A Saskatchewan cabinet minister's international trip to sell a home drew criticism from the official opposition Thursday.
The Canadian Press reported Wednesday that Joe Hargrave, MLA for Prince Albert-Carlton and Minister of Highways and the Water Security Agency, said he was in Palm Springs to finalize a sale of personal property and move things back to Saskatchewan.
There is no ban on international travel to and from Saskatchewan, but non-essential travel is discouraged.
On Thursday, the Sask. NDP's leader and deputy leader both spoke at a news conference, calling Joe Hargrave's travel a slap in the face to Saskatchewanians.
"The premier should, as we've seen in other parts of the country already, be asking this minister to step outside of cabinet to show an example," NDP Leader Ryan Meili said.
"This is a time when leaders need to step up. They need to show an example by following the rules and encouraging others to do so."
Saskatchewan Health Minister Paul Merriman said Wednesday that everyone "has their own judgments" about what constitutes essential or non-essential travel and wouldn't comment directly on Hargrave's travel.
The same day, Premier Scott Moe's office said he was made aware of Hargrave's travel and that Moe expected all members of cabinet and caucus to follow all public health orders and guidance.
A statement from the government published Wednesday on Hargrave's behalf said he would be isolating for 14 days upon returning to Saskatchewan.
On Thursday, the NDP called on Hargrave to return to Canada immediately.
A party news release said Hargrave should answer questions about his travel, including whether or not the COVID-19 case totals in southern California were considered before he left and why he didn't handle the sale remotely.
Darryl Lucke, a Regina-based lawyer with experience in international home sales, said much of the paperwork and notorization involved in the finalizing of a home sale can be done virtually, a change that was brought about due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lucke said there are still some situations where a person may need to visit the property that's being sold in order to finalize the transaction — like when buyers don't want to take furniture, or to collect personal belongings.
"Used furniture doesn't have a lot of value," he said.
"If the buyer has no interest in it, you would have an obligation, most likely, to clear it out of the property and leave the house clean and vacant, which, you know, the best way to do that would be personally."
Clearer regulations among NDP requests
While the land border with the U.S. is closed, Canadians can still travel south via air.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend international travellers isolate for 14 days upon arrival in the U.S., but it's not a requirement unless specified by a particular region or state.
In California, travellers from out-of-state are advised to isolate for 14 days, but not required to do so when travelling for reasons the state deemed essential, which include things like economic services, health, immediate medical care, and safety and security.
A Palm Springs city advisory stated out-of-state visitors are allowed to seek short-term lodging there, but they were required to stay at least 14 days for quarantine.
The NDP said in Thursday's news conference that the government had communicated regulations to the public poorly throughout the pandemic and that the minister's trip south was another example of how little weight was put into controlling COVID-19.
Trip draws comparison to Ontario situation
Before the NDP addressed reporters on Thursday, news broke that Ontario's Minister of Finance Rod Phillips was to resign following his own international travel scandal.
Meili said he felt it was "pretty convenient" that Hargrave travelled to somewhere as warm as California during the winter months for a personal-business matter during the vacation season.
"I find it hard to buy selling one's personal residence, vacation home as a business trip," Deputy Leader Nicole Sarauer said.
"I think most people would see that and think that's a personal trip. It deals with personal matters, it deals with your personal finances, maybe, but it's not a business trip."
Sarauer also called for Hargrave to resign from his cabinet role, while Meili said it would be up to Hargrave himself to decide whether or not he was fit to represent the people of Prince Albert as an MLA.
A provincial government statement published on Thursday said Hargrave would not be resigning from his ministerial roles.
"I realize that my decision to travel was an error in judgment at a time when so many people have had to make sacrifices during the pandemic," Hargrave said in the statement.
"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."
Further information provided by the government said Hargrave travelled to Palm Springs with his wife, who also has a stake in the property that's being sold, and both plan to abide by all public health orders in the U.S. and on their return to Canada.
The premier's office said no other members of caucus or cabinet are travelling internationally during the holidays.
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