Brock Harrison with his boss, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney (Photo: Twitter/Brock Harrison).

If Premier Jason Kenney’s executive director of communications followed all the rules when he expensed his stay in an Edmonton hotel and claimed meal allowances after a positive COVID test while on a business trip, he shouldn’t have been asked to pay back the $1,400. 

NDP Opposition Critic Christina Gray (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Indeed, making Brock Harrison pay back those expenses shows a kind of situational disrespect for contractual agreements with employees that is all too typical of the United Conservative Party Government he represents, wrong despite the obvious irony.

Moreover, it represents the dangerous mentality – which, also ironically, Mr. Harrison himself worked hard to evangelize – that public health measures to control the spread of COVID-19 were somehow frivolous expenses to the operators of businesses and business-minded governments and that we should hurry to lift them even as the disease continued to spread.

Readers of this blog will be aware that its author is not Mr. Harrsion’s biggest fan, so this may turn out to be what they call on social media a “possible unpopular opinion.” But a contract is a contract, and if Mr. Harrison fulfilled his part as he appears to have done, then the government should honour its financial obligation to him. 

The circumstances are that last January Mr. Harrison took a bus from Edmonton to Calgary to join the premier on a trip to Washington, D.C. Before their flight to Imperial capital, however, Mr. Harrison tested positive for COVID on a pre-flight test. He did the right thing and booked himself into a Calgary hotel, spent the required days in isolation, and, since he was on business when this happened, quite properly billed his employer for the expense. 

I would have done the same in the same circumstances. 

Former Conservative Party of Canada leader Andrew Scheer (Photo: Andre Forget, Andrew Scheer/Flickr).

So when the Premier’s Office self-righteously announced yesterday that despite the fact Mr. Harrison “followed the rules and was transparent with his expenses, out of respect for taxpayers, (he) is reimbursing the GOA for expenses incurred,” it was not doing any favours to taxpayers if they care about keeping promises and legal obligations. 

Notwithstanding the fact that feelings of Schadenfreude are quite understandable when contemplating Mr. Harrison’s unexpected travel expense – he is well paid, after all, and he’s not known for being very understanding when others find themselves in similar predicaments – the NDP was off base when Labour Critic Christina Gray argued he shouldn’t have been compensated for his hotel stay because other Albertans don’t get sick leave and other benefits.

Isn’t this exactly the kind of argument Conservative operatives like Mr. Harrison trot out when they want to deprive government employees of sick time, decent pensions and other benefits fought for over many years by their unions?

This strikes me as a knee-jerk reaction without much reflection about the important principle that once agreed to, a deal is a deal. It would have been better left unsaid while the irony of Mr. Harrison’s predicament was savoured privately.

The fact that Mr. Harrison had his quarantine costs covered should have been used to argue that we would all be safer during a pandemic if every infected person was entitled to the same level of support. 

Mr. Harrison, a long-time Conservative operative, was fired from his job as communications director for former federal Opposition leader Andrew Scheer soon after the Conservatives lost the 2019 federal election to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals. The CBC reported at the time that Mr. Harrison was not allowed to resign. He was soon hired by Mr. Kenney. 

Effort by Jonathan Denis to get judge to stay contempt ruling falls flat

Calgary lawyer Jonathan Denis back when he was Progressive Conservative premier Alison Redford’s justice minister (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Speaking of Schadenfreude, former Conservative Justice Minister Jonathan Denis didn’t get far with his effort yesterday to ask Madam Justice Ritu Khullar of the Alberta Court of Appeal to set aside a lower court’s ruling he was in contempt of court for trying to intimidate a witness in a high-profile wrongful-dismissal trial he threatened to sue for testimony she might give

In mid-April, Madam Justice Doreen Sulyma of the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench found Mr. Denis guilty of contempt for a letter his lawyer sent to Dr. Anny Sauvageau, Alberta’s former chief forensic pathologist, warning her to be careful what she told the court in her suit against the province seeking $7.6 million in damages for wrongful dismissal in 2014, when Mr. Denis was Justice Minister.

In addition to denying Mr. Denis’s request for a stay. Justice Khullar also denied his request for an expedited appeal.

