CBC News has learned that Alberta Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard spent time in Hawaii this month on a family vacation, despite direction from both the federal and provincial governments to avoid non-essential travel during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Allard's press secretary, Justin Marshall, did not respond to repeated requests for clarification on whether she had been out of the country this month.
Marshall would only say that the minister is now home in Grande Prairie, "mostly relaxing but with some work, too."
CBC News has confirmed with sources that the United Conservative Party MLA, who was appointed to the senior cabinet position in August, was in Hawaii this month on a family vacation. Sources indicate she returned home on Wednesday. CBC News has not confirmed the exact dates of the trip or where in Hawaii Allard was staying.
Allard tested positive for COVID-19 in late October, but she has since recovered.
Consider optics of vacations, pollster warns
Calgary political commentator and pollster Janet Brown said the stakes are very high in the current political climate, following the resignation of Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips after he took a Caribbean vacation while the province was under strict lockdown measures and discouraging non-essential travel.
"People were asked to make some very tough decisions this holiday season," Brown said.
"Most Albertans rose to the challenge and made the tough decisions. So it's very hard for them to watch people, people of privilege, do things that they opted not to do. Do things that were not even in their capacity to do."
Brown described Allard's decision to leave the country as a poor choice.
"I think all ministers should have stayed home," she said. "It was the right thing to do from a public health point of view, and it was the right thing to do from a political point of view as well."
Brown said every elected official needs to consider the optics of vacationing during the pandemic.
"The government's website says quite clearly to avoid non-essential travel," she said. "It doesn't really matter what position you hold in the government. These were decisions that are not going to be looked [upon] fondly by constituents, no matter what your position is."
Global Affairs Canada has advised Canadians against non-essential travel out of the country until further notice. The Alberta government's COVID-19 travel restrictions page restates the federal advisory against non-essential travel.
All international travellers must isolate for 14 days upon returning to the province unless they are participating in the international border testing pilot.
Despite the advisories, Canadians can travel to Hawaii without quarantining, so long as they show proof of a negative COVID-19 test.
NDP calls for minister to resign
The NDP Opposition issued a news release Thursday night calling for the minister to resign.
"Serious mistakes have been made with our only long-term weapon against the COVID-19 virus and it turns out the minister responsible for the rollout of the program was vacationing in Hawaii," said NDP municipal affairs critic Joe Ceci in the release.
"She vacationed while Albertans have been sitting in their homes through the holidays, following strict public health orders and separated from family and friends while waiting on the vaccine.
"This goes beyond just a member of the government caucus or a member of the government cabinet — Minister Allard is in charge of emergency management. She has made an unforgivable error and must resign her position immediately."
Most Alberta politicians remained in the province
On Wednesday and Thursday, CBC News contacted the press secretaries for the premier and all cabinet ministers, along with the director of communications for the UCP caucus.
Most have confirmed the politicians remained in Alberta during the holiday season. One even provided a video of Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen in his constituency setting up an ice rink.
"The minister has been in his constituency and hauling grain over the holidays," Dreeshen's press secretary, Justin Laurence, wrote in an email.
Sources tell CBC News that prior to the Christmas break, Premier Jason Kenney advised his caucus to remain in Alberta for the holidays.
The premier's press secretary, Christine Myatt, did not respond to repeated requests for comment from CBC News. Myatt also did not acknowledge texts, emails or phone messages left over two days.