An expanding list of Canadian politicians are in hot water after being caught vacationing or travelling abroad amid a worsening COVID-19 pandemic at home.
Current federal public health guidance says to avoid all non-essential travel outside of Canada, something Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and heath authorities have repeatedly reiterated in public briefings.
Here is a quick rundown of the politicians involved thus far:
Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips resigned after news emerged that he vacationed in the Caribbean island of St. Barts, although his social media presence made it seem otherwise. His office released tweets and Instagram posts of the minister while he was away – making it appear he was in Ontario all along.
When confronted at Toronto’s Pearson Airport Thursday, Phillips called it a “dumb mistake.”
Public anger was also aimed at Ontario’s Premier Doug Ford – despite his public condemnation of Phillips’ decision – as it became clear Ford knew about the vacation two weeks ago.
“At that time I should have said ‘get your backside back into Ontario’ and I didn’t do that,” Ford said.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has declined to discipline members of his government for travelling abroad as it emerged staff like MLA Pat Rehn travelled to Mexico and Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard was vacationing in Hawaii.
Two education ministry press secretaries were also vacationing in Hawaii after photos surfaced of them on a beach. They have since deleted their social media accounts.
Kenney confirmed that his own chief of staff, James Huckabay, travelled to the U.K. and came back via the United States on Boxing Day.
Allard’s Instagram account posted a video of her delivering a holiday message in front of a Christmas tree at the Alberta Legislature Building while she was away from Dec. 19 to Dec. 29 – a move she denies was to cover-up her location.
Rehn’s Facebook photos of him in a Mexican cave wishing people a merry Christmas were shared widely online, along with other posts urging Albertans to stay home and save lives.
Kenney said he has since issued a directive orderings staff not to travel abroad.
But Kenney’s stance on why he’s not disciplining member of his government – insinuating that guidelines were “unclear,” is being met with derision.
“This idea that people were unaware of what the travel rules were – it’s not like there’s ambiguity in November or early December, its been the same set of rules since March,” said political science professor at Mount Royal University Duane Bratt on CTV’s News Channel Friday.
“That’s a long period of time. It doesn’t meet the smell test. And the problem is when you’ve got a government preaching personal responsibility, and then you see people in Hawaii…posting pictures of themselves, like there wasn’t a problem,” Bratt said.
“People knew what the rules were. People knew what they weren’t supposed to do.”
The NDP said Friday that MP Niki Ashton travelled abroad to visit an ailing family member in Greece, which Ashton later confirmed in a tweet.
NDP leadership said they were not aware of the trip and that Ashton had not informed them of her intentions before she left.
The party stated in the release that while they were “sympathetic” to Ashton’s plight, that she would be removed from her shadow cabinet critic roles moving forward.
Liberal MNA Pierre Arcand and his wife are planning their flight home to Quebec after being spotted in Barbados’ Glitter Bay region. Quebec’s Liberal leader Dominique Anglade said she tried to talk him out of the trip but was unsuccessful.
Arcand maintains he and his wife got tested for COVID-19 before they left from Quebec and again when arriving in Barbados. He now says he “regrets” the decision.
CAQ MNA Youri Chassin was also caught internationally visiting his husband in Peru. His party released a statement said his trip was planned in order to wrap up immigration procedures for his spouse, who he had not seen in a year.
Saskatchewan Party MLA Joe Hargrave’s trip to Palm Springs, Calif. was made public on Wednesday, which he said was to finalize a sale of personal property.
Calling his trip an “error in judgement,” Hargrave apologized and said he had informed Premier Scott Moe of his travel plans. His wife is also on the trip.
The couple plans to return to Canada after their self-isolation period in California ends on Jan. 5.
We dropped MyPillow because of weak sales, not politics, retailers say – Financial Times
Two leading US retailers have countered claims from the head of a pillow company that they dropped the brand over his outspoken support for Donald Trump, saying that the decisions were driven not by politics but by poor demand for the products.
In a series of interviews, Mike Lindell, who runs Minnesota-based MyPillow, accused some of the country’s biggest chains, including Bed Bath & Beyond and Kohl’s, of caving to pressure from left-leaning activists over his backing for the outgoing US president.
“They’re scared,” he told the rightwing Right Side Broadcasting Network.
However, two of the retailers named by Mr Lindell said on Tuesday that they were removing the privately owned company’s products because of weak sales.
“There has been decreased customer demand for MyPillow,” department store chain Kohl’s said. Bed Bath & Beyond said: “We have been rationalising our assortment to discontinue a number of underperforming items and brands. This includes the MyPillow product line.”
The dispute, on Mr Trump’s final full day in office, illustrates the difficulties facing corporate America over how to deal with the country’s increasingly divisive politics.
Mr Lindell has for months been among the most vocal of any business chief in his backing for Mr Trump, and repeated the president’s unsubstantiated accusations of widespread voter fraud in the November election. In contrast to other Trump sympathisers who distanced themselves after the attack on the US Capitol this month, the entrepreneur has continued to support the president’s calls to overturn the poll’s results.
Since the Capitol assault, executives across corporate America have been eager to avoid supporting a president accused of undermining the rule of law. Yet they also risk a backlash from the right.
Sebastian Gorka, a former aide to Mr Trump, wrote on Twitter on Tuesday: “If you’re a Patriot, how about you never buy anything from Kohl’s or Bed Bath & Beyond until they stock Mike Lindell’s MyPillow products again.”
