Calgary mayor defends 2 staffers who travelled to Hawaii over the holidays

Calgary’s Mayor Naheed Nenshi has no plans to discipline two staffers who travelled to Hawaii over the holidays.

Nenshi says staff followed rules and are not politicians but he regrets allowing it

Mayor Naheed Nenshi held a press conference Tuesday to say he regrets not stopping the overseas travel of two staffers over the Christmas break. (Julie Debeljak/CBC)

Calgary's mayor has no plans to discipline two staffers who travelled to Hawaii over the holidays.

Naheed Nenshi held a press conference Tuesday to say that his chief of staff and an administrative assistant took separate trips to Maui, that he knew about it, and that the situation is nothing like the UCP's current travel controversy.

But given the uproar over UCP MLAs travelling outside Canada, Nenshi said he regrets allowing his staff to book the tickets.

"I really wish I had said, 'Are you sure about that? Do you think that that is congruent even though it's within the rules, do you think it's congruent with the messaging about how we're all in this together, with the latest numbers?'" Nenshi said.

"I really wish I had done that. I didn't do that, and I'm really sorry that I didn't do that."

Nenshi says this situation is different from that of the UCP, which is now embroiled in a political scandal over politicians travelling outside the country, because his staffers are not politicians. His chief of staff is Devery Corbin, and the administrative assistant has not been named.

The province makes the rules, Nenshi said, and his staff followed all rules. For that reason, he says he will not discipline either employee.

Nenshi says that after the province approved a new program in November, which allows people to travel safely to Hawaii, he found out that the two staffers booked separate trips for the Christmas break.

"You know, I bet that every single political adviser who's watching this is yelling at me, saying: 'Fire them, that's how you save your skin,'" Nenshi said.

"They did what they thought was right, and I am not a person who is going to ruin someone's reputation and ruin someone's livelihood and mess up their family to save my skin. I'm just not."

Going forward, Nenshi said he has now told his staff to avoid all out-of-country travel until the pandemic has eased.

Ric McIver, who has replaced Tracy Allard as municipal affairs minister, said Albertans have every right to feel angry and betrayed by politicians travelling to Hawaii. (CBC)

On Monday, Premier Jason Kenney accepted the resignations of Tracy Allard as minister of municipal affairs, and of his chief of staff, Jamie Huckabay, over trips to Hawaii. 

Kenney also demoted five other MLAs who travelled internationally over the holidays.

Transportation Minister Ric McIver, who took over as minister of municipal affairs about 30 minutes before the province's first COVID-19 news conference of the year, said Albertans have every right to be outraged, and that governments have to do better.

"I've been on the phone a great deal in the last several days, and I'm hearing from Albertans who are angry," said McIver, who replaces Allard.

"Sometimes they're yelling, sometimes they're using hard language," McIver said.

"And I guess the message that I would say to Albertans is, you have every right to expect good behaviour and a high standard of conduct from your government. And Albertans get to judge whether your government has met those standards of behaviour."

Mount Royal University's Duane Bratt says there might be distinctions between Nenshi's staff and the actions of provincial MLAs who left the country, but he's not sure voters angered by the Hawaii travel will get those distinctions. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

Political scientist Duane Bratt of Mount Royal University said he's not sure Calgarians will accept the Nenshi approach.

"He was a bit more contrite than what we saw with Kenney on Friday," Bratt said of Nenshi's press conference.

"But he was saying the same thing — no crime was committed. There was no, 'you're legally allowed to travel to Hawaii. All the protocols were put into place.' It sounded an awful lot like what Kenney was saying Friday. And Monday, of course, [Kenney] dramatically reversed course."

Ward 5 Coun. George Chahal expressed his disappointment with the city staffers in a press release.

"Elected officials and senior public servants have asked Albertans to make extremely difficult sacrifices in all aspects of their lives by imposing COVID restrictions. We have seen that the sacrifice required is generally much smaller for those with financial privilege," Chahal said, adding that he chose not to see his own ailing father over Christmas.

"The minimum expectation for public officials is that we follow the same guidelines we ask Albertans to abide by."

With files from Scott Dippel.


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