Questions are being raised about whether Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and three of his ministers broke pandemic rules by dining on an outdoor patio yesterday, though the provincial government insists they did not.
Pictures sent to CBC News by an anonymous tipster show the premier, along with Health Minister Tyler Shandro, Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon and Finance Minister Travis Toews, dining on the east side of the 11th floor of Edmonton's Federal Building on Tuesday evening — the first day that Alberta's less stringent public health restrictions went into effect.
One photo shows eight people on the patio, including several sitting close together. Two, who appear to be servers, are not masked.
The gathering was within the limits of the province's Stage 1 reopening guidelines, according to Kenney spokesperson Jerrica Goodwin, which went into effect on Tuesday. Outdoor gathering restrictions increased from five to 10 people.
"The premier, with a few ministers and staff members, held a working dinner last night," Goodwin said Wednesday in an email to CBC News.
"Attendance was kept under 10," Goodwin stated. "Costs were not incurred by taxpayers."
The guidelines also include a provision for restaurants, noting that outdoor patio dining is allowed "for up to four household members per table, or three people if diners who live alone are with their two close contacts."
Stage 1 guidelines also specifically state: "Distancing and masking requirements remain in effect."
Goodwin did not answer questions from CBC News about the identity of another man and woman who appear in the photos, nor why the servers were not masked.
She also did not respond to questions about why the group was not following the guideline to physically distance when gathering outdoors.
CBC News has asked to speak to Shandro, Nixon and Toews about the dinner.
Kenney moved his office to the top of the Federal Building — commonly called the "Sky Palace" after a spending scandal involving a former premier — last year due to the noise of ongoing masonry work on the exterior of the legislature building.
The same space was the focus of controversy when it was revealed a previous government had been renovating it to serve as a residence for then-premier Alison Redford. The area was then converted to office space after Redford stepped down.
NDP Opposition Leader Rachel Notley said Kenney was again showing a failure to lead during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Albertans need their leaders to show leadership by following the rules, and they do not need their leaders to break the rules and do it on the top of a castle," she said. "That is not how you lead during a crisis."
Notley said her government only used the space for meetings and public events when she was premier between 2015 and 2019.
Dr. Shazma Mithani, an emergency room physician in Edmonton, said the pictures were disappointing and reminded her of when six UCP MLAs ignored public health advice and travelled outside Canada over the Christmas holidays.
"Elected officials really are and should be held to a higher standard, just like health-care workers," she said. "When the rules are being bent, it basically sends a terrible message to the rest of Albertans that these rules don't matter and that they're not important.
"And those types of situations can really get us into trouble."