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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.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Nomination updates: NDP MLA Cam Westhead selected in Banff-Kananaskis, Eva Kiryakos chosen as UCP candidate in Calgary-South East

Photo: MLA Cam Westhead at his nomination meeting in Banff-Kananaskis (photo source: Alberta NDP on Twitter)

MLA Cam Westhead was nominated as the New Democratic Party candidate in the newly redrawn Banff-Kananaskis district. Westhead is a Registered Nurse and former treasurer of United Nurses of Alberta Local 115 at the Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary. He was first elected 2015 in the current Banff-Cochrane district with 43 percent of the vote.

Banff-Kananaskis
Banff-Kananaskis

Westhead’s nomination was endorsed at a meeting this week by a number of prominent municipal elected officials from the district, including Canmore Mayor John Borrowman and former town councillor Sean Krausert and Banff town councillor Corrie DiManno. Borrowman is reported to have described Westhead as “a very strong representative of the Bow Valley to the legislature in Edmonton.

He’s an excellent listener, but he doesn’t stop there,” the Rocky Mountain Outlook reported Krausert as saying. “He goes back to Edmonton and talks to the person he needs to talk to and gets something done and he does that time and time again with integrity, with honesty and it’s just been a pleasure to see an MLA do what an MLA is suppose to do.”

Brenda Stanton was nominated as the Alberta Party candidate in Banff-Kananskis this week. Stanton is the owner of Back to Basics Hospitality Training & Consulting and is the former president of the Canmore/Kananaskis Chamber of Commerce and former vice chair of Tourism Canmore/Kananaskis.

Eva Kiryakos UCP Calgary South East
Eva Kiryakos

In Calgary-South East, Eva Kiryakos was nominated as the United Conservative Party candidate after Cameron Davies and Matt Jones withdrew from the contest. According to her online biography, Kiryakos has practiced law for 11 years and one of her main campaign promises is to modify or repeal the Protecting Choice for Women Accessing Health Care Act, which seeks to limits protest and harassment of health care workers and patients accessing facilities that offer abortion services in Alberta.

MLA Jon Carson has been nominated as the NDP candidate in Edmonton-West Henday. Carson was first elected as MLA for Edmonton-Meadowlark in the 2015 election while earning 57 percent of the vote.

Kristie Gomuwka has been nominated as the Alberta Party candidate in West Yellowhead. Gomuwka is a director of the Edson Friendship Centre and was a candidate for trustee with the Grande Yellowhead Public School District in October 2017. She is married to Town of Edson Mayor Kevin Zahara.

Martin Long defeated Whitecourt town councillors Paul Chauvet and Ray Hilts, and two-time Wildrose Party candidate and former Hinton town councillor Stuart Taylor to secure the UCP nomination in West Yellowhead today. Long works at the Alberta Newsprint Company paper mill in Whitecourt, is the chairperson of the Tennille’s Hope Soup Kitchen and is a former director of the Whitecourt-Ste. Anne Wildrose Party association.

NDP MLAs duel for nomination in St. Albert

MLAs Trevor Horne and Marie Renaud (photo from St. Albert Public Library on Facebook)
MLAs Trevor Horne and Marie Renaud (photo from St. Albert Public Library on Facebook)

Two NDP MLAs will challenge each other for their party’s nomination in the newly redrawn St. Albert district. In what will be the first contested NDP nomination contest of this cycle, current Spruce Grove-St. Albert MLA Trevor Horne and current St. Albert MLA Marie Renaud will seek the NDP candidacy at a December 12, 2018 nomination meeting.

Renaud had already announced her intentions to seek the nomination months ago, but Horne’s intentions had been unclear. Because of a significant change in the electoral boundaries, Horne’s Spruce Grove-St. Albert district is being split between the new Spruce Grove-Stony Plain, Lac Ste. Anne-Parkland and St. Albert districts, leaving this incumbent without a clear place to seek re-election without challenging fellow NDP MLAs Renaud, Oneil Carlier or Erin Babcock.


UPCOMING NOMINATION MEETINGS

November 17, 2018David Egan, Roger Fodjo, and Ruby Malik are seeking the UCP nomination in Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview. Jeffery Walters has withdrawn from the contest. The district is currently represented by NDP MLA Deron Bilous, who was elected with 73.8 percent of the vote.

November 18, 2018 – MLA Oneil Carlier is expected to be nominated as the NDP candidate in the new district of Lac Ste. Anne-Parkland. Carlier has represented Whitecourt-Ste. Anne and has served as Minister of Agriculture and Forestry since 2015.


Here are some of the latest updates to this list of candidates running for nominations ahead of Alberta’s 2019 provincial election:

Calgary-Bow – Frank Penkala is seeking the Alberta Party nomination.

Calgary-Falconridge – Gurjinder Dhillon and Raman Gill have withdrawn from the UCP nomination contest.

Sherwood Park – MLA Annie McKitrick has officially filed her intention to seek the NDP nomination for re-election in 2019. McKitrick was first elected in 2015 with 52 percent of the vote and has served as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Education since 2017.

If you know any candidates who have announced their intentions to stand for party nominations, please send me an email at david.cournoyer@gmail.com. I will add them to the list. Thank you!