Alberta Politics
A screenshot of a photo reportedly posted on social media from Hawaii by Michael Forian, press secretary to Alberta Education Minister Adriana Lagrange (Photo: Twitter).

Social media abuzz with reports of UCP staffers, MLA vacationing abroad despite pandemic travel warnings

Posted on December 30, 2020, 8:51 pm
6 mins

Social media is abuzz with reports of United Conservative Party staffers and at least one UCP MLA enjoying vacations abroad notwithstanding the federal government’s pleas for Canadians to cancel all travel during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Most mainstream media in Alberta, however, seem to be engaging in an anguished internal debate about whether what’s a major story in the United Kingdom and Ontario during COVID-19 lockdowns is also worthy of coverage here in Alberta, even when there’s an obvious local angle. 

Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s disgraced former travelling pitchman (Photo: SA 4.0, Creative Commons).

Social media commentators were prepared to name names in the absence of confirmation that the persons said to be travelling abroad are in fact doing so. Here’s one example. Here’s another. 

In the case of one, Michael Forian, press secretary to Education Minister Adriana LaGrange, evidence in the form of screen shots from his social media accounts now circulating on social media and the deletion soon thereafter of his Twitter account make a compelling case he has been vacationing in Hawaii.

If the tag in one of the photos before it was deleted was correct, he was holidaying with Eliza Snider, press secretary to Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides. It certainly looks like her, although it is not clear when the photo was taken.

As one wit wondered on Twitter, “If an issues manager doesn’t have a twitter account, is he even an issues manager?”

Whether or not the others, one employed in a senior position in Premier Jason Kenney’s office and another an elected MLA, are actually abroad as well cannot yet be confirmed, so they will remain unnamed here for the moment.

Emails this morning and afternoon to Mr. Kenney’s Press Secretary, Christine Myatt, about some of the others mentioned on social media had not received a response by the close of business. This is not an uncommon occurrence with UCP political staff. 

Obviously, it is outrageous if UCP politicians and senior political staff members are travelling abroad at a time when ordinary citizens are being told to stay at home and socially isolate to halt the spread of COVID-19.

Well-travelled Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips (Photo: Larryssa WH, Creative Commons).

This kind of behaviour last March by Dominic Cummings, senior advisor to British Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson is being blamed for the widespread defiance of COVID-19 travel and association restrictions by disillusioned citizens in the United Kingdom and the consequent virulent spread of the second wave of the disease in Britain. 

Public opinion polling showed widespread anger at Mr. Cummings’ behaviour, and there were many calls for him to be sacked. Mr. Cummings has since left his role with Mr. Johnson’s government. 

Similarly, in Ontario this week, news that Conservative Finance Minister Rod Phillips was holidaying in the Caribbean in defiance of COVID-19 travel restrictions also sparked outrage and calls for his resignation. It didn’t make it better that it turns out Ontario Premier Doug Ford knew where he was before the controversy erupted, or that Mr. Phillips pretended he was at the Ontario Legislature when he participated in a Zoom meeting from Saint Barts in the Caribbean.

Former NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau (Photo” OurCommons.ca).

Mr. Ford now says he’s “extremely disappointed” in Mr. Phillips’ behaviour. “I have let the minister know that his decision to travel is completely unacceptable and that it will not be tolerated again — by him or any member of our cabinet and caucus, Mr. Ford said in a statement Tuesday.

Who can forget the outrage in federal Conservative ranks – including many Alberta MPs – when Quebec NDP candidate Ruth Ellen Brosseau spent a weekend in Las Vegas during the 2011 federal election? Ms. Brosseau was repeatedly mocked as “Vegas Girl” by Conservative MPs, and there wasn’t even a pandemic at the time. 

Can you image what Alberta Conservatives would have been saying had something like this happened when the NDP was in power? 

I guess we’ll see if anyone makes a reference to “Hawaii Boy” or “London Boy” when the dust has settled from the present situation. 

