Alberta’s Minister of Agriculture and Forestry has resigned from cabinet, noting that his relationship with alcohol has become problematic for the government.
The resignation comes in the wake of a lawsuit that describes a “poisoned work environment” for the United Conservative Party at the legislature.
Devin Dreeshen stepped down Friday after CBC reported allegations of heavy drinking in his office, including code words for staff members to enter the locked room when liquor was flowing. Mr. Dreeshen, who was elected in 2019 and has held the portfolio since then, is staying on as an MLA and remains in the United Conservative Party caucus.
“I accept that my personal conduct with regards to alcohol has become an issue for the government as a whole,” he wrote on Twitter. “I deeply regret that this is the case, but have decided that it is best for both myself and the province to resign my position and focus on my personal health and wellness.”
Mr. Dreeshen’s drinking first came to light last week after a former staffer, with whom the minister had had a relationship, filed a lawsuit that described a “poisoned work environment.”
Ariella Kimmel has accused the Premier’s Office of failing to support her in October, 2020, after an encounter with Mr. Dreeshen. Her lawsuit alleges Mr. Dreeshen was drinking in a legislature office and, when she implored him to cut back, he yelled at her to the point that she was in tears.
Her lawsuit also alleges she was fired after repeatedly raising concerns about sexual harassment, including allegations that the chief of staff of another minister made inappropriate comments to one of Ms. Kimmel’s staff.
The sexual harassment allegations do not involve Mr. Dreeshen, and none has been proven in court.
The government tapped Edmonton’s integrity commissioner to review its HR policies after the allegations of sexual harassment and questionable conduct in the workplace surfaced last week. Mr. Dreeshen did not step down until CBC approached the government with further allegations of heavy drinking in his office.
Mr. Kenney, in an unrelated news conference Friday, said he is not opposed to politicians consuming alcohol in the legislature, as long as they do not go overboard.
“I don’t object to members of the legislature socializing, having a social drink every now and then. Political life is a very social activity,” he said. “But people should be mature and responsible in terms of consuming alcohol, especially in any kind of a workplace environment.
“And we expect all members to demonstrate maturity and responsibility and of course respect for others.”
The Premier said he recalled one instance when he, too, drank in Mr. Dreeshen’s office. At the time, Mr. Dreeshen was hosting “investors” in the lumber and forestry industry looking to make a $200-million investment in Northern Alberta, Mr. Kenney said.
“There was one or two drinks at a social evening gathering in his office that I attended.”
Nate Horner will take over as Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, Mr. Kenney said. Mr. Horner most recently served as the associate minister of rural economic development.
The latest UCP caucus turmoil comes just two weeks ahead of the party’s annual meeting, where Mr. Kenney is likely to face a barrage of criticism for his handling of the pandemic. He recently quelled a rebellion by agreeing to a leadership review this spring, although some party members want him to step aside now.
Brian Jean, the former leader of the now-defunct Wildrose Party and Mr. Kenney’s main rival in 2017 to lead the newly formed United Conservative Party, said he is seeking the UCP nomination for the by-election in Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche. The seat opened up when Laila Goodridge left provincial politics and successfully ran as a Conservative candidate in the federal election.
Mr. Jean is keen to replace his old rival. Mr. Kenney said he would approve Mr. Jean’s candidacy if he secured the nomination, but he reminded UCP members that the former Wildrose leader recently mused about leading other parties. He also questioned his “reliability,” given that he did not finish his terms as an MP or MLA.
The government has not yet set a date for the by-election.
With files from The Canadian Press
We have a weekly Western Canada newsletter written by our B.C. and Alberta bureau chiefs, providing a comprehensive package of the news you need to know about the region and its place in the issues facing Canada. Sign up today.