Editor’s note: Since this story was originally published and comment was received from Fildebrandt, the story published on Western Standard’s website was updated to remove part of the detailed allegations.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is denying a report from an online news source that he dined at a downtown Edmonton restaurant with ministers and senior staff at a time when provincial COVID-19 restrictions forbade indoor dining with members from multiple households.
“It is a fabrication from beginning to end,” Kenney said Thursday.
On Wednesday, the Western Standard published a story alleging “booze-fueled covert dinners have been happening since January” involving the premier at Italian restaurant Bottega 104.
The website cited anonymous government sources, and sought comment from the premier’s office shortly before publishing.
Later that day, the premier’s lawyer Steven A.A. Dollansky issued a cease and desist order, calling the story “false and defamatory,” demanding the story be taken down with an apology and retraction issued.
“Premier Kenney, Minister Nixon and Minister Shandro have not attended any indoor dinners at Bottega 104 (or any other restaurant) while indoor dining was prohibited by public health restrictions,” the letter reads.
Global News has not verified any of the claims made in the Western Standard article.
Friday morning, Western Standard published an update to their story, removing the detailed allegations.
“The gatherings as described to the Western Standard would likely constitute violations of the Kenney government’s own restrictions and lockdown orders,” the updated story read.
The updated story reaffirmed its sourcing and cross-verification. But the online news source did not issue a retraction or apology, as requested in the cease and desist letter.
In an email to Global News, Western Standard publisher and president & CEO of Western Standard New Media Corp. Derek Fildebrandt originally said the outlet stood by the story.
“Our reporters did their due diligence in cross-verifying sources. We believe this story to be in the public interest,” Fildebrandt wrote.
“If the premier wished to challenge any aspect of the Western Standard’s story, he or his staff should have responded to our direct questions. If we feel a correction is warranted, we will make one.”
Fildebrandt was once seen as a rising star in Alberta’s Conservative political landscape, first as an MLA with the Wildrose Party and later the United Conservative Party.
He launched the Freedom Conservative Party in 2018 after he was turfed from the UCP following expense scandals and court troubles. He stepped away from the party in 2019, citing a desire to leave politics.
Thursday afternoon at a COVID-19 briefing, the premier said when he dined out at restaurants, it was when public health orders allowed it and only with his two personal contacts.
“That restaurant (Bottega 104) I’ve only ever visited twice in my life,” Kenney said. “I think once was two-and-a-half years ago when I was leader of the Opposition, and the last time was with a colleague for a rule-compliant lunch in July of last year.”
The story comes two days after the premier apologized for being photographed while dining with ministers Nixon, Shandro and other staff, apparently not masked or distanced on the balcony of the so-called Sky Palace: the nickname for the top floor of the Federal Building, which is adjacent to the Alberta legislature.
Global News reached out to the restaurant in question for comment. A response was not received before publishing.