Pickering, Ont., councillors under fire for travelling during coronavirus lockdown

Click to play video 'Two Pickering councillors are facing backlash after admitting they travelled during the pandemic' Two Pickering councillors are facing backlash after admitting they travelled during the pandemic
Pickering councillors Bill McLean and Kevin Ashe both claim they had legitimate reasons for travelling overseas, but some residents think there should be consequences. Frazer Snowdon has more – Jan 12, 2021

Two local politicians have now admitted to travelling during the holidays. Both Pickering councillors

Kevin Ashe and Bill McLean say they left the country to deal with personal matters.

Although they were up front, some residents like Mike Borie say it’s not enough.

“This makes me angry, mad, upset,” says Borie who started the conversation when he emailed everyone who sits on Pickering’s council.

“We voted our councillors in to be clear, transparent and show character by leading by example,” he says.

The councillors, also representing constituents on Durham’s regional council, say they were both transparent with their reasons for travelling overseas.

But Mayor Dave Ryan said in a statement on Facebook he only learned of their trips this week.

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“I have only recently been made aware that a couple of Councillors did travel outside of Canada over the holidays,” he said in a statement.

Mayor Ryan said he was at home during the holidays and says his councillors should address concerns of residents.

“I feel the onus is on them to take personal responsibility for their decisions. Namely, they should address the situation in a forthright and timely manner with our residents,” he said.

McLean says he had to fly to Costa Rica to deal with a property issue and is still there.

Read more: UBC public health faculty members pen letter slamming director’s Hawaiian vacation

Lisa Robinson, a former candidate who ran for council learned he was away while speaking to him on the phone. She says he told her he was dealing with his new property, inspecting renovations on a condo he recently purchased.

He and his wife have been gone for two weeks for that process.

Robinson is critical of the situation.

“It’s just an excuse, it only take a couple of hours for that,” she says.

Global News reached out to McLean but did not receive a reply in time for broadcast.

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Ashe, meanwhile, travelled to the Bahamas to honour his stepson who passed away two years ago.

Robinson says although she understands the reason, it’s still not a valid excuse for either to travel during the pandemic.

“It’s very unfortunate that a couple of our paid, elected officials think that they have a higher standard than the rest of us,” she says.

“There’s many people over the past year that have died and have not been able to see their loved ones.”

In a Facebook post, Ashe said, “My wife and I returned to the Bahamas to visit Alex’s ashes.”

The deputy mayor detailed that this has been a tradition since his son died by suicide in 2018.

“Since his passing we (our family and his fiancé) have left a piece of Alex, who was an avid traveller, in numerous special places around the world including Glacier Bay Alaska, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Bahamas, Croatia, Mexico, Bermuda, and finally Hawaii,” said Ashe.

The councillor is now isolating with his wife and has tested negative after three separate COVID tests.

The news is disappointing to Durham’s regional chair, John Henry.

“We work for the ratepayers for our communities. You’re a councillor in a community, a regional councillor. You need to hold yourself at a higher level,” says Henry.

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Read more: Two Liberal MPs resign from government roles after traveling abroad amid coronavirus

“It’s important that we live and follow the rules that we put out and it’s important for me to stay home and follow the rules as well.”

The thought was shared by Borie, as well, who says it’s hard to move forward when they feel deceived as residents.

“Once we lose that respect, how can we trust anything they say to us in any other topic that comes up in the City of Pickering?” Borie said.

Though they eventually did, Robinson thinks if the councillors let the public know of their travel earlier, things could have gone differently.

“People would have had a different reaction if they were more transparent from the beginning, absolutely,” Robinson said.

The news comes just weeks after several politicians faced criticism for travelling, including Ajax MPP Rod Phillips. He stepped down from his role as finance minister.

While Pickering’s councillors have seen some understanding on social media, others think they should follow suit.

“They have lost the respect of the residents of the City of Pickering,” said Borie.

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“They should respectively decide to submit their resignations immediately.”

Click to play video 'Fallout continues from non-essential travel by B.C. officials' Fallout continues from non-essential travel by B.C. officials
Fallout continues from non-essential travel by B.C. officials – Jan 9, 2021