Saskatoon– Wings have been clipped and heads have rolled in both Alberta and Saskatchewan on Jan. 4 as a result of public condemnation of a small number of politicians, and in Alberta, political staff, travelling abroad over the holidays while the general public has been urged to stay home to control the spread of COVID-19.
While six Alberta MLAs (including one cabinet minister) and Premier Jason Kenney’s chief of staff have resigned from various positions, in Saskatchewan, just one person was on the chopping block. Highways Minister Joe Hargrave, MLA for Prince Albert Carlton, had a phone conversation with Premier Scott Moe in which he tendered his resignation from cabinet and Moe accepted.
Furor has been growing across Canada as that it has been revealed in recent days that a small number of politicians, both federal and provincial, travelled either to continental United States or overseas. In Hargrave’s case, he left Saskatchewan on Dec. 22, ostensibly to close the sale of his vacation home in Palm Springs, California. But the morning of Jan. 4, the opposition New Democratic Party pointed out in a press release that the home in question had not been listed until Dec. 26.
The NDP provided a real estate listing for a 2,371 square foot, four-bedroom, three-bath home with an in-ground pool in a gated community, listed for US$489,900. That listing said the last sale of the home was for US$244,000 in 2013.
NDP Ethics Critic Matt Love said, “Every person in Saskatchewan has had their personal or professional life affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“People have cancelled vacations and business trips, missed visiting sick and dying relatives and generally put many aspects of their life on hold. Scott Moe and his ministers seem to think they are too important to do the same.”
Love added, “Anyone who owns a house knows there’s a big difference between finalizing a sale and listing it. Why did the minister feel the need to lie about this? Was he just trying to make his flimsy excuse for ignoring the rules sound better when really all he wanted was a sunny Christmas vacation by the golf course and pool in his gated community?”
In a press conference in Saskatoon in the afternoon, Moe said, “It's clear that his decision to travel to Palm Springs just before Christmas was an error of judgment and sent the wrong message, at a time when everyone in this province was being asked to limit their household gatherings over Christmas and holiday season. While out of country travel is not prohibited, at this time, we have been recommending against any unnecessary travel. Admittedly, I did not explicitly tell them that they could not travel outside of country, leaving it to them to determine whether their travel was necessary.”
Moe said that no other ministers, MLAs or political staff had traveled out of the country during the holiday season. “As I said, I should have been much more clear on this and I will be going forward. I've advised our caucus that until further notice, they should not travel outside of the province of Saskatchewan, except in cases of emergency or pressing government business, and any such travel would require prior approval from the caucus chair.
“Today I will also be appointing Fred Bradshaw, the member from Carrot River Valley as the new minister of highways and the minister responsible for the Water Security Agency.”
Hargrave will keep his seat as MLA.
Moe said a caucus meeting was held that morning where he said, “As premier, I explained to caucus that there will be no unapproved travel outside of the province of Saskatchewan, outside of our province, as we move forward. If there is a need for that travel to occur, whether it's an emergency or some very important government business, I suppose that could happen, but only with the approval of the caucus chair.”
The NDP has also pointed out that Christine Tell, Minister of Corrections, had travelled to the U.S. in October to visit an ailing relative. Moe pointed out that at that time, Saskatchewan was under very different circumstances.
He noted no rules were broken, but the perception was important. Moe said, “The fact of the matter is, is that that perception is not good for any government across Canada, wherever they may be. You've seen action taken in other areas of Canada, and you're seeing similar action here, today, with the resignation of Minister Hargrave from cabinet.
Asked about the timing of the listing, Moe said, “It's the perception of the travel, during a time when we're asking people of this province to do so very much over the holiday season, that is that is the issue. So I think the timing of what's occurring and his personal matters are actually irrelevant.”
Moe had pointed out, “He did go down and list, and ultimately sell, his property in Palm Springs.”
That wasn’t good enough for NDP Leader Ryan Meili, however, who responded with an emailed statement saying, “Premier Moe refused to show leadership today. Three days ago, when the minister’s actions were fine. Today, when his bogus story about finalizing the sale of his house was exposed, Premier Moe said it was ‘irrelevant’ but because of public pressure the minister had to go. He shows no real understanding of the anger his government’s arrogance has caused. We all know none of this would have happened if they hadn’t been caught. There was no apology. The people of Saskatchewan deserve much better.”
Brian Zinchuk, Local Journalism Initiative reporter, Estevan Mercury