Edmonton mayor concerned politicians' travel will cause others to flout public health rules

WATCH: More and more Albertans are expressing their frustrations online and in person over a growing number of government officials travelling abroad over the holidays amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Chris Chacon reports.

After a weekend of reports that Alberta politicians had partaken in non-essential travel over the holidays amid the coronavirus pandemic, Edmonton’s mayor issued a statement Monday.

Don Iveson posted a response on Twitter, prefaced with: “As mayor of the hardest-hit city in Alberta, I am concerned that some will take these developments as an excuse to flout the public health rules, even just out of frustration.

“But we must continue to take this pandemic seriously if we’re to limit the spread and save lives.”

As of Sunday, Global News had confirmed that six MLAs had travelled. Three high-level staffers for the UCP also left Canada.

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“Many Edmontonians are justifiably angered about reports that some politicians and public officials engaged in non-essential travel during this serious phase of the pandemic,” Iveson said in his statement.

“I want to be clear that COVID-19 is still a clear and present danger to Edmontonians, lives are at risk and the healthcare system remains under a tremendous amount of pressure. So each and every one of us must continue to take this pandemic seriously if we are to limit spread and save lives, and minimize economic disruption.

“I, like most of you, stayed home this holiday season. I did not gather with friends and family and followed AHS public health directives.

“I commend Edmontonians who did the same — your sacrifices and diligence have made a difference to case counts. Thank you for your leadership and civic-mindedness,” Iveson said.

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“These restrictions have been tough to bear. It’s been especially tough on vulnerable people in our community and on struggling businesses. Let’s do our part to alleviate the pressures we’re facing by focusing our energy on flattening the curve so that we may all, soon, be reunited with our friends and family.”

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The UCP has come under heavy fire over the past several days after Premier Jason Kenney did not discipline those in his party who left Canada, despite advice from both the provincial and the federal government to avoid non-essential travel amid the pandemic.

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Kenney said at a news conference Friday he was instead issuing a new “clear directive” to government officials, including support staff like press secretaries, not to travel internationally.

Tany Yao, who represents the riding of Fort McMurray – Wood Buffalo, is currently in Mexico and cannot be reached, the UCP confirmed. Jason Stephan, the MLA for Red Deer-South, visited Arizona; Jeremy Nixon, MLA for Calgary-Klein and Tracy Allard, the minister of municipal affairs, both visited Hawaii. Pat Rehn, the MLA for Lesser Slave Lake, also visited Mexico. Tanya Fir, MLA for Calgary-Peigan travelled to Las Vegas.

Three high-level staffers also left the country: the premier’s chief of staff Jamie Huckabay visited the U.K., while Michael Forian and Eliza Snider, both press secretaries for ministers in the party, also went abroad.

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On Monday, the premier announced the six MLAs involved had been stripped of their ministerial or committee duties and Huckabay was asked to step down, which he did.

Transportation Minister Ric McIver will serve as interim minister of Municipal Affairs, Kenney added.

Iveson said the city’s work with Municipal Affairs has never been more important than it is now.

“I want to assure Edmontonians that a change in minister does not mean we will slow down our efforts to ensure our city has the tools it needs to weather this pandemic and recover from it successfully,” the mayor said.

 

“No municipal council in Alberta should tolerate any interruption in our continuing essential work with the government of Alberta.

“I’m eager to orient the interim minister on our pressing issues such as ending chronic homelessness in Edmonton, and diversifying and strengthening our metropolitan economy through bolder regional collaboration. I look forward to working with Minister McIver — himself a former city councillor — on these many important matters, as well as pandemic response,” Iveson said.

Several other Edmonton councillors confirmed to the mayor that they did not travel, including Ben Hendersen, Bev Esslinger, Aaron Paquette, Jon Dziadyk, Tim Cartmell, Mo Banga, Michael Walters, Scott McKeen and Sarah Hamilton.

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An Edmonton emergency physician shares the mayor’s concerns.

“The bending of these rules by people in positions in power sends a terrible message to the rest of Alberta,” Dr. Shazma Mithani said Monday.

“It shows that they’re dismissing the rules, they’re trivializing them, that they don’t feel it’s important to follow the spirit of the rules.

“They are meant to set an example for the rest of the province. So when everyday Albertans are seeing that ministers are travelling, their first response might be: ‘Why don’t I just have a few people over to my house? Do I really have to wear this mask? Do I really have to stay home if I have a small tickle in my throat?’

“My main concern — from a public health standpoint with this rule bending — is it sends a message to the rest of Alberta that these rules aren’t important.”

Mithani is currently working at the ERs at the Royal Alexandra Hospital and Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton. She’s worried this non-essential travel will lead to more COVID-19 transmission and further pressure on the health-care system.

“My initial response was one of anger.

“To hear that myself, my colleagues and fellow Albertans have sacrificed so much over the holidays and in the months leading up to this — in staying home, in not seeing family members, in not travelling, in following the public health guidelines — and then to turn around and hear that these politicians and staffers in positions in power are bending these rules is a big slap in the face,” she said.

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“The public health guidelines both federally and provincially have been clear for the last several months. These politicians and staffers that travelled were not following the rules.

“Most Albertans would not classify family vacations as essential travel.”

With files from Allison Bench, Global News

 

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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