Lesser Slave Lake MLA Pat Rehn has been invited back into Alberta's United Conservative Party caucus five months after he was kicked out for being absent from his constituency.
Caucus chair Nathan Neudorf announced the decision in a press release Wednesday.
"Since his removal from caucus, Rehn has worked tirelessly to rebuild trust with local families, businesses, elected officials and Indigenous leaders," Neudorf said in the release.
"[Rehn] has been doing an incredible amount of work to rebuild trust and get things done in his constituency."
Neudorf said the UCP received letters from several municipalities and the Lesser Slave Lake Constituency Association, requesting Rehn be allowed to rejoin caucus.
When CBC News asked for the letters, UCP caucus spokesperson Tim Gerwing sent a list of individuals who supported the decision.
The list includes reeves, councillors and local businesspeople but no municipalities as a whole.
Slave Lake Mayor Tyler Warman said neither he nor his council was consulted about the decision. They did not send a letter of endorsement.
"We found out just the same time as everybody else did," Warman said. "And so, a little bit of shock for sure, a little bit of puzzlement."
Warman had called for Rehn's resignation in January, saying Rehn was absent for meetings with local leaders and UCP cabinet ministers about important regional issues.
Rehn has been sitting as an independent MLA since Premier Jason Kenney kicked him out of caucus in January for frequently being absent from his constituency.
Rehn's expense claims for the first part of 2020 showed he spent more time in Edmonton than in Lesser Slave Lake.
His per diem expenses showed he bought meals in Edmonton for most of May, most of June and every day in July, including weekends. The legislature only sat for five days in May.
At the time, Rehn said on Facebook that an assistant had made some errors in recording meal allowances, which he wasn't aware of. He apologized and said he wouldn't claim any meal allowances in 2021.
In the press release Wednesday, Rehn said he was humbled to be given a second chance in Lesser Slave Lake.
"The past six months have been eye-opening to me, as I worked to regain the trust and confidence of my constituents. It was clear that I was not living up to expectations in representing Lesser Slave Lake, and for that I am sorry."
Premier supports decision
In January, Kenney had strong words of reprimand for the MLA, stating that Rehn would be barred from running for the UCP in the future.
Kenney's press secretary Jerrica Goodwin said Wednesday the premier supports the caucus decision to invite Rehn back. Goodwin did not answer whether Rehn will be allowed to run in the next provincial election under the UCP banner.
Rehn was also caught going to Mexico over the winter holidays despite COVID-19 travel restrictions in place. He was one of six Alberta MLAs who travelled outside the country during this time.
Opposition NDP deputy leader Sarah Hoffman rebuked Kenney and the UCP for letting Rehn back in to caucus.
"He billed taxpayers for months' worth of expenses for extended stays in Edmonton," Hoffman said in a press release, adding that Rehn had failed to show up to serve his electorate.
Hoffman said Rehn's behaviour undermined health orders and the government's response to the pandemic, calling the caucus decision another example of Kenney's inability to lead.