Photos of Scott Moe shopping while unmasked draw online ire, Sask. Party points to deleted Ryan Meili photo
Moe was appropriately distanced when photos at Regina Cowtown store were taken, campaign team says
The Saskatchewan Party is responding to criticism from online followers and experts after it posted photos of Leader Scott Moe shopping without a mask on Tuesday.
It was little cooler out today than I was expecting, and I left my winter wear back in Shellbrook.<br><br>Thanks to the folks at <a href="https://twitter.com/CowtownRegina?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@CowtownRegina</a> for helping me pick out a new coat.<br><br>Just another one of our many great Saskatchewan small businesses! <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/SmallBusinessEveryDay?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#SmallBusinessEveryDay</a> <a href="https://t.co/Ar0xbR2QYt">pic.twitter.com/Ar0xbR2QYt</a>—@PremierScottMoe
The photos show Moe browsing the coat racks at Regina's Cowtown store without any face covering.
"Just another one of our many great Saskatchewan small businesses!" the post says.
While no one is near Moe in the photos and Saskatchewan's official COVID-19 guidelines only call for people to wear masks if they can't physically distance from others, the photo was posted about an hour and a half after the province's chief medical health officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab, strongly urged shoppers to don masks anyway.
"We have to focus again in a lot of situations where we may have popped in to get something not wearing a mask," Shahab said at a COVID-19 news conference Tuesday afternoon. "This is the time to really put on that mask, even for that brief visit to a retail location.
"Every little piece counts."
As of Wednesday morning, Moe's Twitter post had garnered more than 140 comments, largely negative.
If I can wear a mask for 40 hours a week in an overcrowded School, you can wear one for 20mins in a store.—@eyuzik30
SHA literally posted this earlier today...<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/skvotes?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#skvotes</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/skpoli?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#skpoli</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NotALeader?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NotALeader</a> <a href="https://t.co/a1ttJ4bNdY">pic.twitter.com/a1ttJ4bNdY</a>—@headtale
A much larger number of people liked Moe's post, however.
The feedback on a similar Facebook post was more mixed. One person who said they are a committed Moe voter said he should have been wearing a mask.
'Messaging and leadership matter'
Shahab imploring shoppers to wear masks came as the province posted another day of double-digit case increases and a record high of 427 active cases. Shahab also cited several superspreader events.
"Messaging and leadership matter, especially right now when Saskatchewan has had a surge in cases lasting two weeks," Kyle Anderson, a University of Saskatchewan biomedical professor, told CBC News.
Anderson was among the people who commented on Moe's Twitter post.
"Premier Moe shopping maskless was a deliberate choice and the message he is sending is one of COVID apathy," Anderson said.
Nazeem Muhajarine, a professor of community health and epidemiology at the University of Saskatchewan's College of Medicine, noted that COVID-19 numbers are rising.
"We need to be talking about COVID as well in this election and what kind of leadership we need to do in order to actually get our COVID numbers down," he said.
Moe maintained distance: Sask. Party
Jim Billington, a spokesperson for the Saskatchewan Party campaign, said Moe was maintaining an appropriate physical distance when the photo was taken.
"Throughout the campaign, the premier has worn a mask when physical distancing is not possible, including at campaign events, public appearances or visits to campaign offices or businesses," Billington said in an emailed statement.
"Just as Saskatchewan people have taken every effort to adjust their lives to public health guidance during the COVID-19 pandemic, Saskatchewan's main political parties, and the leaders of those parties, have taken painstaking efforts to adjust campaigns to fit with COVID-19 guidance from public health."
Billington did not answer when asked how many people were in the Cowtown store besides Moe and the photographer.
At a news conference in Regina on Wednesday, Moe said he had been wearing a mask during other parts of his Cowtown visit, but that he took it off when he was far enough away from others.
"Could have I been wearing a mask the entire time? I suppose I could have," Moe said. "I didn't. And I suppose after the the media today, I probably will reconsider that. But the fact of the matter is, we've been very clear on our masking policy and I've been following that masking policy."
Moe added that he kept his mask on during his entire visit to a grocery store later on Tuesday night.
Billington likened Moe's actions at Cowtown to those of Saskatchewan NDP Leader Ryan Meili, "who, in accordance with public health guidance, has also not worn a mask while physically distancing in very similar settings," Billington said.
Billington pointed to two campaign photos of an unmasked Meili taken during a tour of Moose Jaw businesses on Sept. 29.
Billington also referenced a third photo from that same tour that has since been deleted from Meili's Twitter account. The photo shows Meili talking to someone at Moose Jaw's Prairie Bee Meadery "while not physically distancing," Billington said.
Dave Mitchell, a spokesperson for the Saskatchewan NDP Party campaign, said the photo was taken from an angle that appeared to show Meili to be closer than he appeared, but that he was appropriately distanced.
Mitchell said the photo was removed because the party "wanted to show leadership" and did not want to inadvertently encourage insufficient social distancing.
"As a campaign we work to abide by the recommendations of public health officials in all of our activities," Mitchell said. "Everyone is doing their best to follow public health guidelines during a difficult year."
At his own event Wednesday, Meili said he was less concerned with the photo of Moe than with the "mixed messaging" coming from the premier, "in particular the refusal to distance himself from the anti-mask protesters."
"We need a different message sent from the premier," Meili said. "We need a different message, sent from all the leaders in the province, encouraging people to use masks and setting clear guidelines on when they should be doing that."
Both Moe and Meili have hosted indoor campaign announcements where they took off their masks when they hit the podium.
On the night of the Oct. 14 leadership debate in Regina, Moe emerged from his vehicle wearing a mask. Meili was not wearing a mask.
with files from Stefani Langenegger, Emily Pasiuk and Adam Hunter