Alberta Minister, Top Kenney Aide Out After Holiday Travel Controversy
The public remains furious over a slew of Alberta politicians and political staff who travelled abroad during the COVID-19 crisis, even as Premier Jason Kenney announced he’d accepted resignations.
“I have never seen anything like the reaction over the last three days,” said University of Calgary political science Prof. Lisa Young.
“People across the political spectrum are furious and aren’t letting it go. Even after the resignations … it wasn’t enough. It was too late. There’s just this sense of outrage.”
Bowing to public pressure, Kenney accepted the resignation of Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard and asked his chief of staff Jamie Huckabay to step down, he said in a statement Monday.
Allard, who was part of the province’s COVID-19 pandemic steering committee, had vacationed in Hawaii with her family, while Huckabay went to the U.K.
“Over the weekend, I have listened to Albertans who are sending a clear message that they want real consequences for these actions,” Kenney said. “By travelling abroad over the holidays, these individuals demonstrated extremely poor judgment.”
Allard has been mocked on social media with #AlohaAllard, after she said she went to Hawaii to uphold a longstanding family tradition. On the weekend, angry residents redecorated her constituency office.
United Conservative members Jeremy Nixon, Jason Stephen, Tanya Fir, Pat Rehn and Tany Yao lost their committee responsibilities for travelling to Mexico and warmer places in the U.S.
Three days before, Kenney had announced he would not punish any members of his caucus because he had not been clear about travelling abroad. Meanwhile the province was telling Albertans to avoid travel and social gatherings to contain COVID-19 as case numbers rise.
“Millions of Albertans have made real sacrifices over the past 10 months to help keep each other safe,” Kenney said Monday. “They are right to be angry about people in positions of leadership vacationing outside of the country.”
Kenney faced backlash online for waiting to hand down consequences and making the announcement on social media rather than holding a news conference where he’d be asked questions.
The public is outraged at Kenney’s government for a few reasons, said Young. Some people already think the COVID-19 restrictions are overblown and seeing politicians travelling adds to their frustration. It could encourage them to also skirt public health advice.
Others in Alberta are concerned politicians are putting people in danger by navigating through busy airports and boarding crowded planes during a global pandemic.
“But more than anything else, it’s after nine months of this. People have made huge sacrifices and to see politicians not making the same sacrifices across the political spectrum, it’s infuriating,” Young said.
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Why public officials would travel abroad and in some cases post pictures of their vacations to social media while the province is in a state of emergency is the million dollar question, she said.
“One thing we can say with a degree of certainty is that for a significant segment of Kenney’s party, there has been a sense that COVID is not as serious as others are making it out to be,” said Young, who called it a streak of “Trumpian denialism” referring to the U.S. president buying into false narratives and conspiracy theories about the pandemic.
“If that’s what you think and what the people around you think about COVID then going to Mexico makes perfect sense.”
There also appears to be a breakdown of discipline within the party. Officials didn’t enforce a ban on travel, and didn’t know where all the members were, which isn’t normal, said Young.
Kenney was already facing the lowest approval rating of any premier in the country. A poll conducted in late December found only 30 per cent of Alberta respondents were satisfied with how he was managing the pandemic.
“It was already a disaster,” Young said.