Mr. Denis also didn’t appear to win over a lot of sympathy in the court of public opinion for his argument that the contempt ruling could put his Calgary law firm out of business and was already causing clients and lawyers to abandon ship.

Join the Conversation

23 Comments

  1. The UCP abides by one set of rules for themselves, while they give Albertans another set of rules to follow. When Covid-19 cases in Alberta escalate further, I don’t how the UCP will be able to downplay this. As for Jonathan Denis, this is another example of someone who thinks that the rules and laws don’t apply to them. Unfortunately, Albertans choose to keep on supporting these pretend conservatives and Reformers, and they mock anyone who speaks out against what they are doing wrong. Even though there are those who do not completely agree with Justin Trudeau, we certainly don’t see Pierre Poliveire being spectacular. These pretend conservatives and Reformers won’t create any jobs, will lay off many people, will give big tax cuts to their rich corporate friends, do very costly shenanigans, and we won’t be further ahead. Where is the sense in this?

  2. I might add that the UCP’s utter negligence for dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic in Alberta is so they can overburden the public healthcare system in Alberta, just so they can privatize it. They want the public healthcare system in Alberta crippled, so the UCP can say it’s ineffective, and that we must privatize it. Ralph Klein didn’t look after the healthcare system in Alberta very well either, and he did this because he had aspirations of privatization of our healthcare system in Alberta. Many people nearly lost their lives, or lost their lives, because of Ralph Klein’s bad healthcare decisions and policies. There were quiet settlements. When people nearly lose their lives, or lose their lives, because of the UCP’s poor healthcare policies, and actions, more lawsuits will likely come, and it will be just as it was under Ralph Klein. Albertans certainly won’t come out as the winners. Despite all this, support for the UCP will foolishly continue, because many Albertans just don’t know any better.

  3. Good thing for Mr Dennis that his punishment for contempt of court isn’t as capital as he thought his idea was to threaten a witness in a trial both are involved with.

    I’m slightly confused as to the meaning of “Imperial capital” because the seat of world hegemony to where JK goes so’s to ride around in a yellow cab (wonder if he reimburses the Alberta treasury for these junkets) is not technically an empire and is called the “Capitol”—but also because some Canadians, particularly indigenous citizens, often style our own capital the seat of “colonialism” as if it were an empire. At a stretch, I suppose the 40% of Canada’s land area which is not confederated yet might be styled as three colonies because the Territories’ sovereign government is outside the boundaries of all of them (they have charter governments, like municipalities, in their respective capitals. But at least in both respects the Territories do have responsible governments such that many colonies in what is now Canada did not; then there’s the period 1905-31 when the simultaneously-confederated provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan did not have full sovereign control over their natural resources—which might also be called ‘colonialism’ of a sort; as I hope is plain, it’s very easy to misinterpret all the derivatives of ‘colonial’ by sloganizing them while legal negotiation as part of reconciliation requires very precise definitions.

    That’s one of the reasons why I disapprove of the sloganistic way “colonialism” and “decolonization” are used by some people these days (the more important clarity is the fact that treaties between Canadian and Aboriginal governments were made both during and after colonial times between three or four different kinds governments, many such treaties have not been settled yet in post-colonial times, and these distinctions are germane to settling remaining obligations to treat with First Nations which have no settlement as yet, and to whatever compensation might be sought for treaties made and administered in bad faith, or delayed for two and a half centuries.

    Referring to the US Capitol as Imperial is an allowable figure of speech because it doesn’t likely cause confusion in an important way like “colonization“ does the way it’s used lately.

    And I wonder: should “Imperial” and “Capitol”— and, for that matter, “Capital” —be capitalized?

