On Saturday, #ResignKenney was trending on Twitter, after the premier failed to lay out consequences for at least eight MLAs and staffers for Alberta’s United Conservative Party who travelled internationally amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
A spokesperson for the UCP confirmed Saturday that at least eight party members and staffers have recently travelled out of Canada
Christine Myatt, the press secretary for the premier, confirmed that at least five elected officials, including Jason Stephan, the MLA for Red Deer-South, as well as Pat Rehn, the MLA for Lesser Slave Lake, Tanya Fir, MLA for Calgary-Peigan, Jeremy Nixon, MLA for Calgary-Klein, and Tracy Allard, the minister of municipal affairs, all have recently travelled out of Canada.
Three high-level staffers for the party also left Canada: the premier’s chief of staff Jamie Huckabay went to the United Kingdom, and Michael Forian, who is press secretary for Education Minister Adriana LaGrange, and Eliza Snider, press secretary for Advanced Education Minister Nicolaides Demetrios, both also travelled.
Political analyst Janet Brown said Saturday that she believes this controversy could “change things” for how the party is viewed.
“I think this is disastrous for the premier,” she said. “I see parallels between the premier’s news conference yesterday, with that incident where Jim Prentice told people to look in the mirror.
“This feels like Allison Redford and the sky palace.“
Brown said that she believes there is now backlash against Alberta’s UCP from all sides of the political spectrum, following the news conference on Friday where Jason Kenney appeared to defend the travelling and said he had not been clear that elected officials should not be leaving Canada amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I take responsibility for not having clearly set out or communicated a policy against international travel for senior decision-makers in government. I should have done so,” Kenney said Friday.
Although Kenney did not call for sanction against those Alberta officials who had travelled, Ontario’s finance minister resigned from his position in cabinet this week following a highly-criticized vacation he took to the Caribbean.
While there are no laws against travelling, the Canadian government recommends avoiding non-essential travel outside of the country. Alberta Health also says people should “avoid non-essential travel.”
Kenney did say Friday that he has now issued a new “clear directive” to government officials not to travel internationally.
Brown says she believes holding Friday’s news conference without laying out consequences to government officials who had already travelled may have damaged the situation further.
“If the premier intended to do nothing yesterday — to just let these things slide — it escapes me why he had a press conference,” Brown said. “He could have just issued a memo, people would have been upset, but it seems to me that he took a bad situation and made it worse by having a press conference to say he was going to do nothing.
“[Friday’s conference] was one of those events that I do believe will change things.”
Former deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk, who served as an MLA from 2001 to 2015 under the Progressive Conservatives, said Saturday that he believes the premier’s decision to do nothing was due to the possibility that more people connected to the UCP may have travelled.
“It’s my understanding that there are more ministers and MLA’s who have travelled,” Lukaszuk said. “So if the premier decided to go down the path of asking ministers to resign there could be just simply too many of them.”
He added that in his experience — at least in the case of Minister Allard — due to government protocol, the premier was likely well aware she was leaving the country.
“It’s either the apex of incompetence or arrogance.”
Brown added in the coming days if more party members speak out on the travel controversy it could become clearer if there is a divide within the party around the issue.
“We didn’t hear a lot from the caucus members who didn’t go away,” she said. “And this is what happens to Conservative governments. It’s not elections that tend to bring them down. It’s the caucus, it’s the party members.
“When do these caucus members who stayed home, who made those sacrifices, when do they start speaking up?”