Alberta Speaker denounces government's 'hypocrisy' as MLAs slam premier, UCP colleagues over travel scandal
House Speaker Nathan Cooper calls UCP colleagues' travel a 'great embarrassment to the government'
United Conservative Party MLAs, including the Speaker of the Alberta Legislature, are denouncing both the premier's delayed action and the choices of their caucus colleagues after several took vacations abroad over the holidays.
The province had urged Albertans to avoid non-essential travel outside Canada during the pandemic.
Premier Jason Kenney had initially resisted disciplinary action for those who left Canada, saying the fault rested with him for not setting a clear zero-tolerance policy for travel. He reversed course and sanctioned them after days of public backlash.
Minister Tracy Allard and the premier's chief of staff resigned their positions for taking non-essential trips outside of Canada. Five other MLAs have been stripped of their committee and legislative responsibilities for similar travel.
Some legislature members who remained in Alberta during the holidays are now pushing back on Kenney's handling of the matter.
Speaker Nathan Cooper, the MLA for Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills, wrote to a constituent last week saying the controversy is a "great embarrassment to the government, especially Premier Jason Kenney, who chose not to sanction these senior officials and staff members until he was prompted to do so by widespread public outrage."
"The hypocrisy of this scandal has clearly undermined this government's moral authority, and while these senior officials have now been sanctioned, the government now faces an uphill battle in rebuilding the public trust that has been lost."
Deputy Speaker Angela Pitt, the MLA for Airdrie-East, had a similar response.
"I, too, am extremely disappointed in the actions of my colleagues and furthermore, the response and inaction from the premier," she wrote last week.
Each of the email exchanges between the officials and their constituents were provided to CBC News.
Trust is 'very difficult to bring back'
Lori Williams, a political scientist at Mount Royal University, said the public sees the hypocrisy of the government officials.
"They're not supporting their own measures or following them. And that's a real problem with the government."
She says if any of the MLAs leave the party or put pressure on Kenney's leadership, it will show real signs of turmoil within the UCP caucus.
"They're not just wondering about their political fortunes. They're wondering about whether this leader does, in fact, have the moral authority to connect with Albertans," Williams added.
"Trust is something that's very difficult to bring back."
Other UCP caucus members say the repercussions aren't over yet.
"They are responsible for their actions to their constituents, to their team members as a whole, and to the premier. The short-term consequences for their choices have now come to pass," Shane Getson, MLA for Lac Ste. Anne-Parkland County, wrote to a constituent on Friday.
Effects on COVID-19 response
Brooks-Medicine Hat MLA Michaela Glasgo said she's satisfied with the demotions and resignations, but she's troubled by the potential long-term effects this "lack of judgment" will have on efforts to combat the pandemic.
"I am concerned that people will see this as a licence to skirt the rules or reinterpret the rules on their own, in their own fashion," she said.
It's a concern shared by the premier, who said Thursday this scandal could "impair the moral authority of government to ask Albertans to continue to make these deep sacrifices" related to COVID-19.
Ministers Tyler Shandro and Ric McIver have also expressed their frustration and anger about their colleagues' choices, saying it's appropriate for people to expect more of their public officials.
"Albertans have said very clearly we have not met those standards. And what I have to say is our government agrees," McIver said last week.
Kenney made clear that the same punishment will be meted out for any other elected or senior public official found to have travelled.