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Alberta Politics

Kenney’s weak response to Hot Holiday Scandal exposes rifts inside the UCP

You could almost feel the collective anger of Albertans building as news trickled out yesterday that more and more United Conservative Party MLAs had ignored their own government’s COVID-19 recommendations to stay home and cancel any non-essential international travel over the Christmas break. 

Despite receiving the same recommendations against non-essential international holidays that every other Albertan has been told by the government since March 2020, at least five UCP MLAs, including one cabinet minister, decided the recommendations put in place to stop the spread of COVID-19 did not apply to them and instead jetted off to hotter locales.

As of today, we know the following UCP cabinet ministers, MLAs and senior political staffers have travelled internationally in recent weeks, or are just now returning home from abroad:

  • Tracy Allard, MLA for Grande Prairie and Minister of Municipal Affairs, was in Hawaii.
  • Jeremy Nixon, MLA for Calgary-Klein and parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Community and Social Supports, is returning from Hawaii.
  • Pat Rehn, MLA for Lesser Slave Lake, is returning from Mexico.
  • Tanya Fir, MLA for Calgary-Peigan and Treasury Board member, has returned from Las Vegas.
  • Jason Stephan, MLA for Red Deer-South and Treasury Board member, is returning from Arizona.
  • Jamie Huckabay, Chief of Staff to Premier Jason Kenney, has returned from the United Kingdom.
  • Michael Forian, Press Secretary to Education Minister Adriana LaGrange and 2019 Conservative Party candidate, was in Hawaii.
  • Eliza Snider, Press Secretary to Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides, was in Hawaii.

Premier Jason Kenney has publicly shrugged off the hot holidays, claiming international travel was good for the economy despite his own government’s pandemic recommendations that Albertans don’t do it.

He has refused to fire or publicly discipline the MLAs for ignoring the public health recommendations that millions of Albertans abided by when they cancelled their own winter vacations and Christmas family gatherings.

Kenney says he was unaware of the trips, but it seems unlikely that a politician known for being a intense micromanager and workaholic would not have some inkling that this was happening.

The Premier’s weak response to the jet-set MLAs could suggest a few things: 1) he’s fine with them ignoring the recommendations, 2) there are more MLAs or staffers who travelled overseas on non-essential trips, or 3) support for his leadership in UCP Caucus and Party is tenuous and he cannot afford to discipline so many backbenchers at once.

In Ontario, Premier Doug Ford fired Finance Minister Rod Philips for attempting to cover up his Christmas vacation to a Caribbean island.

In Alberta, the lack of consequences for making such poor and tone-deaf decisions has stripped back Kenney’s populist-veneer and exposed an arrogant and elitist culture of exceptionalism within the leadership of the UCP.

For her part, Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley says all of her party’s 24 MLAs remained in Alberta during the Christmas break.

Perhaps the only good news for Kenney is that the MLA hot holiday scandal, or Alohagate and Hawaiigate as some are calling it, is a distraction from the provincial government’s disappointingly slow rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine.

While waiting in the departures lounges of various international airports, some of the UCP MLAs published likely pre-written statements on their social media accounts saying they will now comply with the recommendations and return to Alberta. How thoughftul of them.

With the handful of UCP MLAs now on their way home, there are signs of a growing rift in the party, as two UCP MLAs are now publicly speaking out against the vacationing colleagues.

In a statement published on Facebook, Calgary-South East MLA Matt Jones refused to apologize for the sun-seeking MLAs:

Since the most recent COVID-19 measures were announced, a number of my constituents requested guidance related to their own potential holiday travels. I have always encouraged my constituents to follow the public health measures including the following:

“An official global travel advisory remains in effect. Avoid non-essential travel outside Canada until further notice.”

“The Canada/U.S. border remains closed to non-essential travel.”

Michaela Glasgo, the UCP MLA for Brooks-Medicine Hat, was much more direct, describing the trips as “a major lack of judgment.”

“The directive that we were given was the same as every Albertan, which was to remain responsible, and ultimately I think this was a major lack of judgment shown by some of my colleagues,” Glasgo told CHAT NEWS.

Former UCP MLA Scott Cyr called it a “slap in the face.

Former right-wing talk radio icon Dave Rutherford took to his Facebook page to unload on Kenney.

