Calgary

2 Alberta cabinet ministers push back against Sky Palace dinner

Two Alberta cabinet ministers are speaking out after photos circulated of a dinner Premier Jason Kenney held with three ministers on the patio of a government building. 

'All of us make mistakes, but this one is a big one,' Leela Aheer wrote

Leela Aheer, Alberta's minister of culture, multiculturalism and status of women, and Rajan Sawhney, Alberta's minister of community and social services, both expressed concern after photos were taken of Premier Jason Kenney having a rooftop meal with ministers during the pandemic. (Canadian Press, Peter Evans/CBC)

Two Alberta cabinet ministers are pushing back after photos circulated of a dinner Premier Jason Kenney held with three ministers on the patio of a government building.

Leela Aheer, the minister of culture, multiculturalism and status of women, took aim at the actions of her colleagues in a statement released via Facebook on Saturday afternoon.

"I am confused and, like you, extremely hurt, and I'm so sorry for any pain, anger, or frustration this may have caused you.  All of us make mistakes, but this one is a big one," it reads.

"Our leadership should sincerely apologize. I want you to know that I have diligently followed the rules right alongside all of you as we fight COVID and try and put it in our rear-view mirror."

Kenney, Health Minister Tyler Shandro, Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon, Finance Minister Travis Toews, interim chief of staff Larry Kaumeyer and deputy chief of staff Pam Livingston were photographed by an anonymous tipster without their knowledge while dining on top of the federal building in a part of a suite known as the Sky Palace.

"We made every reasonable effort to be physically distant outdoors rather than doing an indoor meeting fully compliant with the rules," Kenney said Thursday. 

Stage 1 reopening rules, which came into effect earlier the day of the dinner, allow outdoor social gatherings of up to ten people, but they still must be physically distanced. The outdoor gatherings also must not have an indoor component. 

Premier Jason Kenney, Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon, Finance Minister Travis Toews, Health Minister Tyler Shandro and a staff member were photographed dining outdoors on the evening of June 1. (Submitted)

Kenney insists that all COVID-19 public health regulations were followed at that gathering, but he's received pushback from within his own caucus.

"It seems clear to me that several health restrictions were violated," UCP MLA Angela Pitt wrote of the photos.

"Much of the public concern about this incident has been about the hypocrisy of senior officials breaking their own rules." 

On Friday, Minister of Community and Social Services Rajan Sawhney, MLA for Calgary-North East, also pushed back on the meeting during an interview on RED FM.

"What I can tell you is this, what I'm doing as the representative for northeast Calgary, I'm doing it with honesty," said Sawhney in Punjabi, as translated by CBC's Min Dhariwal. 

"You would never see me in a picture like this because I would never do that."

Aheer's concerns didn't stop with the Sky Palace dinner.

Changing the names of schools and educating people about these atrocities is not "cancel culture.​​​​​​- Leela Aheer

Her post also criticizes "cancel culture" comments in the debate about changing school names that refer to architects of the residential school system after the discovery of the remains of up to 215 children at the site of the former Kamloops residential school.

"Changing the names of schools and educating people about these atrocities is not 'cancel culture.' Cancel culture is what has happened to our First Nations by not acknowledging these atrocities and those responsible," Aheer wrote.

"These deplorable acts are not to be debated. Sir John A. Macdonald and Hector-Louis Langevin, among others, were architects of the residential schools where children died because of disease, neglect, and beatings." 

Earlier this week Premier Kenney defended MacDonald's legacy, decrying what he called efforts to cancel the country's first prime minister.

"It is an imperfect country, but it is still a great country, just as John A. Macdonald was an imperfect man, but was still a great leader," Kenney said. 

NDP Leader Rachel Notley wrote on Twitter that "If Jason Kenney won't listen to Albertans, will he listen to some of his closest allies when they demand he do the right thing," in reference to Aheer's post. 

CBC has reached out to the premier's office for comment.

With files from Michelle Bellefontaine

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