'If you're yelling at us... thank you': Alberta MLA on colleagues' travel during COVID-19

WATCH: Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver says the Alberta government is committed to doing better after it was revealed several officials travelled despite the government recommending against non-essential travel. He said Albertans will get to judge people's actions at the end of the day.

Two Alberta ministers admitted Tuesday they were also angry and frustrated to learn several of their colleagues participated in non-essential travel over the holidays during the COVID-19 pandemic.

READ MORE: Tany Yao is sixth Alberta MLA confirmed to have travelled abroad amid COVID-19

Both Health Minister Tyler Shandro and new Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver said they totally understand why Albertans are so angry.

“Many of us were frustrated too, and angry too,” Shandro said at a news conference.

“All of us are making sacrifices and have been for the last 10 months. There’s nothing I would have wanted more on Christmas than to spend it with my parents, and I didn’t. The sacrifice that my kids made to not see their grandparents at Christmastime for the first time — it’s frustrating.

“It’s tough for all of us making these sacrifices. I think that’s why people have been angry, and rightfully so.

“My message is that it is working and thank you for these sacrifices,” Shandro said.

McIver — who said at Monday afternoon’s news conference that he’d been minister of municipal affairs for “about 30 minutes” — said he’s hearing the anger loud and clear.

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“Sometimes they’re yelling. Sometimes they’re using hard language. I guess the message I would say to Albertans is: you have every right to expect good behaviour and a high standard of conduct from your government.

“And Albertans get to judge whether government met those standards of good behaviour and high standards, and from what I’ve heard, Albertans have said very clearly we have not met those standards,” McIver said.

“Our government agrees. So if you’re yelling at us, interestingly enough, my message is: thank you.

“There is no doubt in our mind we didn’t get it right. What we have to offer is a commitment to get it right in the upcoming days, weeks and months. I’m not asking anyone to stop yelling. I’m just saying, we’re getting the message, we’re committed to doing better. We’re not going to make excuses.”

At the end of December, it came to light that six Alberta MLAs and a high-level UCP staff member travelled out of the country — to warmer locales, including Hawaii, Mexico, Arizona and Las Vegas — during the pandemic.

On Monday, Premier Jason Kenney said the six MLAs who went on trips — former municipal affairs minister Tracy Allard, Jeremy Nixon, Jason Stephan, Tanya Fir, Pat Rehn and Tany Yao — have either resigned from or lost their ministerial or cabinet committee roles. The premier’s chief of staff Jamie Huckabay was asked to step down.

The UCP came under heavy fire after Kenney initially 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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Chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said she also understands why Albertans are angry. But she also asked for compassion and calm.

“We’re all so tired. We’re all tired of the restrictions,” she said. “All Albertans are really sick and tired of COVID(-19) and sometimes that leads to lapses in judgement.”

“I would just ask Albertans to take a deep breath and continue to look towards that common goal of getting through COVID(-19) together. We need to look to that public health guidance, look to those measures, as the road map that will get us through.

“Be compassionate with each other when we all make mistakes and when we do things that we shouldn’t do,” Hinshaw said.

She said where we go from here continues to be our collective choice.

“The choice today is whether we continue to pick up our game… or whether we chose to let this divide us.”

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The travel controversy has already sparked division, even within the United Conservative Party.

On Monday, Michaela Glasgo, the UCP MLA for Brooks-Medicine Hat, told Medicine Hat’s CHAT TV that: “For me, this was just about leading by example and show(ing) our constituents that we will put our feet on the ground and do what we said we were going to do.”

On Tuesday, the Town of Slave Lake posted a letter to MLA Pat Rehn, explaining his travel abroad is another reason residents have “lost faith in your ability to do your job.”

“On behalf of the Town of Slave Lake and those we represent, we are asking for your resignation as MLA for the Lesser Slave Lake constituency,” reads the letter, which is signed by the mayor and six councillors.

Shandro admitted earning back the trust of Albertans won’t happen overnight.

“People are angry and they’re right to be angry. All I can say is this: I can say that we’re sorry. I’m not asking for their forgiveness, I’m trying to make that very clear. I don’t think we can ask for forgiveness at this time. What I’m asking for is patience.

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“We campaigned on hard work and humility. Some folks on our team forgot about that last part.

“With the accountability that occurred this week, it’s not going to turn around overnight; it’s going to take us time to be able to earn back that trust… and to show people that humility is still important to this team.”

Both Shandro and McIver were asked about the last time they left the province. Shandro said he went to B.C. over Labour Day. McIver said his mother is severely ill and he went to Ontario to see her in early November.

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A spokesperson for the premier’s office said Tuesday that all MLAs, except for Tany Yao, have returned to Canada and “will of course be observing all quarantine and testing requirements.”

Most political staff are already working from home remotely, she added.

In a Facebook post Wednesday morning, Yao thanked the residents of Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo for all their work preventing the spread of COVID-19.

“I recently made the poor decision to travel to Mexico on a trip with my significant other.

“This decision did not reflect the higher standards residents expect from their elected officials, and I apologize for my actions.

“I have now been in touch with government officials and have been made aware of the strict penalties levied on travelling MLAs, including myself. I fully accept these penalties and look forward to returning to Alberta as soon as I’m able, observing quarantine rules and the premier’s travel directive, and getting back to work for families and businesses in our great riding,” he wrote.

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