Alberta’s chief medical officer says she understands the outrage over international trips a cabinet minister and five other government MLAs took over the holidays, but the controversy shouldn’t distract from doing what’s needed to make it through the pandemic.
“I can absolutely understand that anger,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw said at her regular coronavirus briefing on Tuesday. “I also know that Albertans are really sick and tired of COVID, and sometimes that leads to lapses of judgment. I would just ask Albertans to take a deep breath and continue to look towards that common goal of getting through COVID together.”
A day earlier, Premier Jason Kenney announced the resignations of his municipal affairs minister, Tracy Allard, who went to Hawaii, and his chief of staff, Jamie Huckabay, who travelled to Britain. Five other United Conservative Party MLAs lost positions that included parliamentary secretary and memberships in the Treasury Board and on legislative committees.
Mr. Kenney initially refused to discipline a growing list of caucus members who disregarded advice against international travel, arguing at an impromptu New Year’s Day news conference that while they had demonstrated poor judgment, they didn’t violate legal public-health orders. At the time, Mr. Kenney said he took responsibility for not being more clear about the need to avoid international travel, but said it would be unfair to punish them.
Across the country, several politicians have resigned because they went abroad recently, including Rod Phillips, who stepped down as Ontario’s finance minister last week after a trip to St. Barts. Saskatchewan’s highways minister gave up his cabinet post, two Liberal MPs resigned as parliamentary secretaries, and a Conservative MP resigned as chair of a parliamentary standing committee. Conservative Senator Don Plett has retained his position as Opposition leader in the upper chamber after a trip to Mexico last week.
Mr. Kenney also drew a distinction last week between voluntary guidelines such as the federal advisory against international travel and legal public-health orders. He noted that the province has encouraged Albertans to travel and is working to make it easier to visit places such as Hawaii, including by launching an airport testing program that allows returning travellers to reduce their quarantine to a couple of days.
When asked whether the political events of the past week in Alberta could hurt her public-health messaging, Dr. Hinshaw said she continues to urge everyone to follow all of her orders and advice, which she called the only way to keep COVID-19 at bay.
“What I would urge all Albertans to do is to consider how they can adopt as many of those recommendations as possible, while following the legal orders, which are non-negotiable,” she said.
“We really have to collectively work together to bring the spread down.”
Health Minister Tyler Shandro, who appeared alongside Dr. Hinshaw on Tuesday, said he, too, was frustrated with his colleagues’ recent travel.
“People are angry ... and they’re right to be angry,” said Mr. Shandro, whose office has confirmed that he has not travelled internationally since the pandemic began. “There was over a million Albertans who voted for us because we campaigned on hard work and humility, and some folks on our team forgot about that last part.”
While the province does not advise against travel within Canada, the government’s COVID-19 website repeats the federal advisory against international travel.
The Globe and Mail contacted every Alberta cabinet minister to ask about international travel since pandemic restrictions began.
Grant Hunter, Alberta’s associate minister for red tape reduction, flew to Idaho for his daughter’s small outdoor wedding in July and completed mandatory quarantine upon his return, his office confirmed.
Spokespeople for other members of the UCP cabinet said their ministers hadn’t left the country since March 18, except for Ms. Allard, whose office did not respond to questions about any previous international trips before her resignation.
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