Mr Lindell said the online furniture retailer Wayfair and Texas grocery chain H-E-B were also dropping MyPillow. Neither company responded to a request for comment.
Biden’s pick for director of national intelligence says ‘no place’ for politics in agency – Global News
President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the intelligence community, Avril Haines, promised Tuesday to “speak truth to power” and keep politics out of intelligence agencies to ensure their work is trusted.
“When it comes to intelligence, there is simply no place for politics — ever,” she told the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Haines, a former CIA deputy director and former deputy national security adviser in the Obama administration, would enter the job as director of national intelligence, or DNI, following a Trump administration that saw repeated pressure on intelligence officials to shape intelligence to the Republican president’s liking.
The committee’s lead Republican, Marco Rubio of Florida, and its ranking Democrat, Mark Warner of Virginia, both indicated they expect Haines to win confirmation. Her hearing kicked off a series of Senate confirmation hearings Tuesday, including those for Biden’s picks to lead the State Department, the Pentagon, and the departments of Homeland Security and Treasury. While most of those nominees are unlikely to be confirmed by the time Biden takes the oath of office at noon Wednesday, some could be in place within days.
A former director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, who served in the Trump administration, introduced Haines with an emphasis on her commitment to de-politicizing the job. He called her an “exceptional choice” for the position.
Also testifying Tuesday at his confirmation hearing was Alejandro Mayorkas, Biden’s nominee for secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. He would be the first Latino and first immigrant to lead the agency.
In opening remarks, Mayorkas addressed the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. He said in prepared remarks released ahead of the hearing that the Jan. 6 pro-Trump riot is “horrifying” and the authorities still have much to learn about what happened that day and what led to the insurrection.
Inauguration of U.S. president-elect Joe Biden on Wednesday
The Senate typically confirms some nominees, particularly the secretaries of defence, on Inauguration Day, though raw feelings about President Donald Trump four years ago led to Democratic-caused delays, except for James Mattis at the Pentagon. This year, the tension is heightened by Trump’s impeachment and an extraordinary military presence in Washington because of fears of extremist violence.
Putting his national security team in place quickly is a high priority for Biden, not only because of his hopes for reversing or modifying Trump administration policy shifts but also because of diplomatic, military and intelligence problems around the world that may create challenges early in his tenure.
The most controversial of the group may be Lloyd Austin, the recently retired Army general whom Biden selected to lead the Pentagon. Austin will need not only a favourable confirmation vote in the Senate but also a waiver by both the House and the Senate because he has been out of uniform only four years.
The last time a new president did not have his secretary of defence confirmed by Inauguration Day was in 1989. President George H.W. Bush’s nominee, John Tower, had run into opposition and ended up rejected by the Senate several weeks later.
Also facing confirmation hearings were Biden confidant Antony Blinken to lead the State Department, and Janet Yellen as treasury secretary, another first for a woman.
In prepared remarks, Blinken said he is ready to confront challenges posed by China, Iran, North Korea and Russia and is committed to rebuilding the State Department after four years of atrophy under the Trump administration.
Ahead of the Blinken hearing, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, said he expects the committee to vote on the nomination on Monday.
Blinken will tell the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday that he sees a world of rising nationalism and receding democracy. In remarks prepared for his confirmation hearing, Blinken will say that mounting threats from authoritarian states are reshaping all aspects of human lives, particularly in cyberspace. He’ll say that American global leadership still matters and without it rivals will either step in to fill the vacuum or there will be chaos _ and neither is a palatable choice.
‘Let’s get to work’: Harris thanks supporters ahead of inauguration
Blinken also promises to bring Congress in as a full foreign policy partner, a subtle jab at the Trump administration and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who routinely ignored or bypassed lawmakers in policy-making. He called the Jan. 6 insurrection on Capitol Hill “senseless and searing” and pledged to work with Congress.
Austin was testifying later Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee, but the panel will not be in position to vote until he gets the waiver. Republicans are expected to broadly support the Austin nomination, as are Democrats.
Biden’s emerging Cabinet marks a return to a more traditional approach to governing, relying on veteran policymakers with deep expertise and strong relationships in Washington and global capitals. Austin is something of an exception in that only twice in history has a recently retired general served as defence secretary — most recently Mattis.
Austin, who would be the first Black secretary of defence, retired from the military as a four-star general in 2016. The law requires a minimum seven-year waiting period.
Doubts about the wisdom of having a recently retired officer running the Pentagon are rooted in an American tradition of protecting against excessive military influence by ensuring that civilians are in control. When he announced Austin as his pick in December, Biden insisted he is “uniquely suited” for the job.
Lindsay P. Cohn, an expert on civil-military relations and an associate professor at the U.S. Naval War College, said at a Senate hearing on the subject last week that an Austin waiver raises worrying risks.
“Choosing a recently retired general officer and arguing that he is uniquely qualified for the current challenges furthers the narrative that military officers are better at things and more reliable or trustworthy than civil servants or other civilians,” she said. “This is hugely problematic at a time when one of the biggest challenges facing the country is the need to restore trust and faith in the political system. Implying that only a military officer can do this job at this time is counterproductive to that goal.”
Some Democrats have already said they will oppose a waiver. They argue that granting it for two administrations in a row makes the exception more like a rule. Even so, a favourable vote seems likely.
The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., on Friday introduced waiver legislation for Austin.
Associated Press writers Ben Fox, Eric Tucker and Martin Crutsinger contributed to this report.
© 2021 The Canadian Press
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