A United Conservative Party backbencher caught up in the Alohagate pandemic travel scandal in the first hours of 2021 and seldom seen in his own riding has acknowledged reality and announced his political career is done like dinner.
Or, as Lesser Slave Lake MLA Pat Rehn put it in a rambling letter to constituents yesterday, “I shall not be seeking to renew my mandate as your member of the legislative assembly for Lesser Slave Lake in the upcoming provincial election.”
This is mere recognition of reality. Even if Premier Danielle Smith had agreed to sign his nomination papers, there was no way Mr. Rehn could win a UCP nomination battle in the rural riding about 250 kilometres north of Edmonton, let alone an election fight with NDP candidate and former MLA Danielle Larivee, a registered nurse and well-regarded cabinet minister in Rachel Notley’s first government.
Mr. Rehn probably could have survived getting caught holidaying in Mexico during the pandemic when the government was advising Albertans to hunker down and stay at home, although it surely wasn’t a good idea for him to publish a photo of his tropical vacation on social media.
But Mr. Rehn, who had business interests in Texas and elsewhere, also seemed to spend as little time as possible in his rural riding, arousing the ire of many constituents and local municipal office holders.
On Jan. 5, 2021, the mayor and council of the Town of Slave Lake excoriated Mr. Rehn in an open letter for not living in the riding, missing meetings, and spending more time tending his U.S. business interests than he did talking to constituents. The letter bluntly called on him to resign and let someone who wanted the job do it.
A week later, High Prairie Town Council voted unanimously to send him a letter complaining about his lack of presence in the riding.
On Jan. 13, Edmonton researcher Tony Clark revealed that Mr. Rehn’s expense claims indicated he’d been in Edmonton for all but eight days in between the start of April that year and the end of July.
The next day, then premier Jason Kenney kicked him out of the UCP Caucus.
“I have repeatedly asked Mr. Rehn to be more present in his constituency,” Mr. Kenney said in a Facebook post. “He has ignored calls from me, UCP caucus leadership, and his constituents to do so.
“Regrettably, MLA Rehn’s performance falls well below the high standards we expect in our caucus and party,” Mr. Kenney continued, adding, “I have made the decision to remove Pat Rehn from the UCP Caucus, effective immediately.”
That lasted until July that year, when the UCP welcomed the prodigal MLA back into the fold.
“Since his removal from caucus,” a party news release said, “Rehn has worked tirelessly to rebuild trust with local families, businesses, elected officials and Indigenous leaders. As a result the United Conservative Caucus was presented with letters of support – including from several municipalities and the Lesser Slave Lake Constituency Association – requesting Rehn be allowed to rejoin caucus.”
Well, OK, then. Probably the fact Mr. Kenney was facing a caucus rebellion and couldn’t risk an opposition block of right-wing rebels forming in the Legislature had nothing to do with it. Still, the former premier had already kicked Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes and Central Peace-Notley MLA Todd Loewen (now back as Premier Smith’s minister of forestry, parks and tourism) out of the caucus, and there was talk at the time that more might defect.
In his farewell letter, Mr. Rehn described how “the passion for our home is abundant in any conversation over coffee or at any community association meeting.”
But how would he know? When did he last visit a community association in his riding? For that matter, when did he last have a meeting with Slave Lake Town Council?
Premier offers third clarification; Crown Prosecutors weigh in
Premier Danielle Smith now appears to have clarified for a third time her claim she met with Crown prosecutors to talk about charges against Albertans for defying public health rules during the pandemic.
“You’re not allowed to do that as a politician, everyone knows that,” Ms. Smith clarified on her free Corus Radio Your Province, Your Premier platform. “I took legal advice, when I first got elected, to find out if there was anything I could do. …
“The only person I can raise this with – again, as is very well known – you can talk to your attorney general and a deputy. … My contact with the Justice Department has always been through the appropriate channels, and that’s the attorney general.”
More importantly from the perspective of figuring out what actually happened, the Alberta Crown Attorneys Association said in a statement that “our Association is not aware of any case where an elected official as attempted to contact a specific Crown Prosecutor to inquire about a prosecution.”