In an effort to quell surging cases of the novel coronavirus, Canadians across the country have been urged to stay home and avoid all non-essential travel. But while the country scrambles to suppress rising cases of the virus, several politicians have been taken to task for taking trips.
Here is a growing list of Canadian politicians who were travelling over the holiday season, despite increasing COVID-19 restrictions.
Christopher Adams, a political studies professor at the University of Manitoba, said it was “quite the embarrassment that people in authority, people that are decision makers are deciding to ignore the advice of our federal government and provincial governments about travelling” while the rest of the country is asked to remain at home for the holidays.
However, Adams noted that “there’s a difference from going to Hawaii or the Caribbean or seeing an ailing relative.”
Two Pickering councilors, Kevin Ashe and Bill McLean, admitted to travelling during the holidays to deal with personal matters.
Mayor Dave Ryan had only learned of the trip in the second week of January.
McLean had traveled to Costa Rica to deal with a property issue, while Ashe traveled to the Bahamas to visit his late stepson’s ashes there.
Meanwhile, Dr. Tom Stewart, the chief executive officer of the Niagara Health System and the St. Joseph’s Health System, and advisor to the province on COVID-19, admitted to travelling to the Dominican Republic.
He has resigned from his provincial advisory roles.
“I regret this non-essential travel and I’m sorry,” Stewart said. “I recognize everyone should be avoiding non-essential travel now, including me.”
Sen. Vern White, who sits on the Canadian Senators Group, also admitted that he went to Finland on Dec. 28 to visit his wife’s parents.
Four other senators did not respond as to whether they vacationed during the holidays after the Canadian Press contacted all 93 senators.
Hamilton MP David Sweet resigned Monday as chair of the House of Commons ethics committee after travelling to the U.S. for the holidays.
“I have resigned my role as Chair of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics and will not be seeking re-election,” Sweet wrote in a Facebook post on Monday.
Sweet had originally filed for an “essential travel” trip for a “property issue” that was approved, but it was later revealed he “decided to stay in the U.S. for leisure” without informing the party whip, Chelsea Tucker, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole’s press secretary, said in a statement to Global News.
“Before the holidays, Mr. O’Toole asked all caucus members to refrain from international travel,” the statement read.
Sweet has not yet returned from the States, but said he will be “back in Hamilton soon.”
Prior to his resignation, Sweet had posted a Christmas video encouraging Canadians to “pause, reflect and cherish time with our loved ones — even if we aren’t in the same room.”
It is unclear whether Sweet had already left the country at the time the video was posted.
Liberal MP Kamal Khera, who represents Brampton West, announced her resignation as parliamentary secretary to the minister of international development Sunday night after travelling to Seattle to attend a private family memorial for her father and uncle on Dec. 23, 2020.
Khera returned on Dec. 31. She said that although her trip was “deemed essential,” she decided to step down “in an effort to ensure my choices do not distract from the important work of our government to continue battling this pandemic.”
The Liberal’s chief government whip Mark Holland said in a previous statement to Global News that his office was never made aware of and never approved Khera’s travel.
Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips resigned on Thursday after returning from a two-week vacation in St. Barts, where he had been since Dec. 13.
Speaking to reporters from the airport on Thursday, he called the trip a “dumb, dumb mistake” and apologized to his constituents. He was also criticized for posting a video on Twitter that led people to believe he was at home drinking egg nog by the fireplace in Ontario on Christmas Eve, while already in the Caribbean.
“I know that I disappointed a lot of people and I hope people will appreciate I disappointed no one more than myself,” he said.
Hours later, Ontario Premier Doug Ford called Phillips’s resignation “a demonstration that our government takes seriously our obligation to hold ourselves to a higher standard.”
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Alberta Sen. Scott Tannas and leader of the Canadian Senators Group admitted to traveling to Hawaii over the holidays.
He said he will be able to participate in the Senate when it resumes its sittings.
“I have faithfully complied with all the rules and health protocols required in order to safely travel abroad,” he said.
Although Alberta Premier Jason Kenney initially refused to publicly reprimand several members of his party who were caught flouting COVID-19 rules, on Monday, he changed his tune.
Several days after saying he could not “sanction people who complied with the law,” Kenney said in an online statement that he had accepted the resignations of Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard and James Huckabay, his chief of staff.
“Over the weekend, I have listened to Albertans who are sending a clear message that they want real consequences for these actions,” the statement read.
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By choosing to travel abroad over the holidays, Kenney wrote these individuals “demonstrated extremely poor judgment.”
“Albertans have every right to expect that people in positions of public trust be held to a higher standard of conduct during the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.
“Millions of Albertans have made real sacrifices over the past 10 months to help keep each other safe. They are right to be angry about people in positions of leadership vacationing outside of the country.”
Kenney said Friday that Allard had been vacationing in Hawaii since Dec. 19 and was in Hawaii at the time she posted a video of herself in front of a Christmas tree in the Alberta Legislature Building. The video has since been deleted from Twitter but remains on Instagram.
He also confirmed that Huckabay had returned via the United States after travelling to the United Kingdom on Dec. 26.
Kenney said Transportation Minister Ric McIver and his principal secretary, Larry Kaumeyer, would serve as interim replacements for the two.
