Alberta’s Hawaiigate travel scandal continued to grow yesterday with four more United Conservative Party MLAs and one Conservative Party of Canada MP from Calgary confirmed to have been out of the country in defiance of COVID-19 restrictions on non-essential travel.
In addition, rumours about several more Conservative politicians are circulating.
Albertans furious that Premier Jason Kenney has decreed there will be no repercussions for such behaviour can add the names of Calgary-Klein MLA and Parliamentary Secretary Jeremy Nixon, Lesser Slave Lake MLA Pat Rehn, Red Deer-South MLA Jason Stephan, and Calgary-Peigan MLA Tanya Fir to the list of politicians who chose to travel for non-essential reasons during the pandemic.
In addition, of course, there was Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard, MLA for Grande Prairie, whose Hawaiian family holiday was the first to come to public attention, and four UCP political staffers. A fifth, Issues Manager Matt Wolf, visited his family in Saskatchewan.
In some cases, UCP MLAs whose non-essential out-of-country vacations have been confirmed had published social media posts while they were away that appeared intended to give the impression they were in Alberta over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.
Also yesterday, it was reported Calgary-Signal Hill Conservative MP Ron Liepert travelled twice during the pandemic to a property he owns in Palm Desert, Calif.
The responses of some of the Conservative politicians who were caught added fuel to a fiery public reaction that runs across political lines.
In a short statement on Facebook, Mr. Rehn, who represents the northern Lesser Slave Lake riding but has residences in Red Deer and Texas, cheekily talked about how “we must all work together to get past this pandemic” and noted that his Mexican holiday was “a previously planned family trip, following a busy legislative session.” If intended as an excuse, the latter point was unlikely to win him much sympathy.
Mr. Stephan defiantly wrote on his Facebook page that “I support individuals and families having the freedom to choose for themselves whether they travel or not, provided they are respectful of others in doing so. International travel, in and of itself, does not negatively impact Alberta’s COVID curve if it is done responsibly.”
The MLA, who has complained publicly about public sector health care workers advocating COVID-19 lockdowns, also expressed the unsurprising sentiment that “I look forward to moving past this experience. …”
Mr. Liepert – once often assailed as the worst provincial health minister in Alberta history – excused his travel as being for “essential house maintenance,” evidently unaware there are trades people in California who could probably use the work right now.
It seems possible there will be more revelations. “Keep the tips coming,” tweeted CBC investigative reporter Charles Rusnell yesterday. “Just received unconfirmed tips about two more #UCP MLAs. BTW, no tips so far about NDP MLAs/staff.”
On Twitter, the @Blurg5 account has been keeping a useful tally of confirmed and rumoured cases.
Unlike past political scandals that could aptly be dismissed as inside baseball for the politically engaged, this one delivers a powerful slap in the face to ordinary citizens who can’t travel, visit their loved ones, or take part in activities they enjoy because of pandemic restrictions.
Whether you’re justifiably concerned about the threat of COVID-19 or imagine it’s part of a sinister plot to inject microchips into your bloodstream, the thought of members of the Conservative Cordilleran Elite jetting off to Hawaii, Mexico, Texas and California while you’re instructed to hunker down at home is infuriating.
This bitterness will likely fester as it sinks in just how slowly the Kenney Government’s vaccination program is moving, and is projected to proceed.
The vaccination plan posted Dec. 20 by Alberta Health Services without fanfare indicates most Albertans will have to wait until next fall or winter before they are vaccinated!
Obviously, either controls on social behaviour will have to remain in place until the vaccination program winds down in 2022, or we will have to tolerate a lot more deaths to accommodate the wishes of the UCP base and the business community to do as they please.
Either way, if you think people are angry now, just wait.
One can only hope that the AHS plan is an exercise in expectation management or that the government can think of a way improve its game. Blaming Justin Trudeau isn’t going to cut it, especially if other provinces continue to do better than Alberta, as they all are now.
In the meantime, if you’re anywhere near an international airport, keep your cell phone handy with the camera turned on in case you spot an Alberta politician making the walk of shame from the arrivals gate to the baggage carousel.
@Blurg5’s Hawaiigate List
As of January 2, 2021
Tracy Allard (UCP cabinet member, MLA Grande Prairie – confirmed, Hawaii)
Jeremy Nixon (UCP cabinet member, MLA Calgary-Klein – confirmed, Hawaii)
Pat Rehn (UCP MLA, Lesser Slave Lake – confirmed, Mexico)
Jason Stephan (UCP MLA, Red Deer-South – confirmed, Arizona)
Tanya Fir (UCP MLA, Calgary Peigan – confirmed, Las Vegas)
Matt Wolf (UCP Political Staff – confirmed, Saskatchewan)
Michael Forian (UCP Political Staff – confirmed, Hawaii)
Eliza Snider (UCP Political Staff – confirmed, Hawaii)
Jamie Huckabay (UCP Political Staff – confirmed, United Kingdom)
Ron Liepert (CPC MP, Calgary Signal Hill – confirmed, California)
Nathan Neudorf (UCP MLA Lethbridge-East – rumoured)
Tyler Shandro (UCP Cabinet member, MLA Calgary Acadia – rumoured)
Roger Reid (UCP MLA Livingstone-Macleod – rumoured)
Sheena Hughes (St. Albert City Councillor – rumoured)