Travelgate? Political Witch-hunt? Or Just a Demand for Equality?

Thunder Bay – Overview – With the resignation of Ontario cabinet minister Rod Phillips on December 31, 2020, there is coming news of other political leaders who left Canada in December.

Through the course of New Year’s Day, perhaps as a part of the lockdown, and partly because many people have appointed themselves investigators, there has been a lot of digging into MPs, MPPs, MLAs and MNAs and their holiday plans.

The New Democrats Niki Ashton traveled to Greece to be with her mother who is ill. The New Democrats have removed Ashton from all of her critic roles.

In a statement, the NDP responds, “While we are sympathetic to Ms. Ashton’s situation and understand her need to be with her family, millions of Canadians are following public health guidelines, even when it made it impossible for them to visit sick or aging relatives. Canadians, rightfully, expect their elected representatives to lead by example,”

Is it too soon to dub this as “Travelgate”? Or is it a media witch-hunt targeting cabinet ministers and government officials?

In Saskatchewan, Highways Minister Joe Hargrave travelled to California. Hargrave told media. that he was in Palm Springs California to finalize the sale of a home, and to move his belongings home to Saskatchewan.

Hargrave says that he plans to return to Canada once he is out of a 14-day quarantine recommended for newcomers in the state on January 5, 2021.

The Highways Minister reportedly will be keeping his job in cabinet.

“In discussions with the premier, I realize that my decision to travel was an error in judgment at a time when so many people have had to make sacrifices during the pandemic,” Hargrave told reporters. “I apologize.”

In Alberta, Alberta Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard travelled to Hawaii in December for a family vacation. The Minister had contracted COVID-19 in October and has since recovered.

CTV News in Edmonton is reporting “The press secretary for Alberta’s Education Minister appears to have deleted two social media accounts after a photo surfaced of him seemingly vacationing in Hawaii for Christmas.

“The Instagram post showed two pictures, including one of Michael Forian on a beach with his arm around a woman, tagged as Eliza Snider, press secretary for the minister of advanced education.”

COVID-19 numbers in Alberta have soared through the second wave of COVID-19.

Today in a press conference, Alberta Premier Kenney stated that it is his fault because he wasn’t clear enough to his team on travel. The premier also explained that Westjet is important to the Alberta economy and letting that company fail isn’t an option.

So while no Alberta MLAs or staffers will be fired over their global travel, there also won’t be travel permitted for the foreseeable future.

Alberta MP Michelle Rempel Garner shared via Twitter how the stresses she faces are under the rules.

At issue for many is that federal and provincial governments have been directing Canadians to forgo travel. Ontario is in a lockdown. Manitoba is in a lockdown. Alberta has seen COVID-19 numbers surging.

Here in Thunder Bay there have been social media comments on huge numbers of Manitoba licence plates in the city, but little real proof.

What it really is all about is that people are expecting that the efforts to flatten the curve will be followed by the leaders who are asking them to follow the rules.

The Media Feeding Frenzy

Over the Christmas break, social media postings have continued questioning MPs, MPPs, MNAs and MLAs and in some cases senior staffers in government on their holiday locations.

On January 1st 2021, the hashtag #whereisTrudeau started trending in Canada.

With the resignation of Minister Phillips in Ontario, the direction has shifted somewhat from the decision by Phillips to go to the Caribbean, to who knew, and when did they know, and why was nothing done until the media reports came out?

In Ontario, NDP MPP Lisa Gretzky states, “Members of the conservative government previously showed they believe the rules don’t apply to them. Ford himself flouted the rules he asked Ontarians to follow. Premier & other PC members aided Phillips in hiding the truth. This is not a one off.”

For Rod Phillips, it was not only the travel that generated his problems. It was a series of social media tweets while he was out of the country that likely started the speculation.

In all of the tweets, including a tweet of Phillips sharing a holiday message, he was wearing the same clothes.

For many it is simply a matter of politicians setting in place a set of rules and guidelines for the people to follow, and then ignoring them when it comes to themselves.

Is it a political witch-hunt? Or is it a demand for accountability.

In all cases, it is a decision that people have to make, and consider. It is also a strong message to political leaders and their teams that it is not “business as usual” for social media.

James Murray