Saskatchewan minister resigns from cabinet after further criticism of trip to California

·5 min read

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe has accepted Joe Hargrave's resignation from his positions as minister of highways and minister responsible for the water security agency after more questions emerged about Hargrave's travel to California over the holidays.

The provincial government announced Hargrave's resignation on Monday afternoon. He will remain in caucus as the MLA for Prince Albert Carlton. Carrot River Valley MLA Fred Bradshaw will take over both of Hargrave's former portfolios.

Moe told a news conference on Monday that while he did not explicitly tell government MLAs they could not travel outside the country, he realizes now that what Hargrave did was wrong. He went on to say that from now on, they cannot travel outside the province unless it's for an emergency or pressing government business.

"It's clear that his decision to travel to Palm Springs just before Christmas was an error of judgment, and it sent the wrong message at a time when everyone in this province was being asked to limit their household gatherings over Christmas and the holiday season," Moe said.

Last week, The Canadian Press reported that Hargrave was in Palm Springs. Hargrave released a statement confirming that he was in California over the holiday season.

"I have been in Palm Springs since December 22nd to finalize the sale of a personal property and to move our personal items back to Saskatchewan. The decision to travel was a personal choice to address personal business that I deemed necessary," Hargrave said.

Saskatchewan residents are allowed to travel internationally, but non-essential travel is discouraged.

Hargrave said he had informed the premier of his trip and would be self-isolating upon his return.

A day later, he released another statement saying his decision to travel was "an error in judgment at a time when so many people have had to make sacrifices during the pandemic."

"I apologize for this error in judgment, and am returning to Canada as soon as my self-isolation period is over in California on Jan. 5."

The premier said last week that he expects his caucus members to follow all public health orders and guidance.

"When Minister Hargrave advised me of his travel for personal business that he deemed necessary, I conveyed the expectation that he follow all public health guidelines and self-isolate for 14-days upon his return," Moe said.

NDP questions explanation

On Monday, the Opposition New Democrats accused Hargrave of being dishonest about his reasons for travelling and renewed calls for him to resign.

NDP MLA Matt Love took issue with Hargrave's explanation. Love said online real estate listings show Hargrave's property was listed for sale on Dec. 26 — four days after Hargrave arrived in Palm Springs — with an accepted offer coming one day later.

"Anyone who owns a house knows there's a big difference between finalizing a sale and listing it," Love said Monday.

"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?"

Tax records show a home belonging to Joseph Hargrave in Indio, Calif., was listed at $489,900 US.

Moe said the timing of the listing is "irrelevant."

"There was no rules that were broken by Minister Hargrave in his travel. ... It's the perception of that travel during a time when we're asking the people of this province to do so very much over the holiday season that is the issue. So I think the timing of what's occurring in his personal matters is irrelevant."

Provincial NDP Leader Ryan Meili criticized Moe's view that the timing was irrelevant, saying Hargrave had to go because of public pressure.

"He shows no real understanding of the anger his government's arrogance has caused," Meili said in a statement. "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."

Another minister went to California to visit sick relative

A spokesperson for the province said last week that Minister of Corrections and Policing Christine Tell had travelled to California from Oct. 30 to Nov. 9 "to be with a close family member who was very ill with a non COVID-19 related illness."

Tell missed the cabinet swearing-in ceremony on Nov. 9. At the time, the government said her absence was due to "personal circumstances."

Moe said the situation was different when Tell travelled, though there were still recommendations in place to avoid unnecessary travel.

"The importance of not travelling has escalated, most certainly, since the end of October," he said.

Love said allowing Tell and Hargrave to travel while Moe's government advised people not to travel for non-essential reasons is a "double standard."

Moe said the perception of a double standard is why Hargraves resigned.

"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 Mr. Hargrave from cabinet."

Moe said no other Saskatchewan Party MLAs or political staff have travelled internationally over the holiday season.

The NDP said none of its 13 MLAs have travelled outside the country.

Canadian politicians have come under scrutiny for their travel decisions over the last several weeks.

Rod Phillips resigned his post as Ontario's finance minister last week following a trip to the Caribbean island of Saint Barthélemy, known as St. Barts.

On Monday, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney accepted the resignations of municipal affairs minister Tracy Allard and his chief of staff, Jamie Huckabay. Allard travelled to Hawaii, while Huckabay visited the United Kingdom.

Kenney also demoted five United Conservative Party MLAs for their international holiday travel.