Two members of Justin Trudeau’s government, the Conservative chair of the House of Commons’ ethics committee, and a plethora of Albertan politicians have been demoted after travelling abroad despite COVID-19 travel restrictions.
At least 10 politicians have been confirmed to have travelled out of the country over the holidays. And the number of those sheepishly coming out of the woodwork to admit their travels is growing rapidly. The excuses for the travel extend from reasonable—visiting an ailing family member or attending a memorial service, to the infuriating—honouring a “family tradition” of going to Hawaii every year. At the same time, politicians have been urging Canadians to stay at home as the country deals with a second wave of the pandemic.
Canada currently has over 80,000 active cases of COVID-19 in the country and the number is growing. Since the start of the pandemic, Canada has had over 600,000 cases and almost 16,000 COVID-related deaths. Experts have warned that the holidays could cause a “grotesque” spike in COVID-19 cases in the country—similar but more extreme to the spike seen post-Thanksgiving.
Patient zero of catching the “travelling overseas bug” was Rod Phillips, Ontario’s now former finance minister. Phillips travelled to the tropical island of Saint Barthélemy with his wife. While he left on December 13, the minister took photos and filmed holiday messages to his constituents that made it appear like he was at home in wintery Ontario. Phillips has since called his decision to travel “dumb” and resigned from his ministerial position. Ontario Premier Doug Ford said that he was “disappointed” in him, even though, it turns out, Ford was well aware of Phillips travel prior to it becoming public knowledge. It wasn’t just provincial Ontario politicians caught up in the act. David Sweet, the federal MP for Flamborough-Glanbrook, resigned from his role on the House of Commons’ information, privacy, and ethics committee on Monday, iPolitics reports. Sweet reportedly went to the U.S. for “a property issue,” and ended up staying for leisure.
While the dance began in Ontario it was perfected in Alberta, where more politicians and staffers of the ruling United Conservative Party seemed to spend the holidays out of the province than in it. Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard, who is partially responsible for the vaccine rollout in Alberta, travelled to Hawaii with her family and she said she was “honouring a family tradition.” Likewise, UCP MLA Jeremy Nixon also travelled to the U.S. state, as did multiple staffers including multiple press secretaries for Adriana Lagrange, the province’s education minister.
In search of sunlight but perhaps not wanting to travel as far as Hawaii, several Albertan politicians made their way to Mexico for the holidays. Pat Rehn, the MLA for Lesser Slave Lake, posted an apology on his Facebook page confirming he had travelled overseas to a resort in Mexico. One MLA, Tany Yao, is reportedly so deep in vacation mode in Mexico that the government has not been able to reach him.
Albertan politicians also travelled to the mainland United States as well. Red Deer MLA Jason Stephan went to Arizona on December 31. On Facebook, Stephan wrote that he “supports individuals and families having the freedom to choose for themselves whether they travel or not” but is in the process of returning at the request of Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. Meanwhile, Calgary MLA Tanya Fir travelled to Vegas to visit family. Like Phillips, Fir, while on vacation, posted a prerecorded video of her in Alberta wishing her constituents happy holidays.
Speaking of Kenney, while the man in charge stuck around for the holidays, Jamie Huckabay, his chief of staff, did not. Huckabay circumvented a United Kingdom flight ban by flying to the States first from the U.K. and then entering Canada. The U.K. is grappling with a new wave of the pandemic as well as a mutated form of the virus that appears to be transmitted more easily. The flight ban was put in place as an attempt to halt the spread of the new variant of COVID-19. Kenney said Huckabay returned to Canada when he learned of the new virus, which has been rapidly spreading since November.
Despite initially resisting calls to demote or fire his horde of cabinet members and staffers that were caught travelling overseas, Kenney announced several resignations on Monday. Allard stepped down as Municipal Affairs Minister and Huckabay resigned as Kenney’s chief of staff. Furthermore, Nixon and Stephan were removed from their parliamentary duties and Fir, Yao, and Rehn were all booted from the legislature committees they sat on. Kenney released a statement saying that he understands why Albertans are so upset at the politicians and “want real consequences for these actions.”
“Millions of Albertans have made real sacrifices over the past 10 months to help keep each other safe. They are right to be angry about people in positions of leadership vacationing outside of the country,” wrote Kenney.
“By travelling abroad over the holidays, these individuals demonstrated extremely poor judgment.”
While Alberta doesn’t have the most cases in the country, it has some of the highest rates per capita in Canada. In December alone, the province had over 500 COVID-19 deaths, a number that matched the entirety of virus-related deaths for the rest of the year.
Other provinces got in on the fun as well. Joe Hargrave, the Saskatchewan Minister of Highways, went to California to finalize a home purchase. Despite calls for his removal from cabinet, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said he won’t be stripping Hargrave of his duties. Niki Ashton, one of the more well-known NDP MLAs, travelled to Greece over the holidays to see her ill grandmother. Ashton was stripped from her shadow critic roles.
In Quebec, former interim leader of the Quebec Liberal Party Pierre Arcand travelled to Barbados, and Coalition Avenir Québec MNA Youri Chassin flew to Peru to see his spouse. Chassin said that he had prior approval for his trip from his political party. Liberal MP Sameer Zuberi of the Quebec riding of Pierrefonds-Dollard, spent time in Delaware to see his wife’s ailing grandfather. Zuberi stepped down from his parliamentary engagements, including sitting on a subcommittee for international human rights.
Ontario Liberal MP Kamal Khera travelled to Washington state to attend a private memorial for a family member who died during the pandemic. Khera has resigned from her position as parliamentary secretary to International Development Minister Karina Gould.
This story has been updated to include the resignations of the Albertan politicians and David Sweet.
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