He has also accepted the resignations of MLA Jeremy Nixon, who was serving as parliamentary secretary for civil society and MLA Jason Stephan, who was serving on the Treasury Board.
“They, as well as MLAs Tanya Fir, Pat Rehn and Tany Yao have lost their Legislature committee responsibilities,” he said.
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Rehn initially posted a photo of himself in Mexico on his personal Facebook account, which has since been removed. He apologized to his constituents on Saturday in a Facebook post from his official account page.
Global News confirmed Sunday that Alberta education minister press secretary Michael Forian and advanced education minister press secretary Eliza Snider had also left the country over the holiday season.
Kenney said Friday that he took full responsibility for not properly articulating a travel policy for high-ranking members of his team. He has since issued directives to all cabinet ministers and senior government officials not to leave the country for non-essential reasons.
The Conservatives also confirmed that Calgary MP Ron Liepert had also travelled to Palm Desert, Calif., to “address an emergency repair with his property.” They said the “essential travel” trip was approved by the party’s whip.
Conservative Senate Leader Don Plett is quarantining after travelling to Mexico on Dec. 28. The Manitoba senator’s spokesperson said Plett had “reflected on his decision to travel” upon his arrival and then immediately made arrangements to return home to Manitoba, landing in Canada on Dec. 31.
The NDP stripped Manitoba MP Niki Ashton of her cabinet critic roles after she travelled abroad to visit her ailing grandmother in Greece.
“After spending Christmas alone with our family at home in MB, now I am with my ailing grandmother, my γιαγιά, in Greece,” Ashton confirmed in a tweet on Friday.
Although Ashton had “reached out to Canadian officials for best practices,” neither leader Jagmeet Singh nor the party’s whip were notified, the NDP said in a statement on Friday. The NDP said it sympathized with Ashton’s situation, but “millions of Canadians are following public health guidelines, even when it made it impossible to visit sick or aging relatives.”
“Canadians, rightfully, expect their elected representatives to lead by example,” the statement read.
“While this is no family vacation, Ms. Ashton will be removed from her shadow critic roles.”
MLA Joe Hargrave has resigned from his cabinet position as minister of highways after visiting California to finalize the sale of his home in Palm Springs.
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said he accepted his resignation on Monday. The news comes several days after the premier announced Thursday that Hargrave would remain in his executive position, while agreeing with critics that Hargrave’s decision to travel was “an error in judgement.”
Hargrave initially argued that the trip was one he “deemed necessary” but has since apologized. He said he will be returning to Canada after his self-isolation period is over on Jan. 5.
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Former Conservative MP and cabinet member Maxime Bernier, who broke ranks with the party to start the libertarian People’s Party of Canada, went to Florida with his wife for a vacation over the holiday period, according to a spokesperson.
Bernier had taken to social media recently to criticize other politicians going against public health advice and travelling abroad, accusing them of being hypocrites.
However, Bernier said he never agreed with the travel restrictions in the first place, whereas other politicians had done so publicly, then broke them.
Meanwhile, member of the national assembly (MNA) Pierre Arcand has been stripped of his shadow cabinet roles after he was spotted vacationing in the Glitter Bay region of Barbados with his wife over the holidays.
The Quebec Liberal Party issued a statement on Monday that said Arcand, who represents Mount-Royal-Outremont, will “no longer” be the official Opposition’s critic for transportation or represent the party on issues pertaining to Montreal.
Arcand said he “regrets” his decision to take the vacation during the pandemic but emphasized that he took all necessary precautions, including two COVID-19 tests on Dec. 22 and Dec. 27.
On Sunday evening, Liberal MP Sameer Zuberi, who represents Pierrefonds—Dollard, stepped down from multiple committee posts after returning home from Delaware to visit his wife’s ailing grandfather.
“I recognize that travel during this period, when so many are limiting interactions with loved ones, was an error in judgement. I apologize to my constituents for the disappointment I may have caused,” he wrote in a statement posted online.
“As a result, I will be stepping down from my committee roles.”
Zuberi’s positions included a COVID-19 pandemic committee, a standing committee for justice and human rights and the subcommittee for international human rights, foreign affairs and international development.
CAQ MNA Youri Chassin is also facing criticism after The Canadian Press reported he was visiting his husband in Peru.
In an interview with CBC News, he said that “this is not a vacation trip,” but a necessary part of a sponsorship process he is involved in to help his husband, who he hasn’t seen in almost a full year, immigrate to Quebec.
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“We have a duty to set an example as a member of the legislature, but I am in a somewhat special situation,” said Chassin. “In other circumstances, I would not have come to Peru, but this is a special case.”
Alexandra Mendès, the MP for Brossard—Saint-Lambert, has also apologized for flying to Portugal last summer to attend to issues that arose from her mother’s death in May.
“We had to ensure that some legal elements of her estate were dealt with within 90 days of her death,” Mendès said in a post on Twitter.
“In July, as lockdown measures began to be lifted in Quebec, Canada and Europe, and with some airlines re-establishing flights, my husband and I decided to go to Portugal.”
Liberal MP for Brome—Missisquoi Lyne Bessette also travelled during the summer, leaving for Mexico in August while Patricia Lattanzio, who was elected to Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, left for Ireland in September.
— With files from Global News’ Amber McGuckin and The Canadian Press
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