Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said Wednesday the province will not be in a position in the short term to relax all of the restrictions that were put in place in November and December. (photography by Paul Taillon/Office of the Premier)

Local politicians comment on the United Conservative Party travel controversy

‘They made some errors in their judgement for sure. The optics of it is the problem.’

By Kevin J. Sabo

For the Advance

A lot of rural Alberta is upset with the governing United Conservative Party.

With it coming to light that some MLAs and staffers of the United Conservative Party travelled internationally over the Christmas holidays, while their constituencies were going through a province-wide lockdown against travel recommendations stated on the Government of Alberta’s web site, the party is dealing with a self-inflicted injury.

“It’s kind of a train wreck in progress,” said Castor Mayor Richard Elhard.

“What politicians today need to realize is that all elected officials are held to a higher standard. This should come from their own conscience, and they should not have to be told the difference between right and wrong. What we’re seeing in the last few days here is that there are people in fairly powerful positions who don’t get this.”

It came to light that the now former municipal affairs minister Tracy Allard had vacationed in Hawaii over the Christmas holidays and contrary to her own government’s recommendation against travel.

Adding further to the issue is a video published to her social media just before Christmas making it appear that she was at the legislature building, while she was already in Hawaii.

Since that revelation, it’s also come to light that several other MLAs travelled as well.

When Premier Jason Kenney responded, the electorate was further enraged.

It was only with the growing fury of Albertans across the province after the New Year’s Day press conference that he took action, resulting in Allard and the others resigning from their cabinet roles.

To Elhard, Allard’s resignation needed to happen.

“Her credibility is totally shot,” said Elhard, before switching gears and talking about Premier Kenney’s response.

“I think when this started, he should have, instead of apologizing, he should have come down really hard. He should have said ‘Minister Allard is done’.”

A Leger poll released at the end of December, before the scandal broke out, had the United Conservatives sitting with a 30 per cent approval rating, and this scandal is likely to erode those numbers further.

County of Paintearth Reeve Stan Schumeister said it is hard to judge what happened too harshly.

“They made some errors in their judgement for sure. The optics of it is the problem,” said Schulmeister.

“None of us are without fault. How can we judge someone? The media seems to need controversy to get things going…I can understand (Jason Kenney’s) position. It was not a written policy. It was a suggestion…is it our right to condemn them for their actions? I don’t feel like I have that right.”

Where it came to Allard’s resignation, Schulmeister said, “I have met with her. I think it was a very positive move having her there (in Municipal Affairs), because she understood rural Alberta. Will we get the same thing from the new minister? We don’t know. She made the error, and the only thing to do was to resign.”

In addition to Allard, MLAs Jeremy Nixon, Jason Stephan, Tanya Fir, Pat Rehn, and Tany Yao have all resigned from the Legislature committee roles.

Kenney’s own chief of staff, Jamie Huckabay, who also travelled, was also asked to step down.

Drumheller-Stettler MLA Nate Horner weighed in on the controversy in a statement.

“They did not mean it maliciously, it was bad judgement,” said Horner.

“It’s not enough to talk about what’s legal, and what’s not legal. (Deena) Hinshaw has always said we hope people follow the spirit of restrictions and intentions.”

In the meantime, Horner has been appointed to the Provincial Treasury Board.

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