‘Absolutely inexcusable’: Emails reveal Alberta’s outrage at government travel scandal

EDMONTON — “Disgusted,” “infuriating” and “insulting” were among the terms Albertans used in vitriolic emails and messages sent to Premier Jason Kenney after government officials ignored public health recommendations and travelled abroad in late 2020.

Kenney accepted the resignations of Grande Prairie MLA Tracy Allard as municipal affairs minister and of Jamie Huckabay, his chief of staff, after they both travelled outside the country last December. 

Five other MLAs were removed from committee work or stripped of other positions after also flying abroad. 

“The sheer hubris shown by our elected officials travelling for fun or tradition during the holidays sickens me,” reads one email.

“It is absolutely inexcusable. I cannot even articulate how angry I am.” 

“It is very disheartening that the elected officials and others hired by the government are putting their own selfish wants above the well-being of the rest of Albertans, especially the most vulnerable,” reads another. 

The correspondence was released to CTV News following a freedom of information request to the government’s communications and public engagement department.

PERSONAL STORIES 

Many of the emails contained stories of personal sacrifices and missed events to follow public health advice.

“I have not hugged my 92-year-old mother since March because I am following public health guidelines,” reads one message.

Another writer, claiming to be a registered nurse with 46 years experience, wrote that those who travelled showed a “lack of respect.” 

“It indicates a level of entitlement that is completely out of touch with the people you supposedly represent.”

Another writer, who identified as a UCP voter in the last election, claimed to have postponed a family funeral and cancelled a traditional Christmas Eve dinner that had been held for more than 50 years.

“The responses from the MLAs and staff (are) arrogant and (I) feel they have no regard for the sacrifices everyday Albertans have made over the past 10 months,” reads the message.

“Trustworthiness and transparency are just as important as policy and ideology.”

UNDERCUTTING PUBLIC HEALTH MESSAGING

Kenney addressed the scandal on New Year’s Day, but initially declined to discipline those who travelled, saying he hadn’t ordered them not to leave the country.

“I don’t think it’s reasonable for me as a leader to sanction people who very carefully followed the public health orders and the legal requirements,” he said.

Writers expressed concern that his response undercut public health messaging, which stressed staying at home and avoiding non-essential travel.

“Do as we say, don’t do as we do,” reads one message. 

“Why wear masks (which I do when I’m with others) when MLAs put their toes over the cliff edge?”

By Jan. 7, Kenney relented, promising consequences for “people in senior positions of public trust” who disregarded public health recommendations, and pledging to improve discipline and humility within his UCP caucus.

“Buck stops with me,” he said.

Some writers used the travel as proof that the pandemic response was overblown. 

“Your MLAs travelling outside of Alberta during a public health emergency proves there is no emergency,” reads one message. 

“The behaviour of your MLA’s travelling abroad in the middle of a so-called pandemic has communicated the actual seriousness of the situation,” reads another. 

“You cannot justify telling Albertans to not see their family members, not travel, close down businesses and cancelling sports anymore.” 

POLITICAL CONSEQUENCES

Other writers had ominous messages for the premier about his political future. 

A self-described “lifetime conservative and strong supporter of the UCP” asked, “does this government really expect to maintain the support of their constituents when they behave in such a manner?”

“I won’t forget the first Christmas I stayed home, didn’t see my loved ones while UCP MLAs travelled and ignored health directives,” reads another. 

The anger included calls for resignations of the premier as well as those who travelled.

“These MLAs need to resign, byelections need to be held. The people need to speak,” reads an email. 

Another writer had a more direct message.

“Aloha also means goodbye.”

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