Calgarians divided over government’s COVID-19 vaccine lottery spending

Alberta’s workforce’s best shot at getting help from the government is the COVID-19 vaccine.

That’s the implicit message the Kenney government is sending to Albertans with its vaccine lottery, according to some frustrated business owners.

Juandre Van Den Berg is the assistant manager at State and Main Kitchen and Bar. He says many people within the service industry were hit hard during the lockdowns and had little or no help from the government.

“If they’re willing to spend that much money for people to win for people to win prizes, I feel like the government could have done something better,” said Van Den Berg.

“(They could’ve) put that money towards people who have not received any compensation at all.”

Throughout the pandemic, the Kenney government has been scrutinized for how they managed money during a time when businesses had to shut down.

According to Alberta Health, the “COVID Loves” ads, infamously dubbed “Uncle COVID,” had a total budget of $2.5 million.

The vaccine lottery has three $1-million draws, as well an extensive list of other prizes including plane tickets, sporting event tickets, vacation packages, and Stampede passes. Although the vacation packages have been donated by WestJet and Canada, the total price tag for the lottery, when administrative, advertising, and logistical costs are included, will exceed the $3 million in prizes.

“The impetus for the lottery is to get as many people vaccinated as soon as possible,” said Alberta Premier Jason Kenney during the press conference at which he launched the lottery.

PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: Vaccine records are on display as a press conference featuring Jason Kenney announcing Alberta’s open for summer plan runs in the background. (Photo by Omar Sherif/The Press)

“Every day that goes by that we have hundreds of thousands of people that are not vaccinated, it opens us up to a certain degree of risk. We had very strong demand for first doses… and we saw it drop just right off.”

Kenney says that a $3-million COVID-19 vaccine lottery is a good investment to encourage vaccine-hesitant Albertans to get the shot.

Not everyone needs that encouragement.

“I definitely wanted to have that vaccine,” said Benjamin Reid, a family support worker with Woods Homes.

“I saw a lot of COVID cases come through some of the congregate care facilities and a lot of people got sick.”

Reid did not sign up for the lottery after his shot but maintains that he’s not upset that the government spent that much money on COVID prevention ads and the lottery.

A group of security guards and AHS workers stand outside the Telus Convention Centre in Calgary on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. The convention centre is Alberta’s largest immunization centre but has recently seen a decline in vaccination numbers. (Photo by Omar Sherif/The Press)

“They’re keeping statistics on how many people are getting the vaccine,” he said.

“If you could show that once a lottery was announced that statistically there was a reasonable increase in demand for first and second doses, that’s maybe an indication on how effective the lottery was.”

Since the launch of the lottery, more than 70 per cent of Albertans have been vaccinated with at least one dose. But businesses are still suffering. The downtown branch of State and Main Kitchen and Bar has shut down, but with people continuing to get immunized, businesses may soon see a resurgence.

About Omar Sherif 4 Articles
As a news reporting and communications major in the journalism program at SAIT, Omar Sherif is working as a writer for The Press during the 2021 academic year.