SUNDRE — The local mayor reserved criticism against the numerous UCP ministers and staff who controversially went globe trotting in defiance of their own government’s advisory against non-essential international travel in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Premier Jason Kenney, who on Friday, Jan. 1 initially defended his ministers and staff, said he assumed full responsibility citing his failure to issue an explicit order against leaving the country.
But the provincial government’s own website had already clearly outlined to all Albertans, presumably including elected officials, to “Avoid non-essential travel outside Canada until further notice.”
By Monday, Jan. 4 following a weekend of furious public backlash that generated national as well as international headlines, the premier in a sudden reversal accepted several cabinet resignations and the resignation of his chief of staff, while other MLAs were relieved of positions including on boards.
“I don’t want to fall into the camp that criticizes and judges — I just can’t do that,” said Terry Leslie, Sundre's mayor.
“We never know if there are family matters that involve personal things that are really nobody’s business,” said Leslie.
As for the excuse offered by former minister of Municipal Affairs Tracy Allard, who said her trip to Hawaii was a 17-year long annual family Christmas tradition, the mayor said, “for all of us that are in public life, and in that fish bowl that is public office, you do get judged. And if you do something and you apologize for it, you’ll be judged at the ballot box.”
Asked whether flying to Hawaii every year as a family tradition represents a stark disconnect from the reality the average Albertan faces, he said, “You get judged by your actions — you behave your way into a reputation.”
However, from his perspective as a public official, he reiterated his position that he would not condemn the actions of the UCP MLAs and staff who enjoyed holiday vacations in sunny destinations while many Albertans sacrificed their own annual traditions.
“When I look at that, certainly on a personal level, I’m going to have an opinion. But as the mayor of the community, I watch and I’ll make my decision at the ballot box,” said Leslie, adding that as the mayor who speaks on behalf of the community, he bears the responsibility of coordinating with many ministers in seeking assistance with major municipal infrastructure projects such as the wastewater treatment plant upgrades.
For his part, Leslie said he and his family cohort did not venture far away for the holidays.
“We stayed close to home,” the mayor said, adding they drove out west to Gooey’s Corner to have a picnic around a fire.
“We’ve tried to be respectful of the same things as everybody else.”
The pandemic protocols have also inadvertently offered an opportunity to rediscover a profound appreciation of the local trails with his wife, he said.
“We walk 60 to 80 kilometres a week on the beautiful trails we have in the community. One of the things that COVID has taught us all, I think, is to get out and enjoy things more local, and that’s not a bad thing.”
Slowing down the pace of life is a healthy transition which many families seem to have taken to heart, said Leslie, adding he has noticed more people sledding at Snake Hill as well as just out walking the trails or even trying out cross-country skiing.
Asked how the premier’s initial response reflects upon the government’s ability to lead by example, the mayor said, “Every leader faces the decision about what you can do and what is reasonable, prudent and fair.”
Each case, he added, should be considered by the individual circumstances behind it, but the mayor also recognized that “folks look at people in public life and have an expectation that is elevated — you are supposed to be held to a higher standard.”
“It’s one of the reasons why some of us don’t want those jobs, because you are held accountable,” he said.
“You get judged on the decisions you make — you behave your way into a reputation.”