    1. Scotty: I would argue, first, that the United States most certainly has an empire – both in the limited, traditional economically but not legislatively integrated sense (Puerto Rico, Guam, Okinawan Japan, and possibly Canada) and in what we could call the post-modern, or at least the post-Soviet, sense (Western Europe, Australia, the United Kingdom, the Arab Middle east with the exception of Syria, Japan, and so on). Its worldwide network of military bases are an expression of both forms of imperialism. As for Washington D.C., the city is the Imperial capital (the second word is not capitalized because it is not a formal title) and the building is the United States Capitol. I was going to say the legislative building, but since U.S. democracy is now largely performative without much impact on elite policy, as we have had forcefully pointed out in the past few days, that may not be quite the right term. DJC

      1. Oh, great! Now I’m gonna be capitalizing “Performative” for the rest of the day!

        But I knew I could count on you to unravel my Gordian topknot. Thank you!

        Saw an interesting book review —think it’s called “The American Empire” or some such thing, which points out the several hundred garrisons the USA has around the world and it’s sorry record, post Spanish-American War in the Philippines, Haiti, Panama, &c. Saw the author plugging it on YouTube —had a map that highlighted the areas in question. Sure does look like an empire—but I’m sure many tRumpublicans might choke on their concept of democracy to admit it. I mean, shouldn’t Central Americans be able to avail American hospitality for the pittance they ask, without getting their legs shot out from under them? By the broadest interpretation of US intervention, they oughta be imperial citizens, too, no?

        Thnx again.

  4. David makes a compelling case for Mr. Harrison to be reimbursed for his expenses, before he goes back to his paper route. As an added bonus, I quite like the image of his reaction when he learns the NDP is sticking up for him.

    Throughout the time that CERB was available, I thought the point was never made forcefully enough that by making it possible for sick people to stay home, other people were protected.

  5. I wonder if Brian Jean can prove that 8 credit cards were used to buy thousands of UCP memberships or has he created another lie like the ones he created as leader of the Wild Rose Party? It’s no secret that these reformers will do or try anything to get elected and Brian Jean is no different.
    While we continue to see ignorant Albertans whine and cry about their increasing property taxes, and blame their mayors and councillors, they have allowed these reformers to help their rich friends screw us out of hundreds of billions of dollars and the oil executives brag about their huge profits and our vehicles are being destroyed by roads filled with potholes, and they aren’t smart enough to figure it out, why?

    1. Brian Jean says eight credit cards? Hmm…wasn’t there a limit of 400 memberships per person or some such? With six cards active, 4000 memberships makes 666 (gasp!) memberships per card. With eight cards, it’s down to only 500 memberships per card. MUCH better….

  6. Pooky keeps it straight and narrow. He’s a stand up guy, in appearance. If he kept his mouth shut, he could keep his true character under wraps. His conservative lack of self awareness can be amusing.

  7. So, the vipers are fanging each other—again. This at best proves Kenney and his fellow yammerheads are consistent, even when it means smacking down one of their own. (The fact Harrison was fired, not allowed to quit, from Andrew Scheer’s disastrous attempt to become PM is another example of Cons scapegoating their own.) In both cases, “Serves ’em right!” is the correct response. But—read that as BUT!—it’s also a warning. There’s no loyalty among Republican-wannabes, even to their own. Kenney and accomplices believe that rules are for the Other Guy.

    By contrast (if small), Jonathan Denis has only himself to blame for his foot-in-mouth disease. (But has he fired the junior lawyer who actually delivered the threatening letter? Or was he among the guys who quit?) Unlike the US Supreme Court, it seems Alberta justices still understand that the courts must be seen as acting in fairness, without prejudice. Denis’ posturing damages his own reputation, and risks damaging our opinion of all other lawyers with him. No wonder the shoulder he got wasn’t just cold, it was frozen solid.

  8. DJC, I agree, the NDP is on the wrong side of this issue. If you are traveling on behalf of your employer and you test positive for Covid and must quarantine, the employer should cover those expenses.

    I am extremely disappointed that the NDP would make the argument that Mr. Harrison would have to pay these expenses out of his own pocket, regardless of his status as a paid shill for the government or the generous salary he receives.

    The NDP argument reminds me of the complaints of anti-union folks I run into from time to time who are jealous of the benefits and perks that people with union jobs receive, such as defined benefit pensions, dental plans, etc, and want to tear down the beneficiaries of unions to their level, all the while not realizing that strong unions lift everybody up, including employees in non-union jobs.

