Skip to main content
Canada’s most-awarded newsroom for a reason
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
Canada’s most-awarded newsroom for a reason
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney shakes hands with Culture Minister Leela Aheer, after she was sworn into office in Edmonton, on April 30, 2019.

JASON FRANSON/The Canadian Press

Two Alberta cabinet ministers are speaking out against Jason Kenney’s actions following the release of photos showing his appearance with other government officials at an outdoor gathering on the patio of a government office known as the “Sky Palace.” Many believe the meeting was in violation of the province’s COVID-19 health restrictions.

Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women Minister Leela Aheer is also taking issue with the Premier’s criticism of “cancel culture” at a time when the country is mourning after the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation in B.C. announced the discovery of the remains of 215 children at a former residential school site.

Ms. Aheer wants the Premier to apologize. She said she cares about the Premier, and she’s asking him “to look inside and find that compassion, and find that humility that we all need in leadership – to be able to acknowledge, ‘Maybe I didn’t get this right, and I’m really sorry.’ ”

Story continues below advertisement

The Chestermere-Rocky View MLA said in an interview she believes people would be forgiving, because they also make mistakes and get stuck, “and that happens to everybody.”

Rajan Sawhney, the Minister for Social Services, said in a radio interview that she has been trying to follow the COVID-19 rules and has kept her distance from her mother for safety.

“I would never have done [what they did] in the picture,’” Ms. Sawhney told Red-FM in Calgary on Friday. “I was in my chamber and as a representative of the [Calgary-North East constituency] I don’t feel good. I know what to do. I would say if they committed a mistake they must accept it openly. [The] photo clearly speaks.’'

Ms. Sawhney made her comments in Punjabi. An English translation was provided by Red-FM news director Rishi Nagar.

Mr. Kenney is facing low polling numbers and open criticism from a number of backbench MLAs. Two MLAs, Todd Loewen and Drew Barnes, were kicked out of caucus last month after Mr. Loewen publicly called for the Premier’s resignation and after numerous occasions in which Mr. Barnes attacked public health orders. On Friday, United Conservative Party member and Deputy Speaker Angela Pitt said it’s clear Mr. Kenney’s dinner party broke COVID-19 rules. UCP backbench member Dave Hanson endorsed Ms. Pitt’s comments.

However, this past weekend was the first time cabinet ministers in his UCP government have publicly censured him.

The Premier’s office wasn’t immediately available for comment.

Story continues below advertisement

In a Facebook post on Saturday afternoon, Ms. Aheer wrote that she wanted to apologize to “First Nations sisters and brothers for the historical wrongs, the death, despair, sexual assault, and destruction of their beautiful culture, traditions, and who they are as people at the hands of our governments, and our churches.”

She said Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, and Confederation-era cabinet minister Hector-Louis Langevin were “architects of the residential schools where children died because of disease, neglect and beatings. This must be part of the history taught.”

Mr. Kenney has repeatedly come to the defence of Mr. Macdonald and did so again last week, when the Premier said Canada “is an imperfect country, but it is still a great country, just as John Macdonald was an imperfect man but was still a great leader.”

The Premier was responding to a question about renaming schools named after Mr. Macdonald and Mr. Langevin.

“If we want to get into cancelling every figure in our history who took positions on issues at the time that we now judge harshly and rightly in historical retrospective – but if that’s the new standard, then I think almost the entire founding leadership of our country gets cancelled,” he said.

But Ms. Aheer wrote that changing the names of schools and educating people about “these atrocities is not ‘cancel culture.’ Cancel culture is what has happened to our First Nations by not acknowledging these atrocities and those responsible.”

Story continues below advertisement

In an interview, Ms. Aheer said if Mr. Kenney wanted “to get into the academia of this” to do it another time. Ms. Aheer said she has been emotionally overwhelmed in recent days with the thought of children being forcibly taken away from their parents.

Ms. Aheer also wrote she’s “confused” and “extremely hurt” about the photos of cabinet ministers, staff and the Premier having a meal together on the rooftop patio of a government building in Edmonton where Mr. Kenney has a temporary office. The building became known as the Sky Palace and came to symbolize government entitlement after former Progressive Conservative premier Alison Redford planned a series of renovations before her resignation.

In the images that were sent anonymously to various media outlets, Mr. Kenney is seated with key lieutenants, including Health Minister Tyler Shandro, House Leader Jason Nixon and Finance Minister Travis Toews.

It appears they were not following physical distancing and masking rules. However, the Premier has said the group made reasonable effort to comply with public health rules, which had changed the same day to allow outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people.

The opposition NDP and former members of Mr. Kenney’s United Conservative caucus said the event reinforces that the Premier and his caucus believe they are above COVID-19 rules. Mr. Kenney has also publicly promised to punish and even evict COVID-19 rule breakers from caucus.

While some UCP MLAs have openly been critical of the province’s health rules, Ms. Aheer said she has encouraged people to diligently follow COVID-19 health restrictions, which have closed gyms, restaurants and other public facilities at various times during the pandemic.

Story continues below advertisement

Ms. Aheer said at the same time she has seen friends and family who are small-business owners or front-line workers suffer financially as a result, and she can only imagine how disappointed people must be in seeing the Sky Palace images.

“My friends can’t make ends meet,” she said. “The dinner on the rooftop was just the clincher.”

With a report from The Canadian Press

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies