Alberta Premier Jason Kenney wants the federal government to help clear the way for NHL players to come to Edmonton.
His counterpart in British Columbia, John Horgan, says his province isn’t interested in making any concessions.
The two premiers had markedly different responses to the NHL’s plan to resume the 2019-20 season, in which teams would play at two hub cities, one for each conference.
Edmonton and Vancouver, as well as Toronto, are three of the 10 cities still in the running to be host cities, should the plan come to fruition. But the NHL said Tuesday the Canadian government’s mandatory 14-day quarantine for anyone entering the country would make markets north of the 49th parallel a non-starter during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kenney responded by sending a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in which he encouraged the federal government to deem professional athletes and team staff as essential workers — similar to what U.S. officials announced late last week.
“Such an exemption from the Canadian government would be necessary for (Edmonton’s) bid,” Kenney wrote. “The Government of Alberta believes there are effective strategies in place to mitigate any risk to our province if such an exemption was granted.”
Alberta’s chief medical officer, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, said the province was working on alternatives that would still observe the 14-day quarantine.
“What we’ve put together is an opportunity for a cohort quarantine, which would mean that a group that came in from international travel, such as an individual team, would have to stay together in that quarantine period and would not be able to interact with others outside of that cohort group,” she said. “They would be effectively sealed off from the rest of the community.”
“I want to be clear we’re not talking about waiving the quarantine requirements,” Hinshaw added.
Depending on how long training camps were should the season resume, teams could feasibly conduct their camps under cohort quarantine before facing off against other teams.
Horgan has been vocal about Vancouver as a hub in the past, but struck a more cautious tone than his Alberta counterpart Wednesday.
Horgan’s comments have been in line with Dr. Bonnie Henry, the province’s health officer, who said the government won’t be making any concessions in a jurisdiction that has done well to minimize infections.
“We have rules in place today that we worked very hard to establish,” Horgan said.
“Because the NHL made an announcement that involved Vancouver, we’re not going to go rushing to change that. Two weeks from now, four weeks from now, it could be a completely different situation provided we continue to see the progress that we’ve seen here in British Columbia.
“I don’t want to rule out the NHL coming here. They haven’t presented a plan to us … When I talked to commissioner (Gary) Bettman, I said Dr. Henry was enthusiastic about looking at a plan and we haven’t seen one yet.”
“Today there’s a 14-day, self-isolation period in place and I expect that will be there for the foreseeable future.”
Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, said discussions are underway with the NHL.
“Personally, I haven’t interacted with the NHL [but] I do know that the different departments are engaged with those conversations right now,” Tam said Thursday.
As with any resumption of activities, public health officials will look at what guidance needs to be in place to prevent any potential risk to the Canadian population, she said.
The special advisory committee will look at what guidance is being laid out for sports-related activities, Tam said, and public health fundamentals will be in place to make sure plans and protocols are followed.
“Having said that, I do know that there are proposals from these leagues, including the NHL,” she said. “And those proposals are being reviewed in terms of whether they continue to keep Canadians safe, and for now really our straight mandatory 14-day quarantine applies at the international border.”