Tuesday night, University of Alberta economist Andrew Leach challenged Alberta MLAs to have their photo taken near a landmark in Edmonton or their riding holding a copy of a current newspaper. He asked: “Any takers?” 

So far, there appear to have been none. 

17 Comments to: Social media abuzz with reports of UCP staffers, MLA vacationing abroad despite pandemic travel warnings

  1. Just Me

    December 30th, 2020

    Go on vacation abroad in defiance of the federal government directive, then post the evidence onto your own Twitter account.

    When it comes to the UCP, the bar that establishes the limits of their stupidity and lack of self-awareness must be constantly raised.

    Seems these UCP partisans are their own worst competition in the Jackass Olympics.

    Reply
  2. Troy Lissoway

    December 30th, 2020

    Update: so far I’ve seen proof-of-location photos from Ceci, Pancholi and Phillips. I would guess the NDP MLAs are highly motivated to participate…

    Reply
    • Firth of Fifth

      January 1st, 2021

      Ummm yes. As the Official Opposition it is indeed their main function to hold the party in power accountable for their decisions and, more importantly, their blunders. And with this current batch of brain surgeons at the helm it’s clear that the NDP will be busy for quite some time.

      Reply
  3. Dave

    December 31st, 2020

    These are situations where unfortunately a lot of people do not come out of it looking good.

    First, there are the UCP staff presumably still in Hawaii. Posting such pictures on social media is not a very bright thing at this time, as going there is also not very bright. If this is the quality of staff of senior ministers, perhaps this explains a lot about the quality of our government’s decision making lately.

    Second, there is our local mainstream media that often seems to tread ever so lightly when the current government messes up. You have to wonder if they are scared or somehow intimidated by Kenney or the UCP. Maybe some are just waiting for their chance at a job in the war room or something similar, who knows.

    Third, if it is any consolation to the UCP, this stupidity seems to be spreading, apparently mainly to other Conservative governments. I imagine Mr. Ford must be more than a bit upset with his senior minister. Nothing seems so at odds with the man of the people image Ford tries so hard to cultivate than Saint Barts, don’t you think? Well at least Mr. Ford seems to be trying to get ahead of this, but admitting he knew about his minister’s whereabouts for some time is not helpful in getting Ford out of this mess.

    So perhaps it has come to this, Mr. Leach’s challenge might actually be how we best figure out which politicians are naughty and which ones are nice, this Christmas holiday season.

    Reply
  4. Bob Raynard

    December 31st, 2020

    As I write this the Ontario finance minister, Rod Phillips, is waiting to have a meeting with Doug Ford about his future in cabinet as a result of his trip to the Caribbean. Mr. Phillips did cut his trip short as Mr. Ford directed him.

    Both Phillip’s prematurely ending the trip, and possibly losing his cabinet spot, serve as a bit of a precedent for Jason Kenney. Will Kenney take any action, or find a way to excuse it, much like he has with many of his other embarrassing moments (who knew the communications between his leadership team and Jeff Calloway’s was normal!) If a UCP MLA is out of the country, Kenney could suspend him/her from caucus for a while, much like Rachel Notley did with Deborah Drever, would at least give the appearance of taking some action. The suspended MLA would presumably continue to vote with the government.

    Will Kenney tell his staffers to end their trip early?

    Reply
  5. Anonymous

    December 31st, 2020

    It’s quite apparent. The rules the UCP makes for others doesn’t apply to themselves. Supporters of the UCP will brush it off, just like they do with all the other mistakes the UCP does.

    Reply
  6. tom in Ontario

    December 31st, 2020

    Strange how Conservative folks get all twisty about errant government officials jetting off to vacation spots and harp about carbon taxes but are strangely silent about private LTC chains, many of them cited for inadequate resident care, doling out tens of millions in dividends while pocketing tens of millions of federal pandemic dollars under the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy Program.

