Premier Kenney declines sanctions over international vacations, 4 MLAs confirmed to have travelled
EDMONTON -- Four UCP MLAs have now been confirmed to have travelled outside of Canada over the holidays.
It had already been revealed that MLA Pat Rehn travelled to Mexico, Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard travelled to Hawaii, but on Friday the party confirmed that MLAs Tanya Fir and Jeremy Nixon both travelled to the U.S.
Despite that, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says he won't discipline members of his government and staff for travelling abroad over the holidays in contravention of public health advice.
Kenney made the remarks in a New Year's Day press conference after the revelations about Rehn and Allard, but before it was revealed that Fir and Nixon had travelled.
Despite calling the international trips "a significant error in judgement" the premier said he will not discipline any of those who travelled.
"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," said Kenney.
"We should be here at home, plain and simple, if we carry a position of public trust."
Photos have also surfaced of two education ministry press secretaries apparently vacationing in Hawaii.
And, Kenney confirmed the his chief of staff, Jamie Huckabay, travelled the United Kingdom and returned via the United States.
MINISTER TRAVELLED TO HAWAII
The premier claimed he didn't know Allard was away at the time and she has since returned. Kenney said Allard left Alberta on Dec. 19 and he found out she was out of the country on Dec. 29.
"She should have stayed here for obvious reasons," Kenney said of the minister.
Allard apologized at a telephone news conference later Friday.
"This was an incredible lack of judgment on my part," Allard said. "In retrospect, I definitely made the wrong decision."
She said she has travelled to Hawaii over the holidays with her extended family for the past 17 years. Allard said her recent trip was with her husband and daughter.
"I was looking to honour a tradition with my family," she said. "All I can do is apologize."
"I'm sorry to the Albertans that trusted me."
Four days after leaving, a video was posted to her Instagram account showing her delivering a holiday message while in front of a Christmas tree at the Alberta Legislature Building.
Allard said it's common practice for MLAs to record a Christmas greeting and that hers was posted by a staff member.
"In no way [was it] planned to cover up where I was."
Allard is the MLA for Grande Prairie and also responsible for emergency preparedness.
In October, she had announced she had tested positive for COVID-19 which forced the premier and other MLAs into isolation.
She spoke in the legislature on Nov. 2, calling on Albertans to take collective responsibility to stop the spread of COVID-19.
"We must balance our individual freedoms with the greater good, and I urge Albertans at this time to weigh this in their decisions as we face the reality of COVID together," she said.
The Opposition NDP has called for her resignation.
"This is the premier and the UCP government lacking moral judgment, lacking any compassion for the four million people in Alberta who were told they couldn’t see their parents and grandparents at Christmas,” said NDP Leader Rachel Notley.
"These elected representatives fundamentally betrayed the trust of their constituents."
'THEY MADE A MISTAKE'
Kenney says he should have made it clearer to government staff and MLAs that they shouldn't travel internationally over the holiday break.
"I'm not happy with this, but I have to take responsibility that I wasn't absolutely clear," he said. "We will not accept the folks in senior positions of leadership ... travelling abroad."
"People are right to be frustrated with that."
Kenney said he has since issued a directive ordering staff not to travel abroad. He said any UCP government officials who were away were either back in Canada or in the process of returning.
"I think they made a mistake."
He declined to directly answer when asked to name government MLAs who travelled internationallly during the holidays, but a government spokesperson confirmed Friday evening that MLA Jeremy Nixon is still out of the country and will be returning home on the soonest available flight, and that MLA Tanya Fir also travelled to the U.S.
Fir confirmed on her Facebook account.
Both the federal and Alberta governments have repeatedly advised all Canadians against non-essential international travel.
Albertans have been urged by provincial health officials to celebrate the holiday season safely and to stay home whenever possible.
Earlier this week, Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips resigned within hours of returning to Canada from the Carribean, calling a Christmas vacation to St. Bart's "a significant error in judgment – a dumb, dumb mistake."
Quebec Liberal provincial politician Pierre Arcand drew criticism for travelling with his wife to Barbados. And, Saskatchewan Highways Minister Joe Hargrave apologized for 'an error in judgment' after travelling to California over the holidays.