Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announced the resignations on Monday of his municipal affairs minister and his chief of staff, as well as the demotions of five other MLAs, for travelling abroad during the holidays against public-health warnings.
The announcement was a significant reversal for Mr. Kenney, who late last week said it would be unfair to punish caucus members for leaving the country, because such travel was not illegal and can be done safely. At the time, Mr. Kenney called those trips errors in judgement but not firing offences. The Premier did not say on Monday if he told the members to resign from their legislative roles.
The controversy that began a week ago over politicians who travelled despite federal and provincial advisories against non-essential trips has widened in recent days.
Senate Conservative Leader Don Plett’s office revealed on Monday that Mr. Plett went to Mexico last week, but cut his trip short and returned a few days later. Joe Hargrave resigned as Saskatchewan’s highways minister on Monday over a holiday to Palm Springs, Calif.
Two Liberal MPs, Sameer Zuberi and Kamal Khera, stepped down from their parliamentary roles over the weekend after taking international trips for family reasons, and last week, Rod Phillips resigned as Ontario’s finance minister after a holiday in St. Barts.
No government in Canada has had as many caucus members admit leaving the country recently as Alberta, with nearly one in 10 United Conservative Party MLAs travelling abroad in December.
They include Tracy Allard, who resigned as municipal affairs minister; Jeremy Nixon, who resigned as a parliamentary secretary; Jason Stephan, who resigned from the Treasury Board; Tanya Fir; Pat Rehn; and Tany Yao. Ms. Fir, Mr. Rehn and Mr. Yao lost their roles on legislative committees.
Mr. Kenney’s chief of staff, Jamie Huckabay, went to the U.K. On Monday, the Premier asked for his resignation.
Those trips fuelled anger across the political spectrum, with prominent conservative commentators and a member of Mr. Kenney’s caucus joining the government’s usual critics in denouncing the travel.
Mr. Kenney held an impromptu news conference on New Year’s Day in an attempt to quell the outrage, saying he took responsibility for not being more clear about the need to avoid travel. He said the province launched an airport testing program to allow people to shorten their quarantine time upon arrival, in part to make travel easier.
That appeared to do little to contain the damage.
“Millions of Albertans have made real sacrifices over the past 10 months to help keep each other safe,” Mr. Kenney wrote in Facebook post. “They are right to be angry about people in positions of leadership vacationing outside of the country.”
Michaela Glasgo, the MLA for Brooks-Medicine Hat, said her travelling colleagues showed a “profound lack of judgement” and that she was among those in caucus who pushed for Mr. Kenney to reprimand them.
“The temperature in our constituencies that we’re feeling is a result of people ultimately recognizing the sacrifices that they have made personally, with their families, and just want to see politicians doing the same,” she said in an interview.
Mr. Plett, who is the Leader of the federal Opposition in the Senate, was in Mexico for four days and is in Manitoba quarantining for two weeks, said his spokesperson, Karine Leroux.
“Senator Plett travelled to Mexico on Dec. 28. Upon arrival, he reflected on his decision to travel and immediately made arrangements to return home on Dec. 31,” Ms. Leroux said in an e-mail on Monday. She said this was Mr. Plett’s sole trip outside Canada since March, 2020.
Mr. Plett said in a YouTube video shared on Dec. 17 that although people are used to getting together at Christmas, the pandemic has “forced us to change some of those traditions since we cannot travel and gather as we normally would.”
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole’s office said MPs Ron Liepert and David Sweet shared with the Whip’s office that they had “essential travel” in the United States over the holidays to deal with property issues.
Mr. Sweet, the statement continued, stayed in the U.S. for leisure without telling the Whip. Mr. O’Toole accepted his resignation as chair of the standing committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. Mr. Sweet said on Twitter that he will not seek re-election.
A statement from Liberal whip Mark Holland said that during the summer, while restrictions across Canada were loosened and case counts were lower, three Liberal MPs told the Whip’s office they needed to attend to family affairs abroad: Alexandra Mendes, Lyne Bessette and Patricia Lattanzio.
New data from Innovative Research Group on Canadians’ behaviour over the holidays suggest that while most people stayed in their provinces, some went outside their community and met up with people outside their household.
Ninety-two per cent of respondents surveyed said they did not leave their province, while 5 per cent said they did or planned to, and 3 per cent did not know.
Eighty per cent said they did not and would not travel outside their community, while 16 per cent said they have or planned to and 4 per cent did not know. Sixty per cent of respondents said they have not met up with anyone outside their household, while 35 per cent said they have or planned to and 5 per cent did not know.
The online survey was conducted from Dec. 17 to Jan. 4 with 2,904 Canadian adults. The sample was not random, so no margin of error can be calculated.
Last week, The Globe and Mail contacted every federal and provincial cabinet minister to ask about international travel since pandemic restrictions began.
No cabinet ministers at the federal level, in British Columbia, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Yukon and Northwest Territories said they had been outside the country.
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, said press secretary Charlotte Taillon. 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 answer questions about any previous international trips before her resignation.
Two ministers in Saskatchewan and one in Quebec have travelled abroad for varying reasons. The Globe was still waiting to hear from 20 ministers in Quebec, two in Newfoundland, two in Nunavut, and one in Ontario.
With a report from Carrie Tait, Robyn Doolittle and Les Perreaux
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