Travel debacle leads to resignation of UCP officials

·5 min read

After several days of intense public scrutiny and criticism, Premier Jason Kenney announced Jan. 4 he has accepted the resignation of several UCP officials from their governmental posts.

Most notable among the resignations is Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard, who spent the Christmas holidays in Hawaii as part of a family tradition.

The minister’s trip has attracted significant ire from across the province as Albertans altered their own holiday plans and family traditions to adhere to public health measures, including the recommendation to avoid non-essential international travel.

News soon broke that other MLAs and government staff had also vacationed abroad in places like Hawaii, Mexico and the United Kingdom.

As a result, Premier Kenney has accepted the resignations of MLA Jeremy Nixon as parliamentary secretary for civil society and MLA Jason Stephan from Treasury Board. MLAs Tanya Fir, Pat Rehn and Tany Yao have also been stripped of their legislature committee responsibilities.

The premier also requested the resignation of his chief of staff, Jamie Huckabay, after Mr. Huckabay travelled to the UK.

The country is currently entering a public lockdown and grappling with a mutation of the coronavirus, prompting the Canadian government to ban all incoming flights from the UK until Jan. 6. Mr. Huckabay returned to Alberta by travelling through the United States.

The premier’s principal secretary, Larry Kaumeyer, will step in as interim chief of staff while Transportation Minister Ric McIver will serve as the interim municipal affairs minister.

Minister of Children’s Services Rebecca Schulz and Drumheller-Stettler MLA Nate Horner were appointed to the Treasury Board Jan. 7.

The resignations have done little to curb public backlash, with public condemnation widespread across social media. The scandal has prompted criticism from all levels of government.

“For the first time in at least 30 years [my wife and I] did not host a large family gathering,” Pincher Creek town councillor Lorne Jackson said during the Jan. 6 committee of the whole meeting.

“I felt as though being a community leader I should lead by example. We did everything by Zoom. It was different, there were a few tears shed over the whole thing among our family members — but like I said, do the right thing. And I'm very, very disappointed in some of our higher echelon political leaders who chose to ignore their own adage.”

The NDP opposition is calling for the premier’s office to release a full list of who in the party went abroad over the holidays.

“Jason Kenney still owes Albertans the complete truth about how many of his MLAs enjoyed international vacations while others made painful sacrifices during a global public health emergency,” said deputy leader Sara Hoffman.

“Premier Jason Kenney’s ministers, MLAs, and senior staff betrayed every single Albertan by thumbing their noses to the rules by hitting the beach and jetting off to warm destinations while families made deep sacrifices and struggled with loneliness and grief in isolation,” she continued. “It’s sickening.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also expressed general disappointment at the news of politicians across the country taking inessential international trips.

“As leaders we've been encouraging and exhorting Canadians to continue to do the right thing, so it is unfortunate to see a number of politicians not take their own advice,” the prime minister said during a press conference Tuesday.

The Jan. 5 provincial Covid-19 update included comments from Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Minister McIver acknowledging Albertans’ anger and admitting officials made mistakes.

“You have every right to expect good behaviour and a high standard of conduct from your government, and Albertans get to judge whether government met those standards,” said Minister McIver. “From what I’ve heard, Albertans have said very clearly we have not met those standards. What I have to say is our government agrees.”

“If you’re yelling at us, interestingly enough my message is thank you,” he continued. “There is no doubt in our mind we didn’t get it right. What we have to offer is the commitment to get it right in the upcoming days, weeks and months…. We’re committed to doing better. We’re not going to make excuses.”

Albertans’ anger was easy to understand, added Minister Shandro, because members of the government were just as frustrated.

“There’s nothing I would have wanted more on Christmas than to spend it with my parents, and I didn’t,” he said. “The sacrifice my kids made to not see their grandparents for Christmas for the first time is frustrating. It’s tough for all of us making these sacrifices. My message again to Albertans is it is working, and thank you for these sacrifices.”

The health minister also acknowledged that while the government is apologizing, it is not expecting anyone’s forgiveness.

“There were over a million Albertans who voted for us because we campaigned on hard work and humility, and some folks from our team forgot about that last part,” Minister Shandro said. “I don’t think we can ask for forgiveness at this time. I think what we can ask for — what I’m asking from Albertans — is patience.”

Minister Shandro reiterated that the government is committed to earning back credibility and the public’s trust. “Humility is still important to our team, our caucus, our party and this government,” he said.

After accusations were levied on social media, Livingstone-Macleod MLA Roger Reid clarified on his Facebook page that he had “spent a quiet Christmas and New Years at home” after returning to the riding from Edmonton Dec. 10.

Sean Oliver, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Shootin' the Breeze