The Hawaii Scandal: Canadian Politicians Travelling Abroad During COVID-19

by Chris Pratt

Image: Edward Maurer/Flickr

When the number of Alberta’s COVID-19 cases rose in the fall, the United Conservative Party (UCP) government emphasized the importance of personal responsibility in both combating the virus spread and flattening the curve. Hospitalization and ICU rates mounted, nevertheless. This eventually led to the enactment of mandatory restrictions, though the growing case numbers of the second wave were already irreversible by then. Alberta’s second wave led to significantly more COVID-19 deaths than the first. Attempts to keep the economy active by relying on personal responsibility had failed. 

The newly enacted restrictions kept many Albertan families from gathering over the holidays. For instance, grandparents were prohibited by law from visiting their grandchildren. This New Year, for many, was one that lacked the usual festivity. Albertans sacrificed an innumerable amount of family traditions during the holiday season in order to keep their communities safe. It was completely understandable, therefore, for Albertans to be enraged upon finding out that six of the provincial Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs) were travelling abroad during the holidays, completely ignoring public health measures designed to protect Albertans. 

These six MLAs represent 7% of the province’s legislative assembly. Although international travel is not officially banned, the Albertan government highly recommends its residents to “avoid non-essential travel outside Canada until further notice.” The dangerous scandal provoked a dangerous question: If 7% of Alberta’s elected officials could not even take, on a basic level, their personal responsibility and hold back from vacationing abroad, why should any Albertan amend their lifestyle to follow public health orders and recommendations?

Premier Jason Kenney responded to the scandal by stripping all those who travelled abroad of their governmental responsibilities and cabinet positions. He even dismissed his chief of staff and removed the MLA of the Lesser Slave Lake district from the UCP caucus. But that was only after days of public uproar and anger. That action should have been immediate.

These six Albertan MLAs are not the only Canadian politicians to have travelled abroad during the second wave of COVID-19. Ontario’s Finance Minister has resigned over a Caribbean vacation, and at least five federal Members of Parliament (MPs) have also travelled abroad.

Personal responsibility is crucial in flattening the curve during this deadly pandemic. The Alberta UCP is right in emphasizing its importance. We can mandate and legislate as many public health orders as needed, but if the public does not follow them, there is no hope for slowing the spread. Canadians are growing tired of the pandemic, and the entitlement displayed by elected officials will only further disenchant the public, which, now more than ever, the government needs in support of public health regulations. Canada has not faced a crisis of this magnitude since World War II, and we need our elected representatives to lead by example and instill confidence for citizens. Vacationing abroad during this critical time is nothing but a poor choice; not only are these politicians taking advantage of the voters’ trust in the government, but also disrespecting the thousands of lost lives and the hundreds of thousands of frontline workers who valiantly continue to fight the pandemic. 

According to Elections BC, British Columbia is the only province/territory in Canada that has recall legislation in place. The Alberta UCP promised Albertans that such recall legislation will be enacted this spring and I suspect other provincial governments will follow suit, especially under the demands of their residents. The politicians who travelled abroad clearly do not regard COVID-19 as a significant national emergency. This frivolous attitude is unacceptable and I strongly believe that citizens should eliminate this attitude from our governments. At the very least, the politicians who travelled abroad during this crisis should be barred from any public office. No Canadian wants an entitled elected official who disregards the public safety of the country and the people they are supposed to serve. 

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