Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi confirmed that two staff members, including his Chief of Staff, went to Hawaii over the holidays.
In his first media conference of 2021, the mayor said that his Chief of Staff and an administrative assistant took trips independent of one another to Maui.
This news comes during a firestorm of controversy over Alberta MLAs skipping town during the Christmas break. Grande Prairie MLA Tracy Allard resigned from her role as Municipal Affairs minister and Premier Kenney’s Chief of Staff Jamie Huckabay resigned his position. Five other UCP MLAs were demoted because of travel, including Calgary-Klein MLA Jeremy Nixon and Calgary-Peigan MLA Tanya Fir.
The mayor told reporters he was aware of his staff members’ travel. He said he wished he would have pushed back on the trips to be aligned with the city and province’s public health messaging.
“Public servants deserve not to be treated like politicians,” Mayor Nenshi said.
“Politicians, we just signed up for a certain life. We’ve given up an element of privacy and we’re held to a certain standard.”
He said he believed his staff members thought they were following the public health rules.
The travel plans began in November, Mayor Nenshi said
How the travel came about was when the Government of Alberta announced, in conjunction with Canadian airlines, a special program for Albertans to visit Hawaii. Government officials said it would be a safe travel corridor.
Both staff members have since returned.
Mayor Nenshi said he wouldn’t be taking further action.
“I really wish that I pushed back hard on this. I really wish I had said, are you sure about that?” Mayor Nenshi said.
“I’m sorry I didn’t act more as a boss, as a friend, that I didn’t do more than that, but ultimately, this is what I think is the fairest outcome.”
He said they thought they weren’t breaking any rules.
“I bet you every single political advisor who’s watching this is yelling at me, saying ‘fire them,’ that’s how you save your skin,” Mayor Nenshi said.
Mayor Nenshi addressed the similar situation involving the Premier’s Chief of Staff. He said the Premier’s Chief of Staff and his have two very different jobs. Aside from that, he said, she went to a place that the government said was safe.
Huckabay went to the UK, where they’re currently enforcing drastic lockdown measures to contain the COVID-19 variant.
“Look, those are not the same thing,” he said.
Councillor travel questions
A recent Global Calgary story outlined the holiday travel of some elected Calgary officials. Most stayed in Calgary over the Christmas break. One councillor’s travel is so far unaccounted for, according to Global: Coun. Joe Magliocca.
Mayor Nenshi said he believed that elected officials should be held to a higher standard. He said he was frustrated upon hearing of the MLAs who left Alberta.
“I actually do believe that politicians should hold themselves to a higher standard,” he said.
Mayor Nenshi hedged that by saying travelling internationally is much different than more domestic travel.
“You know there’s a difference between someone going to their dad’s funeral, or someone who does an overnight on a ski trip near Calgary versus someone who travels internationally,” he said.
Mayor Nenshi acknowledged people may be angry about making the fine distinction.
He said through the pandemic he’s maintained the need for kindness. Not for those flagrantly flouting the public health rules, however.
“Be kind to people who are making decisions for their lives, for their kids, for their families,” he said.
Coun. Chahal ‘disappointed’
Ward 5 Coun. George Chahal expressed his frustration with the lack of earlier acknowledgement of the gaffe. He said it’s only been the top news story for the past five days.
“Elected officials and senior public servants have asked Albertans to make extremely difficult sacrifices in all aspects of their lives in imposing COVID restrictions,” he said.
“The minimum expectation for public officials is that we follow the same guidelines we ask Albertans to abide by.”
Chahal said he hasn’t left Calgary since March 2020. He didn’t visit his ailing father over Christmas, instead opting for Zoom out of precaution.
None of his staff went outside Calgary and they didn’t get together with their families over the holidays.
“With COVID numbers still being dangerously high in the area I represent, and the city being in a state of local emergency, we have sworn obligation to both lead by example and be available to those we represent.”