Mayor Naheed Nenshi‘s chief of staff and an administrative assistant for his office travelled internationally during the Christmas break, the mayor told media Tuesday afternoon.
Devery Corbin, who has been the head of Nenshi’s office since 2018, and an unnamed administrative assistant travelled to Hawaii.
The mayor said the two individuals separately decided to travel to Maui following the provincial announcement of an Alberta-Hawaii travel corridor.
Nenshi also said that he will not be sanctioning the pair, saying they were not elected officials and as city administration did not have the same contract with the public.
“I hate having to expose folks who did not sign up for a public-facing role in public-facing life in this way,” the mayor said. “But at the same time, I also believe in transparency.”
Nenshi said while the city has instructions around business travel, employers can’t put restrictions on personal time or travel. Since politicians across the country have become embroiled in pandemic travel controversy, he’s advising his staff to stay in the province and the city.
Nenshi approved Corbin’s travel before the holiday break but said he wished he had pressed further on whether they should be travelling at that time.
“Yes, I was aware of this travel because I care about the people that work with me and I care about where they are,” Nenshi said. “But I also believe that they made a decision that they thought was right and fair and within the rules.
“I had a lot going on in these weeks before December, and I really wish that I had pushed back hard on this,” the mayor explained. “I really wish I had said, ‘Are you sure about that? Do you think that that is congruent, even though it’s within the rules, do you think it’s congruent with the messaging about how we’re all in this together with the latest numbers?’ I really wish I’d done that.
“I didn’t do that. And I’m really sorry that I didn’t do that. And I deeply regret that I didn’t do that.”
Nenshi said the parallels between his chief of staff and Premier Jason Kenney’s chief of staff travelling internationally during the holidays end at their title.
“Even though the titles are the same, the jobs are completely different,” the mayor said. “(Corbin’s) actually a career public servant.
“She’s been 17 years at the City of Calgary, and I borrowed her from the City of Calgary to help run my office. And yes, she’s very skilled and she deals with very specific and very delicate files. But she doesn’t actually manage my political agenda in the way that so the premier’s chief of staff does.”
Nenshi said he has been “super angry” when he heard about MLAs and MPs travelling internationally during the Christmas break.
“When I heard about this stuff, I understand that people are very disappointed and I understand that even what I said today, a lot of people will be angry and disappointed,” the mayor said. “But I also want to emphasize that we’re all here in this place, in this horrible time dealing with this awful situation. And as I’ve said for many, many months now, in addition to all the requirements, in addition to trying to stay safe, one of the most important things we can all do is just to be kind.”
Political scientist ‘gobsmacked’
Duane Bratt, a political scientist at Mount Royal University, said he was “gobsmacked” by Nenshi’s comments on Tuesday, especially when contrasted with Premier Kenney’s reaction to UCP MLAs and staff seeking warmer climates.
“Nenshi has been one of the harshest critics of the Kenney government about COVID(-19) restrictions,” he said.
“He was calling for greater enforcement, calling for province-wide restrictions, and then he signs off on his chief of staff to travel to Hawaii. And he’s using the same sort of, ‘Oh, it’s legal. You know, it was just a guideline’ (argument) that Jason Kenney did on Friday.
“And that’s why I wonder if in three days’ time we’re going to see a reversal.”
Bratt said Nenshi announcing the travel publicly may help public opinion of the mayor “a little bit.”
“But you have to put this into the context of everything that’s been going on over the last week,” the MRU professor said.
“This is coming out the day after six MLAs and the provincial premier’s chief of staff lost their job. This is coming five days after a press conference by Premier Kenney dealing with the same matter.
“So if this was an isolated incident, maybe you get credit for being forthcoming — but it’s not an isolated incident. You have to put it in the context of everything else.”
Corbin is the first city official confirmed to have left Canada during Alberta’s second wave of the coronavirus pandemic and during a State of Local Emergency and provincial state of public health emergency.
Federal and provincial guidelines are to avoid all non-essential travel.
Only Ward 2 Coun. Joe Magliocca did not respond to Global News requests for information about his holiday whereabouts. When asked over the phone, his office said “No comment.”
Global News confirmed Ward 8 Coun. Evan Woolley took his wife and son to Fernie, B.C., for a day trip during the holidays. Ward 12 Coun. Shane Keating has been in Saskatoon, Sask., with his wife following her cancer treatments.
–with files from Adam MacVicar, Global News