By Tim Kalinowski on January 6, 2021.
Lethbridge’s sitting MLAs are weighing in on the recent scandal to rock the Kenney United Conservative Party government after several members of its caucus and one cabinet minister were found to have flown out of the country for sunny holidays at the same time as additional public health restrictions and business closures were imposed on everyday Albertans.
“The rage being felt by Albertans is certainly something I have never seen before in Alberta politics,” says Lethbridge-West MLA and Opposition Finance Critic Shannon Phillips.
“Having been involved in Alberta politics for 20 plus years, and I was around during the outrage on Alison Redford’s use of airplanes and so on – that pales in comparison.”
Phillips says the hypocrisy and sense of entitlement on display by the UCP members and staffers in this case is the final straw for many Albertans who have made great personal sacrifices to try to bring COVID-19 under control in the province.
“My inbox was inundated with heartbreaking stories of the kinds of sacrifices people had made,” Phillips explains. “They weren’t sacrificing their long family tradition of going to Hawaii every year. They were sacrificing funerals for their parents who had passed away. They were sacrificing being able to see loved ones in long term care. These were absolutely heart-breaking stories, and it was because of (these sacrifices) people were outraged.
“Everyone has made sacrifices for this pandemic except, it seems, the people closest to the premier. And that’s unfortunate.”
Phillips says she could not believe it when she heard former Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard booked off holidays for nearly a month of sunny family vacation when she was supposed to be one of key people overseeing the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in the province.
“That is a jaw-dropping amount of time to be holidaying when you are the minister responsible for Emergency Management, you are the deputy chair of the Emergency Management Committee for the pandemic, and your deputy minister is the one leading the vaccine rollout,” she says.
“It defies any comprehension that this premier’s office, led by a chief of staff who was out of country, apparently unbeknownst to his boss, which I don’t believe, would think when you are going to undertake probably the most important health and economic response effort in a century, with a minister who plays a key role, who is holidaying for a month.”
Phillips says just because Premier Kenney accepted Allard’s resignation on Monday, fired his chief of staff, and demoted several of his MLAs after four days of dithering on the issue that this should in any way let the premier off the hook for these monumental lapses.
“The premier doesn’t even know where his chief of staff is? No wonder the pandemic management is being botched, and we are now seeing some really concerning trends on vaccine rollout,” she says. “It should not be lost on Albertans it took Mr. Kenney three or four days after people spoke out against his very terrible and regrettable news conference on Friday where he suggested these people travelling abroad were encouraged by him, and there was really nothing wrong with what these folks had done, because he hadn’t told them not to. This was a significant lapse in judgement.”
Lethbridge-East MLA Nathan Neudorf acknowledges the anger many have expressed toward his party since the travel revelations came out, particularly among those who have sacrificed and suffered because they followed the province’s public health regulations.
“We have to do better,” he states. “That’s the bottom line. We have all kinds of new restrictions, bylaws and advisories and all that. We have to make those more clear. One way we can do that is by lifting them if we continue to see the COVID numbers drop. Another way is to get as many vaccines out as quickly, safely and efficiently as possible. There is work to do. One of my favourite sayings by C.S. Lewis is you can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending. I think that is something we want to see in this COVID response into the new year.”
Neudorf feels Kenney’s demotions and firings announced Monday were significant sanctions.
“Actions have consequences, whether they are intended or not, and I, and we (as a party), accept those consequences,” he says. “This job is really about influence. That’s what you see in the significance of these consequences. To lose a ministerial position of the highest order. That is a significant loss of influence within government, and these other appointments on committees or as a parliamentary secretary– again, that is a significant loss of influence â€¦ That’s what makes these measures so significant.”
Neudorf says the only way to fully regain the trust and confidence of Albertans is to create a better economy for those who have suffered, fully review all public health regulations as cases drop, and to carry out a successful vaccination program as quickly and efficiently as possible.
“I think we have to do more in terms of getting people back to work quickly and safely,” he says. “And we have to do more in terms of getting vaccines out in terms of efficiency and priority. Because that is really what people are looking forward to now. We have more to do, for sure.”
Neudorf says Lethbridge is doing well in bringing active COVID cases down, and despite the anger some may be feeling toward his government he hopes Lethbridge residents will continue to follow the law in terms of public health regulations to ensure that downward trend continues.
“We still need to manage this,” Neudorf states, “and this has always been about protecting our healthcare system, and not overwhelming or overloading it. In Lethbridge we have done a phenomenal job to go from nearly 250 cases just a few short weeks ago to 83 (on Monday). We are going in the right direction, and we don’t want to lose that.”
“We are really close to getting that number down to zero,” he adds. “We are seeing vaccines being rolled out every day in Lethbridge. If we can hold the course a little longer, we are going to be in a much safer place.”
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