More UCP members travelled over holidays, despite advice to avoid unnecessary trips

·4 min read

CALGARY — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney's efforts to squelch a scandal over members of his government travelling abroad for the holidays appeared to fall short on Saturday as at least four more politicians copped to jet-setting against public health recommendations.

The MLAs apologized and those still abroad made a beeline back to Alberta just a day after Kenney declined to punish his municipal affairs minister for travelling outside the country and issued a directive for all members of his caucus and senior staff to return home.

Calgary-Klein MLA Jeremy Nixon has been ordered to return home from Hawaii and Lesser Slave Lake MLA Pat Rehn is on his way home from Mexico, a spokeswoman for the premier confirmed Saturday, while Red Deer-South MLA Jason Stephan said he was on his way back from Phoenix, Ariz., and Calgary-Peigan MLA Tanya Fir apologized late Friday for travelling to the U.S.

"Albertans have done a tremendous job following public health guidelines and I commend them," Fir said on Facebook. "I recently travelled to the U.S. to visit my sister. I have since returned and will abide by the premier’s new travel directive. I sincerely apologize for this situation wholeheartedly."

Rehn also took to Facebook to apologize, thanking his constituents for their work reducing the spread of COVID-19.

"Given this, I apologize for the fact that I recently took a previously planned family trip, following a busy legislative session," his post reads. Kenney's spokeswoman Christine Myatt confirmed he had been in Mexico.

Nixon, too, apologized on Facebook for letting people down.

"I assure you that I will work hard to regain your trust," he wrote. "Please know I have followed all public guidelines and will observe quarantine regulations upon my return. I deeply regret this decision to travel."

Stephan struck a less conciliatory tone, saying on Facebook that he doesn't consider himself an exception to health guidelines and that he hasn't asked Albertans to forego travel.

"I am returning home right away as requested by the Premier. Upon returning, I will be complying with all isolation requirements," he wrote. "There is already too much contention in our society and I regret if my actions have contributed to that. I look forward to moving past this experience."

Kenney issued an order on Friday forbidding all of his caucus members and senior staff from traveling outside Canada other than for government business after it emerged that his municipal affairs minister, Tracy Allard, spent the holidays in Hawaii. Allard, too, has apologized for making the trip.

The premier said that while he should have issued such a directive earlier, those who went abroad over the holidays will not face sanctions as they did not violate any firm rules.

The province has advised against non-essential travel outside of Canada. Kenney also told reporters that the chief government whip "strongly encouraged MLAs to stay in the country" during his government's pre-Christmas caucus meeting.

The NDP Opposition continued to call for Allard's resignation on Saturday and accused some of the travelling UCP members of deception by posting pictures and videos that appeared to show them in Alberta when they were actually thousands of kilometres away.

“To the more than one thousand Alberta families who have lost a loved one to COVID-19 and everyone else who made sacrifices to follow the government orders and keep each other safe, a tan on a winter vacation for UCP MLAs is a slap in the face,” NDP Deputy Leader Sarah Hoffman said in a news release.

Allard told reporters Friday that a video of her standing beside a Christmas tree at the legislature, sending holiday greetings, was posted on her social media account by her staff on Dec. 23, but she said it was not meant to mislead Albertans.

"I usually do a Christmas video at the Leg, you know, it's very common for MLAs to do that. And I apologize again if that, in any way, misled people," she said, explaining that she and her family usually travel to Hawaii for Christmas.

Kenney noted his chief of staff, Jamie Huckabay, travelled to the United Kingdom with his family before Christmas, but changed his travel plans and returned home on Boxing Day after learning of the COVID-19 variant in the U.K.

Alberta's chief medical officer of health said there were an estimated 900 new COVID-19 cases recorded in the province on Friday.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw provided the update in a tweet Saturday, and while she did not give an update on the number of new COVID-19 deaths, she said the number of people with COVID-19 in hospitals and intensive care was stable.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 2, 2021.

The Canadian Press