    Reply
    • Farmer Brian

      January 1st, 2021

      cbc.ca/news/politics/crown-corporation-long-term-care-homes-rivera. I certainly agree that what has and is happening in Canada’s long term care homes is a national disgrace.

      Reply
  7. Neil Lore

    December 31st, 2020

    It is appropriate to blame the wealthy and privileged individuals who flout these rules, but I don’t think individual misbehaviour is the root of the problem. I think the problem of “one spoken set of rules that we pretend applies to everyone, one unspoken set of rules that we pretend doesn’t exist” is endemic to Liberalism. What I mean is that other ideologies tend to own their exceptions.

    By contrast, a Communist society would say something like, “We are going to make a society that works for workers, not for owners.”

    A Fascist society would say something like, “We are going to make a society that works for those who belong, not for those who don’t.”

    A feudal society would say something like, “We are going to make a society that works for the nobility and aristocracy, not for the peasantry.”

    No Liberal (the ideology, not the party) leader ever stood up and said, “We are going to build a Canada that works for wealthy, privileged, white people, not indigenous people, muslim Quebecois women, non-white people in general and the poor especially.”

    Liberal societies keep up the pretense that the rights and freedoms they are so proud of apply to everyone equally. They don’t, and never have. This is not a bug, it’s a feature.

    If you go back to the writings of John Locke and John Stuart Mills (the philosophers whose ideas Liberalism is based on), you will find that they DO own their exceptions. After talking about all the rights that citizens get, they go on to say that members of “savage” races cannot be given these rights until such time as they have been “civilized” by white people.

    This is how the American declaration of independence could talk about believing that “all men are created equal” while also owning slaves. They left the exceptions unspoken and pretended they didn’t exist, a fine tradition that endures to this very day.

    The thing is, they didn’t do this because they were evil. In fact, they had a lot of really good ideas, and created a system that was clearly superior in many ways to the one that came before.

    The thing about giving a bunch of rights to your citizens is, it’s very expensive and complicated.

    The thing about having a few incredibly rich individuals within a democracy is, it’s very expensive and complicated. Expensive because all the wealth you allow them to keep is wealth that no one else can have. Complicated because you have to find a way to convince the non-billionaires not to use voting or violence to redistribute wealth. Historically, this has been accomplished by a blend of propaganda, state violence and epistemic injustice (withholding important information from students in public education – history, philosophy, rhetoric – to limit the options they will perceive as available to them when they become adults).

    So both of these are expensive indulgences. How do we afford them? Historically, the answer is by deciding that exceptions apply, then trying like hell to pretend those exceptions don’t exist. Those exceptions are determined on the basis of expediency and profitability. In the past, it was profitable and expedient to declare non-white people to be “uncivilized” or “savage”, which justified withholding from them the rights and privileges that “everyone” gets. As society becomes less tolerant of racism, this will become less profitable and less expedient, so NEW EXCEPTIONS WILL HAVE TO BE MADE.

    Who will those exceptions be?

    Don’t get me wrong, there are many good points to the ideology of Liberalism. However, to the best of my knowledge, no one has ever squared the circle of “how can we afford to have all these rights for everyone plus have a bunch of rich individuals without inflicting unjust harm on someone?”

    Reply
    • Political Ranger

      January 1st, 2021

      You can’t Neil, it’s just that simple. The rich and entitled will have to go or at least become less rich and less entitled so everyone has a basic level. It’s not that difficult.

      Your ‘problem’ arises out of your conflation of liberalism with some specific Liberal parties. Some Liberals, most recently the BC Socreds, call themselves Liberals but have no idea of liberal thought nor any intention or any known history of liberal practice. There’s no law against it. You can call yourself whatever you like.

      Don’t make it so.