“Dammit, I’m pissed off that my premier, the guy in whom we had placed such high hopes for principled leadership, has ignored all of the sacrifices that we have all made to fight this virus because ‘we are all in this together,” wrote Rutherford. “Obviously not.”

Ralph Leriger, Mayor of Westlock, also had some strong words in response to the vacationing MLAs and called on Premier Kenney to resign.

Ralph Leriger Mayor of Westlock Kenney Resign
A tweet from Ralph Leriger, Mayor of Westlock

I expect many Albertans are feeling the same way.

12 replies on “Kenney’s weak response to Hot Holiday Scandal exposes rifts inside the UCP”

It’s very clear from the very beginning of the pandemic that this government never been serious to help Albertans .The people of Alberta are fighting against Covid-19 and the UCP MLA s enjoying the holidays.Shame on this government,They must resign.

Time for Kenney to go and take all his rotten trash with him; everything from his deceitful caucus members to War Roomers, including all “the Matts”. It seems like there is a duplicitous plan to try and avoid revealing who else “thought” they had been working “so hard” and deserved a sunshine holiday, or to visit family in the UK and SK.

(FTR, Matt Wolf was perfectly entitled to visit with his parents in Lumsden, but he was NOT allowed to stay there, under SK Covid guidelines.)

As we all lose employment and livelihood. Put you big boy pants on and fire all the government employees that took holidays internationally over the holiday season. Grow up and be a leader or quit, you are a disgrace.

Kenney’s arrogance and flippant attitude lies at the base of this. He is an enabler to his ministers and caucus!

This premier has shown that he is fit to be Premier of this province. His arrogance and lack of empathy for the rest of us Albertan’s is impossible for me to accept! I thought “We were in this together”? I guess that doesn’t include UCP MLA’s and staffers. They should all be ashamed of themselves!

This premier has shown that he is fit to be Premier of this province. His arrogance and lack of empathy for the rest of us Albertan’s is impossible for me to accept! We missed grandchildren’s birthdays, Graduations and stayed home at Christmas! I thought “We were in this together”? I guess that doesn’t include UCP MLA’s and staffers. They should all be ashamed of themselves!

Beyond the hot outrage, a couple questions keep swirling in my mind:

How do Brian Bateson and Matt Wolf keep their jobs? Isn’t it their JOB as “Issues Managers” to keep issues like this from becoming Issues in the first place? It’s a colossal fail on their part to do completely misread the mood of the population.

And, while Kenney is many things, he’s no idiot. He MUST have known before hand, given Allard had to transfer her authority to McIvor. He and his staff MUST have assumed this wouldn’t be a problem, or that they’d be able to weather the storm. Neither seems likely for a seasoned operator like Kenney. Perhaps he was caught by surprise when buddy Doug Ford actually fired (ok, “accepted the resignation of”) his finance minister, setting a minimum threshold for all the other premiers. But it still seems like a move just a bit too ballsy, or too out of touch, for Kenney, unless he was subject to some other pressure to allow it. And what might THAT be?

It seems to me that supporters of the UCP are as angry, or perhaps even more upset, with Kenney and the UCP about this.

I suppose if it was just one minister, it could be chalked up as an isolated case bad judgment, they could be demoted and the government could move on. However, this already involves over a half a dozen staff, MLA’s and Ministers and the list seems to be still growing.

This is like a political cancer that seems to engulfed the UCP caucus without being noticed. I wonder how they will get rid of it, or at this point if they even can.

This is also a time a politicians needs a lot of loyal friends to help them fix and get through things. It seems to me our Premier has made a lot of enemies over the last few years, in hindsight, perhaps too many.

I watched “The Prestige” last week. A great Christopher Nolan film. And I also watched the movie, “Now You See Me”. Also a good movie. The message in both of these is about deception. “While you are all watching over here, the real con is happening over there.” So my question is, “what are we being distracted from? It is so unlike Kenny to drop the ball so badly I have to wonder if there is another disaster we aren’t supposed to see. Scary to think about but nothing about Kenny or the UCP would surprise me.

What I would like to see is a full account of travel logs during the Christmas break from all high ranking GOA Ministry personnel (Executive Directors to DMs, to Ministerial Staffers). There is a reason Kenney does not wish to discipline any one violator; that would require him to hold account all who ignored the advisory. He is well aware this number is closer to 100 inclusive of all the aforementioned positions.

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