Two federal Liberal MPs stepped aside from their extra parliamentary duties on Sunday as a scandal grows involving politicians travelling abroad despite repeated requests from provincial and federal health officials for Canadians to stay at home.
A statement from the office of the federal government’s whip, Mark Holland, said that Quebec MP Sameer Zuberi and Ontario MP Kamal Khera had acknowledged international travel.
Mr. Zuberi travelled Dec. 18 to visit his wife’s ailing grandfather in Delaware and returned to Canada on Dec. 31. He stepped down from his roles on parliamentary committees. Ms. Khera is no longer parliamentary secretary to the Minister of International Development after she travelled to Seattle on Dec. 23 for memorials to her uncle and father.
Over the holiday weekend, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said he would not discipline one of his ministers and several of his MLAs and senior staff for travelling, saying he had not previously ordered them not to. Travelling, he said, did not violate any public-health orders.
After referring to the importance of WestJet to the Alberta economy, Mr. Kenney said that going forward, he expected that none of his cabinet ministers, MLAs or senior staff would be travelling internationally unless absolutely necessary. He added that he thought that would be unlikely.
By Sunday afternoon, the list of travelling Alberta MLAs had grown to at least five. Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard apologized for what she called a lapse in judgment for her decision to go to Hawaii with her family to continue a 17-year Christmas tradition.
The revelations have touched off a firestorm of criticism of Mr. Kenney and politicians in general.
In Alberta, “there is so much anger,” said Duane Bratt, a political scientist from Calgary’s Mount Royal University.
“It says that the rules don’t apply to them,” he said Sunday afternoon. “When you have politicians who have set the rules violate them, I think it is incredibly damaging,”
Mr. Bratt said Albertans are not happy with Mr. Kenny’s remarks, either.
While two federal Liberals and one federal NDP MP have been removed from their roles, Mr. Kenney has issued no punishment to the travellers connected to his government, including his chief of staff, who travelled to Britain.
On Saturday, the federal NDP said veteran MP Niki Ashton was removed from her cabinet critic positions after she travelled to Greece to visit her seriously ill grandmother.
The statement from Mr. Holland’s office said neither Mr. Zuberi nor Ms. Khera had alerted the office of their travel. In addition, three other Liberal MPs had travelled earlier in the year on family business. Those trips were known by the whip’s office and took place at a time when case counts were lowered and restrictions were loosened, said the statement.
Last week, after Ontario finance minister Rod Phillips resigned in the wake of a holiday in St. Barts, The Globe and Mail contacted every cabinet minister in Canada to ask whether they had travelled abroad since March 18. By Sunday, The Globe was told that no cabinet ministers at the federal level, nor in British Columbia, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Yukon and Northwest Territories said they had been outside the country. Mr. Kenney said Saturday that among his cabinet, only Ms. Allard had travelled.
One cabinet minister in Saskatchewan – Joe Hargrave – said he had been in Palm Springs over the holiday, while another, Christine Tell, said she had been in California in early November to visit a sick relative.
Youri Chassin, a member of the governing Coalition Avenir Quebec, is currently in Peru visiting his husband. He said he had not seen him in about a year.
Responses for cabinet ministers in Ontario and Quebec have not been completed.
In Alberta, trees in front of Ms. Allard’s constituency office were decorated with Hawaiian leis and a large banner welcoming back the cabinet minister. The sign included the hashtag #alohaallard.
With a report from Robyn Doolittle
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