Calgary city councillors are reacting to the revelation that members of Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s staff — including his chief of staff — UCP MLAs and staff, and MPs travelling internationally during the holiday break.
Ward 5 Coun. George Chahal, whose ward was home to the first Albertan health care worker who died of COVID-19, said he was “extremely disappointed” to hear of the extra-provincial travel.
“We’re in a state of local emergency, we’ve had very stringent public health orders from the province of Alberta and it’s been stated not to travel unless it’s essential,” Chahal told Global News. “And so it is disappointing to see that public officials have been travelling while the rest of us have been told to stay at home and be safe and maintain social distance.”
Ward 11 Coun. Jeromy Farkas, who admitted to having a junior staff member leave Canada during the holidays, said the issue is with “people in positions of power telling everyday folks to do one thing and then going on to do the opposite.”
“These same politicians who told you to cancel Christmas went off and had a good time on their own,” Farkas told Global News. “It’s made even worse when these are the same politicians who are in charge of health decisions and the vaccine rollout.”
Farkas said he “fully expects” citizens to hold elected politicians to a higher standard.
“If the mayor took it out on his staff, that would be him avoiding responsibility and trying to throw others under the bus.”
Tuesday, Nenshi said he was aware of his staff members’ travel plans, plans that were made following a November provincial announcement of a coronavirus testing plan that would allow for expedited travel between Alberta and Hawaii. But the mayor said he wished he had spoken up at the time.
“I didn’t do that,” Nenshi said. “And I’m really sorry that I didn’t do that. And I deeply regret that I didn’t do that.”
The mayor also said the staff members will not be facing any penalties.
Ward 3 Coun. Jyoti Gondek said she understands the mayor’s position, “but I don’t agree with it.”
“I think the most unfortunate thing is that we’ve got a premier’s office that has lost a chief of staff, which means they’ve lost their knowledge base on so many important provincial files and I’m really worried that we stand to face the same,” Gondek told Global News.
“If the mayor changes his mind and changes out his chief of staff will lose a knowledge base at a critical juncture when we’ve got things like the Green Line and rapid housing initiatives before us.”
Monday, Premier Jason Kenney announced on social media that he asked for and accepted the resignation of his now-former chief of staff Jamie Huckabay after Huckabay travelled to the United Kingdom over the holiday break.
Gondek said that, as a supporter of the city’s mandatory face coverings bylaw, leaving the province was never a question.
“It was not a decision for me or my team whether or not we would travel — it was clear to us that we would not,” she said. “I’m surprised that others saw it as a different option.”
Chahal, Gondek and Farkas all said they stayed in the city during the holidays.
Farkas called other politicians’ decisions to travel during the pandemic “hypocrisy.”
“When you are in control of things and you’re actually making these regulations and you’re doing a different thing, that is a huge problem,” he said.
“But when you’re just an everyday person, you’re trying to do your best and it doesn’t matter if you’re in politics or not. You have to do your best with it and comply with testing, with quarantine, with all of these things.”
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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