14 February 2021 Posted By : Aaron Wherry

Are we all in this together? The political perils of pandemic travel

COVID-19 is a threat that requires collective action. Unfortunately, some Canadian politicians are demonstrating how hard it can be to marshal a response to such challenges.

The good news is that almost every elected provincial and federal figure in Canada appears to have avoided travelling outside the country during the holidays. The bad news is that the exceptions number more than one or two; at last count, a dozen or so of our elected representatives wantonly disregarded official calls for Canadians to avoid unnecessary travel. And some of those exceptions have been particularly flagrant.

Ontario's finance minister skipped off to St. Barts, the tropical island recently written up by the Daily Mail as a pandemic refuge-of-choice for the rich and famous. Rod Phillips was nice enough to leave behind a series of photos of himself visiting local businesses and eating pancakes on his front porch, along with a handsomely staged video wishing his constituents a happy holiday. But he was compelled by public opinion to cut his trip short, and was promptly relieved of his senior cabinet post upon returning home.

In Alberta, the list of AWOL MLAs and political staff who vacationed abroad — all from the governing United Conservative Party — has grown by the day. But Alberta Premier Jason Kenney was unwilling initially to punish anyone for their wandering. Only after absorbing several days of mounting outrage did Kenney realize that firing or demoting half a dozen members of his own team — including his own chief of staff — was the only acceptable response.

Federally, five MPs are known to have left the country in December. Three of those MPs — the NDP's Niki Ashton and Liberals Kamal Khera and Sameer Zuberi — did so because of family members who were sick or who recently had passed away. Such cases can be distinguished from those who simply wanted to go somewhere warm or different.

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