Alberta MLAs who travelled during COVID-19 pandemic lose ministry portfolios

The six MLAs who travelled out of the country over the holiday season have either resigned from or lost their ministerial or cabinet committee roles, Premier Jason Kenney announced Monday, adding his chief of staff was also asked to step down.

Premier Jason Kenney announced Monday that six Alberta MLAs and a high-level UCP staff member who took part in non-essential travel during the COVID-19 pandemic have been reprimanded.

The six MLAs who travelled out of the country have either resigned from or lost their ministerial or cabinet committee roles. The premier’s chief of staff was asked to step down.

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“Albertans have every right to expect that people in positions of public trust be held to a higher standard of conduct during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Kenney said in a statement on his Facebook page.

“Millions of Albertans have made real sacrifices over the past 10 months to help keep each other safe. They are right to be angry about people in positions of leadership vacationing outside of the country.”

“I have accepted the resignation of Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard and have asked my Chief of Staff Jamie Huckabay to step down, which he has done,” the premier said.

“I have also accepted the resignation of MLA Jeremy Nixon as Parliamentary Secretary for Civil Society and MLA Jason Stephan from Treasury Board.

“They as well as MLAs Tanya Fir, Pat Rehn, and Tany Yao have lost their Legislature committee responsibilities,” Kenney added.

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“By travelling abroad over the holidays, these individuals demonstrated extremely poor judgment.”

Red Deer-South MLA Jason Stephan issued an updated statement on Facebook Tuesday morning, saying he was grateful for the opportunity to have served on the Treasury Board.

“In discussing my resignation with the premier, we both agree that I exercised poor judgment when I travelled to Arizona on Dec. 31,” Stephan said.

“This includes a realization that I failed to see my travelling to Arizona could be hurtful to the very individuals and families I have been seeking to serve, and who have made such huge sacrifices, including with the additional restrictions imposed over the Christmas holidays. To those individuals and families, I am very sorry and apologize for my poor judgement.”

The UCP has come under heavy fire over the past several days after Kenney did not discipline those in his party who left Canada, despite advice from both the provincial and the federal government to avoid non-essential travel amid the pandemic.

Even members of their own caucus voiced their displeasure.

The UCP MLA for Brooks-Medicine Hat told CHAT TV in Medicine Hat she understands why Albertans are upset.

“I completely understand why they are disappointed and why they are frustrated,” Michaela Glasgo said Monday.

“This is an unprecedented time. We have seen businesses close. We have seen people deemed essential and non-essential. We’ve seen people shut into their homes.

“For me, this was just about leading by example and show our constituents that we will put our feet on the ground and do what we said we were going to do.”

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On Friday, Kenney said he was issuing a new “clear directive” to government officials, including support staff like press secretaries, not to travel internationally.

“Over the weekend, I have listened to Albertans who are sending a clear message that they want real consequences for these actions,” Kenney explained Monday.

Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt believes this might be the most damaging political scandal this government has experienced so far.

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“If we start seeing resignations today and tomorrow, it’s a bit too little too late. Because there was a degree of defiance on Friday that Jason Kenney had done.

“If Allard resigns, I think it’s because of pressure from her constituents,” Bratt said. “This is an inexperienced politician all of a sudden thrust into the limelight, from a small city where she knows everybody and is now the subject of ridicule.

“I think it was a personal decision; not the directive from the premier. Because if it had , she would have been gone Friday.”

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Bratt isn’t sure Monday’s announcement will hold off public frustration, which he says is being directed at the premier.

“He didn’t go away. He wasn’t irresponsible, that we know of. It was his people that were and he protected them. But where is the line of fire coming at? It’s coming directly at him… the focus has been on Kenney for what he didn’t do.”

“If you were to listen to Kenney on Friday, it would be: ‘We shouldn’t even have this restriction. It’s not a problem; it’s advice and it’s safer to travel than do anything else. If that’s the case, why was there still an advisory in place?

“A holiday, a trip to your vacation home, that’s not essential. I don’t know how anyone could view it as essential.”

The fact that conservatives — including MLA Glasgo — are now speaking out against the non-essential travel and Kenney’s handling of it means more trouble for the party and premier, Bratt said.

“She’s a very young, rookie politician, standing up on the record saying: ‘What my colleagues did was wrong.'”

Transportation Minister Ric McIver will serve as interim minister of Municipal Affairs, and Kenney’s Principal Secretary Larry Kaumeyer will serve as interim Chief of Staff.

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The NDP said Monday they expected Kenney to announce concrete consequences for MLAs who travelled on Friday.

“He’s several days late, I’d say, in making the decision that all Albertans knew would have been the right thing,” MLA Sara Hoffman said.

“On New Year’s Day… when the minister who was responsible for Alberta’s Emergency Management System was away during a public health emergency — and then tried to justify it by saying she wanted to honour her family’s traditions when so many other families aren’t able to honour theirs — I think reluctantly got pushed into this position instead of showing any type of leadership.”

The Official Opposition would also like to see a complete list of which MLAs travelled internationally and when.

“Alberta families are making grave sacrifices right now and we’re told that we’re all in this together. But clearly the UCP doesn’t see themselves as being ‘all of us,'” Hoffman said.

“They were sitting on beaches or going to swim-up bars while these folks couldn’t be with the people they love when they died.”

Hoffman called the decisions to travel “hugely disrespectful” and “the height of arrogance and hypocrisy.”

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