You have to wonder how tone-deaf some politicians really are.
Since early March, we’ve been hearing how travel is discouraged, especially travel to other nations. The Canada-U.S. border has been closed to non-essential traffic since mid-March. People returning to Canada from other countries have to self-isolate for two weeks.
So when it came out that some of our elected officials decided to travel abroad during the Christmas break, many Canadians were pretty agitated.
It started with Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips, who travelled to St. Barts in the Caribbean, while his social media feeds made it appear he was still in Ontario. Premier Doug Ford knew about the vacation before Phillips left. Phillips’ travel cost him his cabinet post.
We had one case in Saskatchewan, when Sask. Party MLA Joe Hargrave, who had been the Highways Minister, travelled to Palm Springs, Calif., to sell personal property. He could say it was essential travel, but everything he needed to do in California can now be done online. He apologized and resigned his cabinet role, which means the decision to travel cost him more financially than the trip itself.
But the worst was Alberta’s now-former Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard, who vacationed in Hawaii, and said she decided to go ahead with the trip because Hawaii at Christmas was a family tradition.
There are a lot of families in Alberta and across Canada who abandoned Christmas traditions this year who were furious at the minister. Why should they have limited their gatherings with loved ones and stayed safe at home while Allard and her family could continue their tradition?
(Allard’s blunder looked even worse when you compared it with the story of one Alberta family that cancelled their trip to Hawaii through the Make a Wish Foundation for their terminally ill child).
Other Alberta MLAs went abroad over the break and also lost their responsibilities.
Allard’s travel plans led to a now-infamous press conference for Premier Jason Kenney, in which he bungled his ways through the answers, and did nothing to diminish the anger that many Alberta residents were directing to the government.
Meanwhile, as Kenney fumbled through the vitriol, it led to his party’s popularity continuing to fall, as people wondered why he was believed to be the chosen one for the United Conservative Party’s leadership.
Among Kenney’s gaffes is saying that it’s riskier to go to a grocery store than to travel by airplane, leaving people to wonder why we’ve been passing up on foreign excursions and having border restrictions for the past 10 months.
It’s not the travel itself that upsets people. It’s the message that it sends, and the sense of entitlement that it conveys.
People become frustrated when their politicians have a “do as I say, not as I do” attitude. It’s even worse during a time of crisis like a pandemic in which we’re hearing the lines like “stay safe,” “be smart” and “stay home.”
Most of us have done our part over the past 10 months. We’ve followed the public health orders, we’ve altered our behaviours and we’ve adapted when the restrictions change.
People have cancelled trips to the U.S. and other markets, for a variety of reasons, but the biggest reason is it was the right thing to do.
The least we can expect is for our elected officials and political staffers to do the same, rather than taking trips that were paid for with taxpayer dollars.
The only exception should be if a trip was absolutely necessary for family reasons. None of these trips appeared to fit that criterion.
It’s even more imperative to be smart with travel with surging COVID-19 cases.
The party leaders shouldn’t have to ask their members and staffers to seek permission to travel abroad. These bright political minds should know better, and as long as they’re asking us to stay home, they should do the same.
Should the politicians who travelled unnecessarily decide to seek another term, hopefully, the voters remember this sense of entitlement when they cast their ballots.