      Reply
      • Alan K Spiller

        January 1st, 2021

        Political Ranger has nailed it. The Ralph Klein our family had known since the early 1960s always called himself a Liberal yet there was nothing Liberal about him and when he became premier he adopted the reform party polices and look at the mess he created.
        Alberta is in financial ruin thanks to these phoney conservatives and we know our hero Peter Lougheed would never have allowed it to happen. It certainly hasn’t happened in Norway and Alaska either and they followed what Lougheed had set up for us.

        Reply
      • Neil Lore

        January 2nd, 2021

        I totally see where you’re coming from. I think “Liberalism” is like “Democracy” in that they could both be used to describe a very wide array of governments.

        Reply
  8. Abs

    December 31st, 2020

    Laurentian elites have nothing on the smug, disdainful arrogance of the UCP elites. Kick that Hawaiian sand in our faces, why don’t you?

    Reply
  9. Neil Lore

    December 31st, 2020

    Actually, I think I have figured out how to square that circle. I call it the Peaceful Revolution. ESSAY ALERT – I can’t say this briefly. Apologies for the wall of text.

    THE PEACEFUL REVOLUTION

    This is a multi generational plan. No one would have to lose their job, lose their business, or experience violence to make it happen, and it will all but eradicate poverty and homelessness, while reforming our taxation system and eliminating government debt.

    1)Bring in an automation tax and keep it separate from general revenues.

    This would make it so that when an employer replaces an employee with a machine or with software, they save the wages, but not the taxes, that they pay on that employee. Instead of a “job-killing tax”, this is a “tax on killing jobs”. This would start small but will grow quickly as, according to CBC, we could see up to 40% of our jobs automated over the next 10 years.

    2)Create a national housing strategy.

    We will build something like 1 or 2 million modest houses of standardized designs ranging from tiny homes to row housing. These will be considered nationally owned infrastructure, like roads and bridges. People will have an incentive to compete to be able to afford privately owned, luxury housing, but no one will need to be homeless. It will be ideal to do this before we bring in a guaranteed minimum income, partly to avoid the extra income being eaten up by landlords raising rents and mortgages to what people will now be able to afford, and partly because we’re going to need a lot of labour to build all those houses, and the guaranteed minimum income will remove some labour from the economy. This will take years, so we have some time to figure out who gets to live where. Once this is done…

    3)Bring in a guaranteed minimum income.

    Every adult gets a couple grand per month, those living in government owned housing have an automatic deduction taken for “rent”. People still have an incentive to work, but they will be working because they want to, not because they have to, which will make them freer and happier and will make our society a great deal more ethical. Once this is done, we can abolish minimum wage – it exists to solve the problem of necessary work that doesn’t pay people enough to live, but everyone will now have enough to live. Abolishing minimum wage will allow us to create many low paying positions where we are currently relying on volunteers. It should also make employers very happy. We can also replace all existing welfare programs with this policy. According to a CBC article, it would cost about $47 billion annually to replace all of our welfare programs with a 2k GMI. Once this is done….

    4)Pay off all levels of government debt.
    That way we are not wasting money on interest payments. Also, nations that are in debt have reduced sovereignty. Once this is done…

    5)Replace all other taxes with the automation tax.
    It will take a few generations, but eventually the automation tax, combined with savings on debt payments, will not only pay the maintenance of all these government houses and the GMI but will have a substantial surplus. This will be directed towards replacing other taxes. At the end of the day, even inheritance taxes can be replaced with the automation tax. Not only will the machines do the work for us, they’ll pay the taxes for us, too! Then we…

    6)Do whatever we please! Or more accurately, our grandchildren do whatever they please – most of us won’t live to see this.

    The rich eventually gain an end to all other forms of taxation and an end to minimum wage, but still control the means of production and will have a more educated, positively motivated and innovative workforce. It is important to note that the automation tax is voluntary – if employers don’t want to pay it they can hire a human being. The rich also entrench their power and privilege, as this policy will make an actual revolution much less likely.

    The non-rich gain the freedom to work because they want to, not because they have to. This will all but end homelessness and poverty.

