‘Slap in the face’: Albertans react to news that at least 8 UCP staffers travelled internationally over Christmas

EDMONTON — The fall out continues from the revelation at least eight UCP staffers, including five elected officials, recently travelled outside Canada against public health advice.

Political observers, ethics experts and other Albertans are voicing outrage, demanding someone be held responsible.

On Dec. 23, MLA Tanya Fir posted a Facebook video holiday greeting in beautiful Carburg Park, which is within the riding of Calgary-Peigan, but it turns out Fir was nowhere near her riding on Christmas.

She travelled to Las Vegas to be with her sister, despite a provincial recommendation against non-essential travel and a government directive to spend Christmas with only your household.

“I am not happy,” Premier Jason Kenney said in a news conference held on New Years Day.

He publicly reprimanded the growing list of UCP MLAs and staff members who defied their own government’s travel advisory over the holidays.

The list includes Fir, Red Deer’s Jason Stephan who went to Arizona, Lesser Slave Lake’s Pat Rehn who travelled to Mexico, Calgary’s Jeremy Nixon who went to Hawaii, and Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard, who also vacationed in Hawaii.

Some have apologized. Allard held a telephone press conference on Friday where she called her trip an “incredible lack of judgement.”

“I know that I’m held to a higher standard and in retrospect, I definitely made the wrong decision,” she said.

Others made social media posts, including Fir.

At least three high-ranking political staff members also travelled abroad. The press secretaries for education and advanced education posted from Hawaii and the premier’s chief of staff, Jamie Huckabay travelled to the U.K.

But while Kenney handed out a reprimand, he refused to go so far as to punish any of the travellers. Some experts say he didn’t go far enough.

“I don’t think Kenney has fully grasped the anger that’s in this province,” said Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt.

“Those that were opposed to the restrictions are mad as hell, and those that support those restrictions and followed them, are also mad as hell.”

“The reason it looks ugly is because it is ugly,” said Arthur Schafer, ethics professor from the University of Manitoba.

He believes the government hypocrisy could lead to more Albertans breaking rules and recommendations.

“I think that message is so corrosive of public trust that it could cost lives.”

The jet-setting United Conservatives drew fire on social media from many Albertans who followed the government’s multiple pleas and stayed home for the holidays away from family and friends.

“To see other people, especially the government to all of a sudden go, ‘Oh, except for me’ is very frustrating,” said Grande Prairie resident Terry Truchan.

A parody website has even been set up.

Criticism even came from within with UCP MLA Scott Cyr calling the vacations a “slap in the face” for his family and the average Albertan.

“It’s going to send the message to their fellow citizens that if you keep to the rules, you’re a sucker,” Schafer said.

While the premier has said there will be no punishment for MLAs and political staff, they’ve all been directed to return home, and Jason Kenney says there’s now an internal directive against international vacations. 

Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley said all 24 of her MLAs were in Alberta over the holidays.

With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Bill Fortier.

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