
In a statement to CTV News Calgary, Harrison Fleming, Kenney’s acting press secretary, said “it is obviously ridiculous to suggest that these widely reported scientific theories are ‘racist’.”
“The Premier’s comment obviously referred to the widely reported theory that the first human infection of COVID-19 resulted from transmission between an infected bat and a human in the Wuhan region of China. The World Health Organization has concluded that direct spread from bats to humans in Wuhan is a “likely” scenario to explain the beginning of human transmission.
“The Premier’s comment underscored that there is no way to predict what the catalyst of a future pandemic will be, or how future variants might evolve.”
Fleming also made mention of Kenney’s hosting of two dinners earlier this year at Chinese restaurants in both Edmonton and Calgary, events designed to “show solidarity with the Chinese community” and to “condemn racist sentiments directed at the Chinese community with respect to COVID-19.”