National Post (Latest Edition)
Trips are sure to follow Kenney
Premier should have shown more leadership
In the UCP government, they’re calling it “Bloody Monday,” the demotion of a top official and six prominent MLAS, including a rising full minister, for wayward travels during the holiday period.
Premier Jason Kenney hopes to erase the stain promptly and decisively. But everybody with a pet knows about stains. The episode will be a shadow on his regime for a long time.
The initial handling on New Year’s Day was appalling. Kenney suggested that his people were justified in using new air travel rules, with testing before and after trips, to encourage flying and help Westjet.
First, pity poor Westjet for having its name dragged into this.
Second, ministers, MLAS and officials had to know — if they had even a smidgen of sense — that this was not a smart excuse for family excursions to the U. K., Hawaii or Mexico.
But I’m told that as soon as the program was developed, officials and some politicians started buzzing about the chance for a nice holiday trip, after all the months of COVID-19 pressure.
They were just exhausted, you see. Well, who isn’t? And who isn’t furious because these people think they deserved foreign holidays, after urging the rest of us to stay at home?
Albertans will long wonder why Kenney didn’t see the travel binge coming. Or if he did, why he failed to recognize how powerfully it would offend people who obeyed orders not to socialize and followed his pleas to patronize local business.
But off they went, to patronize business in foreign lands.
Kenney did know some people were travelling.
On Monday, a memo from Tracy Allard to Kenney hit social media. It notifies him that she would take “personal time” from Dec. 19 until Jan. 10.
But it does not say where she intended to go. Nor is there any explanation of why the minister in charge of emergency management would check out for three weeks during the pandemic crisis.
When the question of her travel first came up, Kenney said she continued to work while away.
Not exactly “personal time” then?
In the government, Allard was actually seen as a rising star. She had a way with municipal politicians after replacing Kaycee Madu, who had a fondness for insulting them.
But when a minister arrives home in Grande Prairie to find a bitter sign welcoming “Aloha Allard,” that’s it for the cabinet job.
Chief of Staff Jamie Huckabay is now gone at Kenney’s request, according to the premier’s Facebook post.
It’s not popular to say anything positive about these people, but Huckabay is a loss.
He’s a very accomplished person who worked on complex files like Keystone XL.
But he isn’t known for political acumen, and part of the chief of staff ’s job is to sniff scandals before they hurt the boss.
In that, his failure was spectacular because he played his own part in the scandal.
In one sense, the biggest loser is Tanya Fir, who was the economic development minister until Kenney dropped her earlier in favour of Doug Schweitzer.
That was a straight demotion for Fir — and a $60,000 pay cut — with no sweetener but membership on a couple of committees, economic development and resource stewardship.
Now her trip to Las Vegas costs her even those minor posts. Fir may regret co-hosting the UCP annual convention on Zoom, a game performance after she’d been fired the first time.
The other significant penalties hit Jeremy Nixon, who loses his half- minister post as a parliamentary secretary for civil society, one of Kenney’s pet causes.
Jason Stephan’s jaunt to Phoenix costs him a real prize, membership on the all- important Treasury Board. Pat Rehn and Tany Yao, the Mexico wanderer, are also stripped of committee posts.
But nobody except Huckabay is really fired.
Every shamed MLA still gets the $ 120,000 annual salary with benefits, travel allowance, etc., without much requirement to work anymore.
Alberta’s unemployed, isolated, sick and grieving will be a long time forgetting.
The impact is divisive in Kenney’s circle too. Those who had the sense to stay in Alberta will resent the trouble brought down on them all.
A health- care worker has now died of COVID-19. Another 96 Albertans passed away over four days.
For a long time, the question will be pretty simple, how could the very people who make the laws and the rules be so callous and insensitive?