    Everybody gains a more ethical and united society.

    ———-

    I have been trying to figure out how to create the perfect society my whole life. This is not my first idea. It is the first time I’ve shared an idea with hundreds of adults and not had anyone expose a reason why it won’t work.

    However, I don’t have the background education to know several things, foremost among them, the question of whether the automation tax will function as I imagine it will.

    I have spoken about this idea a couple years ago with my MLA Ellis Ross, who was very interested in the automation tax and very uninterested in everything else. That experience made me worried that the idea would be coopted by politicians – an automation tax that gets added to general revenues will not change the system. I have emailed this idea to Nathan Cullen and Hugh Segal but have not heard back. Can anyone recommend to me how to get this idea vetted by the people who have the education I don’t? I am in the process of putting together a database of the emails of every politician and newspaper in the country. Once that is done I will send this to all of them. Maybe someone will respond?

    Thank you very much for your time and attention. Any feedback you can give would be most welcome. I am able to elaborate on these ideas, if desired.

    Sincerely,

    Neil Lore

    Reply
  10. Tim

    January 1st, 2021

    “Do as I say, not as I do” seems to be the true motto of your government.

    Alberta Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard and Pat Rehn (MLA for Lesser Slave Lake) must be FIRED immediately.

    There should be a by-election in their ridings. This level of hypocrisy in taking vacations to Hawaii and Mexico while telling everyone else to “stay home” is completely intolerable.

    “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

    Reply
  11. Farmer Brian

    January 1st, 2021

    1. I am certainly a proponent of an automation tax. Very difficult to structure in my opinion. Is it done retroactively? How do you determine how many jobs were lost by the deployment of each new robot or machine? This would determine the tax level.

    2. There is no doubt that alleviating homelessness helps eliminate many problems. Should and could this be done by government mass building subsidized housed, interesting suggestion.

    3. I have certainly listened to people argue for a guaranteed minimum income not sure I am on board yet.

    4. Here I have to disagree, would create hyper inflation through currency devaluation. Having said that I do agree that Canada’s accumulated debt is going to create a huge drag on future economic growth and recovery.

    5. Income taxes and sales taxes will still be needed to fund government as well as an automation tax, in your future utopia of a much larger government, taxation will have to increase not decrease.

    Neil I think it is always fascinating to think outside the box, enjoy your day.

    Reply
    • Neil Lore

      January 2nd, 2021

      I really appreciate the feedback.

      1)Insufficient education on my part. My intuitive idea is that we don’t apply it retroactively but we do apply it going forward. Some would be easy – each car being driven by an AI is one human who isn’t working. Some would be harder.

      2)Only way I see to reduce the price of housing is to increase the supply of housing. The only organizations big enough to build on the scale we need are governments and corporations. Unlikely that anyone except the corporation will benefit if we leave it to the private sector.

      3)This took me a long time too. I had to (among other things) really reimagine how my life might have gone if I hadn’t *had* to work. Would I have grown into a lazy entitled know-nothing? I certainly would have gone through a phase where I didn’t work, much like I went through a phase where I didn’t go to sleep at a reasonable hour. How do I feel about paying people to do nothing? Not great, but it’s not like I’m not already doing that. Besides, what’s the alternative to paying people to not work? It is ethically terrible to be letting Canadian citizens rot in the streets, but it causes real, tangible harm to “hard working” Canadians as well.

      4)See, this is exactly the kind of thing I don’t have the education for. I know what all those words mean, but I don’t have enough background knowledge to really understand what they mean together, let alone how to verify them.

      5)Right – the automation tax will keep increasing. I mean, maybe it takes a thousand years, but eventually we will have automated so many jobs that there won’t be any need for traditional taxes.

      Anyways, I really appreciate the feedback. Also nice to not have to backtrack and explain what words like “communist” actually mean 🙂 The most frequent objection I encounter is “but that’s Communism!”

      Neil

      Reply

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