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COVID-19: Questions raised after Kenney, cabinet ministers dine on ‘Sky Palace’ balcony in Edmonton

Click to play video: 'Concerns raised after Kenney and cabinet ministers dine on ‘Sky Palace’ balcony' Concerns raised after Kenney and cabinet ministers dine on ‘Sky Palace’ balcony
Jason Kenney and a number of his cabinet ministers were seen dining on the balcony of the so-called "Sky Palace" in Edmonton on Tuesday night. As Bindu Suri reports, the dinner that appears to be a violation of the government's COVID-19 restrictions – Jun 3, 2021

Alberta’s premier and a number of his cabinet ministers were seen dining on the balcony of the so-called “Sky Palace” in Edmonton Tuesday night, a dinner that appears to be a violation of the government’s COVID-19 restrictions.

Photos of the gathering involving politicians and staffers were sent to Global News on Wednesday. According to the premier’s office, they show a “working dinner” held Tuesday night.

Read more: COVID-19: Alberta moves into Stage 1 of reopening — Here’s what you can and can’t do

Nobody in the photos is seen wearing a mask and the majority of people seen in the photos, including Premier Jason Kenney, Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Government House Leader and Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon, were not physically distanced.

Plates, glasses and bottles of alcohol can also been seen on the shared table, and a couple of the photos appear to show people coming in and out of the building.

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Premier Jason Kenney, ministers Tyler Shandro and Jason Nixon, as well as UCP staff members seen in a “working dinner” on the balcony of the “sky palace” in Edmonton on Tuesday, June 1.

As of Tuesday, the first day of Stage 1 of the province’s Open for Summer plan, outdoor gatherings can have up to 10 people, with no indoor components.

Read more: Alberta changes quarantine requirements for close contacts who are vaccinated against COVID-19

However, when it comes to dining on patios, parties should be limited to four per table, all from the same household, or three people if they’re single and with their designated close contacts.

In an emailed statement, premier’s office spokesperson Jerrica Goodwin said “you’ll note the gathering was outdoors.”

“The premier, with a few ministers and staff members, held a working dinner last night,” Goodwin said.

“I suggest you review the Stage 1 guidelines, which began yesterday: ‘Outdoor gatherings — up to 10 people (indoor social gatherings still not permitted).’ Attendance was kept under 10. Costs were not incurred by taxpayers.”

Goodwin did not respond to Global News’ follow-up questions about the fact that the officials were clearly eating and drinking as part of the “working dinner,” were not wearing masks and were not physically distanced.

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City of Calgary prepares additional COVID-19 business relief – May 31, 2021

“It looks really bad,” Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt said Wednesday.

“If this was a patio, then you couldn’t have that many people from different households at the same patio (table). If it was an outdoor gathering, they’re not socially distant. They may be below 10 (people), but they’re going in and out of the apartment, which is also a violation.
“So here you have the premier and the health minister and a couple other ministers violating Alberta’s COVID(-19) restrictions.”

Bratt also took issue with the premier’s office classifying the gathering as a “working dinner,” and instead called it a “celebratory dinner” held just hours after announcing the rollout plan for second vaccine doses.

Read more: Alberta releases plan for booking 2nd doses of COVID-19 vaccines

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“If it’s a working dinner, then what’s a bottle of Jameson (whisky) doing on the table and all the wine bottles? Right. This a party. And I can understand why they were partying, it’s been very difficult times, but it’s still premature.”

The photos aren’t the first scandal to involve the UCP government during the pandemic. Early in the new year, it came to light that several MLAs and high-level staffers travelled outside the country during the Christmas holidays, despite provincial advisories against doing so.

That resulted in six MLAs either resigning or being demoted from their ministerial or cabinet committee roles and the premier’s chief of staff was asked to step down.

Read more: Alberta MLAs who travelled during COVID-19 pandemic lose ministry portfolios

Bratt said these photos are similar to that travel scandal, sending a message that there is “one set of rules for Albertans and another set for the premier.”

“This, in some respects, is worse because it’s the premier and health minister,” he said. “I’m just glad (chief medical officer of health) Dr. (Deena) Hinshaw wasn’t at that table.”

Bratt believes there will be political ramifications in light of the photos, resulting in Albertans once again getting the message that the premier and ministers don’t have to follow the same guidelines the public is mandated to.

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Premier Jason Kenney, ministers Tyler Shandro and Jason Nixon, as well as UCP staff members seen in a “working dinner” on the balcony of the “sky palace” in Edmonton on Tuesday, June 1.

Speaking to the media on Wednesday afternoon, Opposition Leader Rachel Notley said the photos are another example of “repeated failures in leadership” during the pandemic.

“Obviously Albertans need their leaders to show leadership by following the rules, and they do not need their leaders to break the rules, and do it on the top of a castle. That is not how you lead during a crisis,” Notley said.

“I think all Albertans are getting very tired of these repeated failures of leadership, the repeated inability of Jason Kenney to inspire Albertans to follow the rules and and get ourselves through this as quickly as possible. And I think it’s very clear that there’s a level of entitlement that runs very deep.”

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