EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, facing mounting criticism in cabinet and caucus, says he is sorry for breaking COVID-19 rules at a dinner party caught on camera.
Kenney says he thought he and other cabinet ministers were keeping the required two-metre distance, but they have since measured between chairs and realized they were not far enough apart.
“I take full responsibility for this. I invited my colleagues there,” Kenney said Monday.
“We have to set a higher example, a higher threshold of conduct, so I want to sincerely apologize to my colleagues and to Albertans for letting you down, for not being more careful to scrupulously follow every aspect of the public health guidelines that we expect of everyone.”
Last week, Kenney repeatedly said the dinner and drinks meeting on the rooftop patio of the Federal Building did not break any health rules, despite photos leaked to media showing participants close together around a table.
The patio meeting and Kenney’s denial sparked a renewed wave of pushback from his United Conservative caucus, including from two cabinet ministers.
Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley accused Kenney of delivering a hollow apology to save himself from the rising discord from within his own ranks.
“No one is perfect, I understand that,” Notley said during question period.
“But the premier isn’t actually sorry he broke the rules. He’s not sorry that he mocked this house (last week) and he’s not sorry he gaslit the public.
“He’s sorry that Albertans won’t stand for it.
“This isn’t sincere. This is self-serving. How can Albertans trust him when he won’t tell the truth until his own grip on power is what’s under threat?”
The dinner included Kenney and Finance Minister Travis Toews, Health Minister Tyler Shandro, Environment Minister Jason Nixon and an unidentified man. It was outdoors on the patio attached to Kenney’s temporary penthouse office nicknamed the “Sky Palace.”
The name stuck in 2014 after it was learned that then-premier Alison Redford had been retrofitting it as a work-residence with high-end accents and furnishings. The site has generally been avoided by politicians given its symbolic ties to government excess and entitlement.
The dinner was captured surreptitiously by a long-range camera and the photos were sent anonymously to media outlets a week ago.
The pushback from Kenney's own UCP began soon after.
Deputy Speaker Angela Pitt said Albertans were concerned about “the hypocrisy of senior officials breaking their own rules.” UCP backbencher Dave Hanson endorsed her comments and noted that Kenney had previously promised to evict from caucus any members who broke COVID-19 health orders.
On the weekend, the cabinet ministers added their voices.
Leela Aheer, culture and multiculturalism minister, said the photo was problematic for those who have been following COVID-19 rules. She urged Kenney to apologize.
Social Services Minister Rajan Sawhney said the photo spoke for itself and if there was a mistake, an apology was required.
On Monday, UCP backbencher Richard Gotfried resigned as chairman of the UCP Calgary caucus so he could speak his mind on “principle, ethics and government/caucus operations.”
Political scientist Duane Bratt said the pushback and apology show Kenney’s grip on his caucus and cabinet is weakening.
“I can’t imagine that this is over,” said Bratt, with Mount Royal University in Calgary.
“It shows that the tolerance and the patience that his own people have has gotten so weak that he is not being given any margin. He’s lost that.”
Also Monday, former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean said on Facebook that it is time Kenney resign for the good of the UCP. Jean said he came to that conclusion after watching the premier “take another relatively minor issue and turn it into a political crisis.”
The Wildrose Party under Jean and the Progressive Conservatives under Kenney joined forces in 2017 to become the UCP. Jean lost to Kenney in a subsequent leadership vote.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 7, 2021.
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press