Alberta Premier Jason Kenney will not discipline one of his cabinet ministers and his chief of staff after they both took holiday trips abroad in December, despite provincial and federal public-health directives against such travel.
Mr. Kenney said Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard travelled to Hawaii, and his chief of staff, Jamie Huckabay, travelled to Britain last month. Mr. Kenney said that other MLAs and senior government officials have travelled abroad in recent weeks. He said that Ms. Allard was the only cabinet minster who left the country.
While Mr. Kenney did not specify who else in his caucus had travelled abroad, his press secretary, Christine Myatt, confirmed late Friday that MLA and parliamentary secretary Jeremy Nixon was in Hawaii and had been told to return. Ms. Myatt said in an e-mail that he will be on the next available flight. MLA Tanya Fir, a former cabinet minister, apologized in a Facebook post for recently travelling to the United States to visit her sister.
The Premier said he would not punish anyone in his government. But he said he has ordered his cabinet ministers, MLAs, political staff and senior public executives not to leave the country for anything other than crucial government business. Mr. Kenney went on to say that he thought it unlikely there would be such circumstances that would require international travel.
“I don’t think it’s reasonable for me as a leader to sanction people who very carefully followed the public-health orders and the legal requirements in a province where we have been, frankly, encouraging safe travel,” Mr. Kenney told reporters at a Friday news conference. His position contrasts with Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who criticized former finance minister Rod Phillips for taking a holiday trip to St. Barts. Mr. Phillips resigned as minister on Thursday.
“Tens of thousands of Albertans are currently out of the province, many of them on vacation in warmer climates. … There is no public-health order or legal barrier barring them from doing so,” Mr. Kenney said.
His statements clash with a directive on the Alberta government’s website, which says to avoid non-essential international travel. In retrospect, he said, government leaders should have been asked to stay in Canada.
“I recognize that those of us in positions of public trust must maintain a higher standard in our personal conduct than is expected of folks in the general population.”
The Premier has emphasized personal responsibility in his messaging during the pandemic, often resisting calls from the Opposition New Democratic Party to enforce tighter restrictions on Albertans as case counts continued to rise in the province.
Mr. Kenney said the government cannot stop people from travelling abroad, and doing so would be detrimental to airlines, such as the Calgary-based WestJet.
“Completely shutting down travel would result not only in tens of thousands of more job losses, but would likely result in the financial collapse of Canada’s airline industry, which is an essential part of a modern economy for Alberta,” he said.
NDP Leader Rachel Notley called Mr. Kenney’s comments a “failure of judgment.”
“They told Albertans they needed to follow those rules. And then he turns around and says it’s completely reasonable that multiple members of his [staff] thought it was okay to get on a plane and go flitting about on the beaches of Hawaii,” she said.
Ms. Notley also called on Ms. Allard to resign.
“She absolutely cannot continue in this role because she clearly doesn’t have the judgment to cross the street, let alone to run something this complicated and this important for the people of this province.”
Ms. Allard apologized for taking the trip on Friday, and said she would work harder for earn back the trust of her constituents.
“In retrospect, I definitely made the wrong decision,” she said, acknowledging that many Albertans had to forgo their holiday traditions due to the pandemic.
Ms. Allard left for Hawaii on Dec. 19 and returned on Thursday morning. Her press secretary, Justin Marshall, told The Globe and Mail on Thursday afternoon that she was “at home, mostly relaxing but with some work to do.”
Ms. Allard said she did not inform the Premier about her trip, which Mr. Kenney said was not required.
“I’m not in the habit of tracking or regulating what the people who work for me do on their personal time,” he said.
Mr. Kenney said he learned about Ms. Allard’s trip on Tuesday “after the situation in Ontario became a controversy.” The Premier said his chief of staff, Mr. Huckabay, returned from Britain on Boxing Day, upon learning about a new variant of COVID-19 in that country.
Ms. Allard tested positive for COVID-19 in October, which forced Mr. Kenney and other MLAs to self-isolate for two weeks.
Niki Ashton, an MP for the federal NDP, was removed from her critic roles on Friday after the party said she “travelled to Greece to see a very ill family member.”
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