What did you do over your holiday break? For a growing list of Canadian politicians, the answer is: I wrecked my career. Despite the growing pandemic, they travelled outside of the country — all the while exhorting the rest of us to stay home — with predictably shameful results.
Ontario MPP Rod Phillips tweeted holiday video greetings apparently pre-filmed in wintry Ajax, while actually sunning on the beaches of St. Barts; he was forced to quit his cabinet post as finance minister. MP David Sweet sent a Christmas video message saying “celebrations needed to be a little different this year,” while travelling in the U.S. for “personal leisure”; he is no longer chairing the House of Commons ethics committee. And Alberta MLA Tanya Fir encouraged Albertans to take “staycations,” before jetting off to Las Vegas to see her sister, a gamble that lost her a committee position as well.
Indeed, Alberta has become ground central for the #AirHypocrisy scandal. In addition to Fir, Kenney demoted four other MLAs and accepted the resignations of his chief of staff Jamie Huckabay and his minister of municipal affairs, Tracy Allard. The latter offered up this tone-deaf explanation for her tropical travels, “We have been going to Hawaii for most of the past 17 years since our youngest child was born,” before acknowledging that “I know my actions seem dismissive of the frustration and grief that many have experienced.”
No kidding. And this fact should have been obvious to her boss the minute he learned #AlohaAllard, as she is now known, and her colleagues were out of the country. Instead, Kenney said , “I don’t have a comprehensive list of everybody amongst the hundreds of government political staff and senior officials and others who may have travelled abroad … I regret not having issued a very clear directive against international travel.” He went on to chide Allard for her lack of judgment, and said he was calling on all government officials to return home. It took several days of growing public outrage before he disciplined anyone.
Some pundits have opined that these resignations pose a special problem for Alberta’s United Conservatives , as the taint of elitism is one they can ill afford. Some Albertans only wish they could visit Hawaii once in a lifetime, let alone every year for 17 years. That this would be someone’s Xmas tradition — unmissed even during a pandemic — shows how out of touch they are with ordinary voters, particularly those who have lost businesses and livelihoods in the past nine months.
But should it matter what the offenders’ politics are? Will the consequences be more dire for Allard than for Niki Ashton, the NDP MP who travelled to Greece to see her dying grandmother? Or for the two Liberal MPs who resigned over their own foreign trips?
I think not. These ethical failures transcend party lines. They tarnish not just those on the right, but the political class as a whole. They destroy what little trust there is in our elected officials, at a time when that trust is critically important. The second wave of the pandemic continues to rise across the country: Quebec is set to impose curfews , while in London, Ont., morticians are stacking bodies in refrigerated trailers. More than ever, people need to follow public health directives to stop the spread of the virus. But why should they, when their political leaders refuse to?
The pandemic has already fractured society along class, race and occupational lines. These latest revelations drive the final nail into that overused phrase “we’re all in this together.” Clearly, we are not. There is one set of rules for those with power and money, and one set of rules for the rest of us. Our leaders need to smarten up, step up and lead by example — or face the consequences. It’s not just their jobs on the line. It’s the health of those they swore to serve, and of the democracy they swore to uphold.