EDMONTON (NEWS 1130) — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says he has no plans to ask for the resignation of public officials — including Municipal Affair Minister Tracy Allard — who took vacations in December while Canadians were being told to avoid all non-essential travel due to COVID-19.
Speaking Friday, Kenney stressed that there is “there is no public health order or legal barrier” barring vacations.
“I do not believe that I can sanction people who complied with the law, with the public health orders, and who in fact participated in the kind of safe travel that our government has facilitated,” he said.
“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 but to be blunt, I’m not in the habit of tracking or regulating what the people who work for me do on their personal time.”
JUST IN: Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says he has no plans to sanction gov’t officials who have taken vacations given they travelled “safely.” He believes they acted in good faith, complied with all requirements. He has now issued a directive telling them not to leave the country
— NEWS 1130 (@NEWS1130) January 1, 2021
Kenney then introduced a “directive” prohibiting international travel, maintaining that Allard and others travelled “safely,” and legally — abiding by health protocols quarantine requirements.
“For those of us in leadership, I acknowledge that is not good enough,” he said. As for others,
“We should be here at home, plain and simple, if we carry a position of public trust. That is why I am issuing a clear directive today to cabinet ministers, government MLAs, political staff, and senior executives in the Alberta public service, not to leave the country for the foreseeable future, unless it is absolutely required for government-related business — and I see that as being a very remote possibility.”
Addressing Allard specifically, Kenney said she left for her vacation Saturday, and he learned of it on Tuesday.
“I immediately contacted the minister and asked her to return to Alberta, which she did immediately, arriving back yesterday morning,” he said, adding while she was away she continued to p[participate in cabinet committee meetings.
Others, who Kenney did not name, are also back home or on their way.
“I understand that individuals who were abroad have either returned, or are in the process of doing so,” he said.
“I believe these individuals acted in what they believe to be good faith, have complied with the legal requirements, including the COVID public health orders.”
The Travel Advice section of the province’s website tells Albertans, “An official global travel advisory remains in effect. Avoid non-essential travel outside Canada until further notice.”
During his remarks, Kenney emphasized his government’s commitment to protecting “lives and livelihoods,” by “supporting and facilitating safe travel.” A total travel ban would devastate the airline industry and be particularly dire for Alberta-based WestJet.
“If all or almost all travel was to be suspended I do not believe that WestJet could survive. And the failure of that company would frankly be a catastrophe for Alberta’s economy, and for our prospects of recovery and economic diversification in the future,” he said.
He also said that “tens of thousands” of Albertans are currently out of the province, “many of them on vacation in warmer climates.”
Kenney’s impromptu address comes one day after the resignation of Ontario’s finance minister, which was promoted when information surfaced that he had travelled to the Caribbean. Provincial officials in Quebec and Saskatchewan have similarly come under fire.
Meantime, Alberta’s municipal affairs critic Joe Ceci called for Allard to resign Thursday.
Ceci notes that Allard is responsible for emergency management and her deputy minister is in charge of the rollout of COVID-19 vaccine in the province.
“She vacationed while Albertans have been sitting in their homes through the holidays, following strict public health orders and separated from family and friends while waiting on the vaccine,” Ceci said Thursday in a release.
“This goes beyond just a member of the government caucus or a member of the government cabinet — Minister Allard is in charge of emergency management. She has made an unforgivable error and must resign her position immediately.”
With files from Monika Gul and The Canadian Press