Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has apologized for breaking COVID-19 public-health orders when he had dinner on a patio outside a government office dubbed the “Sky Palace,” after nearly a week of digging in and insisting he did nothing wrong.
The dinner has been a source of controversy after photos emerged that showed the Premier, cabinet ministers and others sitting near each other, in apparent violation of physical-distancing requirements, as they ate and drank wine and whisky. Mr. Kenney said he now realizes that they weren’t distanced at all times and he regrets what happened.
He made the apology after several United Conservative Party MLAs, including two cabinet ministers, publicly criticized the Premier for the event. Mr. Kenney repeatedly insisted last week that there was nothing untoward about the dinner as he and his staff mocked opponents for suggesting otherwise.
“It is clear that some of us weren’t distanced for the whole night and I have to take responsibility for that,” he said on Monday. “We have to set a higher example, a higher threshold for conduct, so I want sincerely to apologize to my colleagues and to Albertans for letting you down.”
The apology on Monday echoed another in early January, when Mr. Kenney asked for forgiveness after a cabinet minister and several MLAs travelled outside of Canada over the Christmas break, despite public-health guidelines recommending against such travel. Mr. Kenney initially insisted no one had done anything wrong because although discouraged, international travel was legally permitted.
The Premier did not explain why he spent so long insisting that last week’s dinner followed all the rules, despite photos that appeared to show it didn’t, other than to say he has since “taken a closer look” at what happened. He deflected criticism last week by suggesting that his opponents wanted to keep Alberta locked down forever and a member of his staff complained about “hall monitors” on Twitter.
Mr. Kenney noted that the dinner happened the same day public-health orders changed to allow outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people. Under those rules, anyone who does not live in the same household must remain two metres apart during such events.
Rachel Notley, the leader of the Opposition New Democrats, said it took six days of “public outrage and outspoken MLAs” for the Premier to apologize.
“This isn’t sincere. This is self-serving,” Ms. Notley said as she pressed the Premier in Question Period.
Finance Minister Travis Toews and Health Minister Tyler Shandro, who were both at the patio dinner, also apologized in the legislature for bending physical-distancing rules.
Mr. Kenney has faced open criticism from his caucus. 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
Last week, UCP MLA 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. And MLA Richard Gotfried resigned his position as the party’s Calgary caucus chair last week and later complained on Facebook about “hypocrisy that makes a mockery of the tough decisions we have to make,” without referring directly to the patio dinner.
The dinner took place 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.
One of the cabinet ministers to publicly criticize Mr. Kenney, Culture Minister Leela Aheer, had also called for the Premier to apologize for his recent remarks about the push to rename buildings and remove statues devoted to historical figures involved in the residential school system, particularly Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald.
Mr. Kenney has repeatedly come to the defence of Macdonald and did so again last week.
Ms. Aheer argued that the comments were especially problematic in the wake of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation’s announcement last month that the remains of 215 children were discovered at a former residential school site.
Mr. Kenney defended his remarks on Monday and largely repeated his earlier arguments that, while everyone today agrees that residential schools were part of a tragic history, tearing down statues and renaming buildings would amount to erasing central figures in Canada’s history.
The deputy house leader, Ric McIver, stepped in on Mr. Kenney’s behalf.
“We all feel terrible about the injustices – terrible injustices – that happened to our First Nations people,” he said. “Tearing down statues won’t help. Changing policies, respecting Indigenous people, will.”
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