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.
I expect many Albertans are feeling the same way.