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Alberta Politics

Pat Rehn booted from UCP Caucus. Town Councils called for MIA MLA to resign

Lesser Slave Lake MLA Pat Rehn has been removed from the United Conservative Party caucus, according to a statement released by Premier Jason Kenney. It is not clear whether Kenney unilaterally removed Rehn himself or whether it was the result of a vote by UCP MLAs.

Rehn was caught up in the recent hot holiday scandal after a year-end trip to Mexico, but the political problems facing the first term MLA were bigger than that.

The entire town council of Slave Lake, the largest municipality in his northern Alberta district, called on him to resign for being an absentee MLA and apparently being unwilling to live or spend time in the region since he was elected in 2019. The letter also alleged that he spent “more physical time managing his business in Texas” than being physically present in the constituency.

The town council of High Prairie was also planning to send a similar letter to the MIA MLA.

Recent reports suggest that while in Alberta he spent almost all his time in Edmonton rather than in the district he was elected to represent.

This is not the first time the local councils have raised concerns with the UCP government about Rehn’s lack of presence in the region but it appears that his becoming a political problem for Kenney was the final straw for the absent backbencher.

This marks the first time that Kenney, reluctantly it appears, has removed an MLA from the UCP caucus. After initially defending them in a strange press conference, Kenney bowed to public pressure and removed Grande Prairie MLA Tracy Allard as Municipal Affairs Minister and accepted the resignation of his Chief of Staff, Jamie Huckabay, for their overseas travel over the holidays.

Five other sun-seeking backbench UCP MLAs, including Rehn, who were discovered to have gone on hot holidays after the government spent months telling Albertans to avoid non-essential international travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic, were removed from their committee roles.

Here is Kenney’s statement:

Rehn will now sit as an Independent MLA, the only Independent in Alberta’s Legislative Assembly. When the Assembly reconvenes in February, it will have 62 UCP MLAs, 24 NDP MLAs and 1 Independent.

Categories
Alberta Politics Daveberta Podcast

Episode 66: Aloha! Making sense of Alberta politics in 2021

Dr. Jared Wesley joins Dave Cournoyer on the Daveberta Podcast to discuss Jason Kenney’s leadership of the United Conservative Party, Rachel Notley’s focus on health care during the pandemic, the Alberta Party and Wildrose Independence Party leadership races, and the equalization referendum and Senate nominee elections that will coincide with the October municipal elections.

We also break down the first week of year that saw UCP MLAs in hot water after spending the Christmas break on hot holidays.

Dr. Wesley is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Alberta and the lead researcher for Common Ground.

The Daveberta Podcast is hosted by Dave Cournoyer and produced by Adam Rozenhart.

The Daveberta Podcast is a member of the Alberta Podcast Network: Locally grown. Community supported. The Alberta Podcast Network includes dozens of great made-in-Alberta podcasts.

You can listen and subscribe to the Daveberta Podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlaySpotifyStitcher, or wherever you find podcasts online. We love feedback from our listeners, so let us know what you think of this episode and leave a review where you download.

Recommended Reading/Listening:

Categories
Alberta Politics

The first week of January is usually a sleepy time in Alberta politics – not this year!

The first week of January is typically a sleepy time in Alberta politics, but 2021 is an incredible exception.

They found Tany Yao! And he’s staying in Mexico

Tany Yao UCP MLA Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo
Tany Yao

MLA Tany Yao has re-emerged in Mexico and appears to be defying Premier Jason Kenney’s directive to MLAs to immediately return home after “disconnecting” following a stressful year of passing a one-page private members’ bill that easily passed through the Legislative Assembly on November 16, 2020.

The United Conservative Party MLA for Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo apparently turned his cell phone off after he arrived in Mexico on Dec. 26, avoiding news of the hot holiday scandal that started to envelope his government last Friday. He will return to Alberta on Jan. 9, according to media reports.

Kenney goes into hiding after firing cabinet minister 

Kenney was nowhere to be seen the day after he announced on Facebook that he was asking for the resignations of Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard and his Chief of Staff Jamie Huckabay and demoting the handful of UCP MLAs who ignored advice to stay home and jetted off to hot destinations over the Christmas break.

Leger Poll Disapprove Kenney COVID-19 Alberta
A recent Leger poll showing that 69% of Albertans disapprove of how the Kenney government is handling the COVID-19 pandemic.

Instead, Health Minister Tyler Shandro and new Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver took point at the COVID-19 press conference yesterday, thanking Albertans for being angry at the government over the MLAs ignoring the recommendations to stay home and avoid non-essential international travel, claiming the government feels the same way.

Kenney’s last public appearance was on last Friday, when he took to the podium to defend Allard’s Hawaiian vacation and claim that he has been encouraging international, despite 9-months of telling Albertans to stay home to stop the spread of COVID-19.

On top of the troubles in his sun-seeking Caucus, a recent Leger poll showed that 69 per cent of Albertans disapprove of how the Kenney government is handling the COVID-19 pandemic.

Slave Lake Town Council calls for Pat Rehn to resign

Pat Rehn

The biggest political news of the day came from up north.

With his Mexican vacation cut short by public outrage, Pat Rehn will have returned home to face a letter signed by the entire Slave Lake Town Council calling for his resignation as the MLA for Lesser Slave Lake. But the letter isn’t about his hot holiday.

“We have lost faith that you have the ability and the desire to undertake the work which is required of an MLA. On behalf of the Town of Slave Lake and those we represent, we are asking for your resignation as MLA for the Lesser Slave Lake constituency,” the letter, signed by Mayor Tyler Warman and all the town Councillors said. 

Warman used to be a supporter of Rehn’s and donated $500 to the Lesser Slave Lake UCP association in 2019, according to Elections Alberta records.

Tyler Warman

The letter accuses the first-term backbench MLA of consistently missing meetings with local officials, not living in the constituency and spending “more physical time managing his business in Texas” than being physically present in the constituency.

In all my years writing about Alberta politics, I cannot recall a municipal council being forced to take this sort of drastic action against a local MLA. The town council must have felt they had exhausted all other options in trying to work with Rehn, who was first elected in 2019 after unseating NDP cabinet minister Danielle Larivee in the UCP sweep of rural Alberta.

Rehn responded on Facebook with a statement that does more to spin the issue than address the concerns raised by Slave Lake town council.

His response does not deny missing meetings with local officials or refute the allegations that he spends more time in Texas than in his constituency by saying he “doesn’t own property in Texas.”

But perhaps the most tone deaf part of Rehn’s response is when he accused Slave Lake Town Council of trying to “sow political division.”

Rehn, who just returned from a hot holiday in Mexico after his government asked every Albertan to cancel their own Christmas gatherings and holiday trips, has no moral authority to accuse anybody in Alberta of “sowing disunity.” He has done that himself.

Here is the letter:

Categories
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.