    It does not matter who is receiving the benefit. The only questions we should be asking are these: is the benefit fair and is it something that we should expect employers to pay for? So, yes, very surprising that the NDP would make such as strategically inept argument. Not sure where their head is at on this. Looks like they were overly influenced by a partisan dislike for the recipient. Not a good look. They need to do better.

    As for Jonathan Denis, glad to see he is finally learning an important lesson that he should have learned long ago: actions have consequences. The corollary lesson is this: whining about those consequences like a child will get you nowhere.

  9. I agree completely with your position on Mr. Harrison. It is good to have some consistency and principles here. Unfortunately, it also shows that even though the UCP occasionally stumbles into doing the right thing, how quickly their politics makes a mess of it.

    First of all, I doubt it was Mr. Harrison’s idea of fun to be cooped up in a hotel room in Calgary while everyone else went off to Washington. I could only imagine the boredom and frustration. An enforced COVID break is not a holiday. Second, we wouldn’t want Mr. Harrison going about Calgary (or back to Edmonton) spreading COVID once he realized he had it. Yes, it is bad enough already, but lets not make it worse. So he made the best of a bad situation and I suspect probably even did some work remotely while there. Having his employer cover the cost was in no way disrespectful to the taxpayers. Certainly going around spreading COVID would be less respectful to the citizens or Calgary or wherever else he could have went.

    However, there is a UCP leadership review going on and Kenney is desperately trying to get the support of at least some COVID cranks or deniers. So, not surprisingly Mr. Harrison’s expenses ended up being a sacrifice on the alter of Conservative purity. Similar to how for Federal Conservatives is is almost a requirement to express support for the truck protesters, provincially you have to be against any COVID restrictions to appease the right wing of the party. Also, the UCP probably does not want to set a precedent here and have other provincial employees claiming this.

    It would be good if common sense were to prevail over politics in this case, but no, not with this premier and not with this party. And we wonder why we are in the mess we are in.

  10. The dilemma of what to do with Harrison does put another gaffe into the growing mess that is Kenney’s leadership review. The case can be made that his expenses during quarantine should be covered; however, optics is everything and at present, the optics for Kenney’s government are looking blurry and dim.

    I suspect that there will be some sly coverage for Harrison’s expenses, regardless. Now that the onset of an early election is nearly certain, Kenney is going to need Harrison.

  11. I agree with you, Dave, about the Harrison case. I think the important points are that most employees in Alberta should be covered for this type of work interruption, but they’re not. And, thanks to his well remunerated political appointment, Mr Harrison is one of the few Albertan employees who can afford the $1400 hit to his household budget.

  12. As far as Mr Denis is concerned, his apparent winging before the Judge seems a continuation of the sort of entitled attitude, which resulted in the first election of an NDP government in Alberta. Indeed, “Math is hard” and Common Sense is rare amongst Conservative politicians.

  13. I don’t know why you guys are feeling sorry for Brock Harrison as I’m about 99.9% sure that he is/was compensated (probably VERY well compensated) in other ways for his pandemic expenses. He will pay nothing out of his own pocket. This is all just smoke and mirrors from Randy and the Used Car Party to make it look like they are being responsible with the public purse.

  14. Climenhaga: ‘the NDP was off base’

    Agreed.

    Climenhaga: ‘Possible unpopular opinion’

    Yeahhh, it’s only my anecdotally-based perception, but seems there are indicators the group loyalty thing is definitely strengthening.

    Tribalism(group loyalty) is a such! a hell of dysfunctional cognition-altering drug for our species. Not helpful to any political party or any organization for that matter.

    And for context to my view, while I’m not active in the party generally or any constituency, I currently vote NDP. Volunteered on 4 campaigns since ’14.

  15. The Brock Harrison situation brings to mind a broader question: why do we have political staffers — as distinct from the professional permanent public service — paid from the public purse to staff the Premier’s or Prime Minister’s offices and those of Cabinet Ministers in the first place [alliteration totally accidental]? Shouldn’t they be employed by, and paid by, their parties? Their role is partisan, not bureaucratic.

    If Mr Harrison were a UCP employee, rather than a public employee, his pay for those days in isolation would not be a matter of public record.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.