EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has kicked Lesser Slave Lake backbencher Pat Rehn out of the United Conservative caucus, saying the member of the legislature failed to represent his constituents.
"He has made no meaningful effort to work in his constituency. He has ignored calls from me, UCP caucus leadership, and his constituents to do so," Kenney said Thursday in a statement posted to Twitter.
Rehn is to sit as an Independent MLA and will not be allowed to run for the party again, Kenney said.
Messages to Rehn were not immediately returned on Thursday.
Slave Lake Mayor Tyler Warman said in an interview that Rehn spent too little time in the region north of Edmonton and that he was often a no-show to meetings. And when he was present, he was unprepared, Warman said.
"To say that that's frustrating and disappointing is an understatement."
Warman said Rehn should resign from the legislature.
"Our residents can't force Pat to step down. The premier can't force him to step down. It's democracy and that's how it works," the mayor said.
"But when you've lost the respect and support of the people you represent, as well as the people you work with, I think you need to take a hard look in the mirror and ask what you're still doing there."
Warman said he can't remember the last time he spoke to Rehn.
He said senior representatives of the provincial government have reached out to ensure local concerns are heard. Kenney said he and some ministers will meet with constituents in the region in the coming weeks.
Expense records show Rehn was in Edmonton for almost all of April, May, June and July of last year, when he claimed meal per diems nearly every day.
Rehn was one of several UCP members who left Canada over Christmas to vacation in sunny hot spots, despite the government urging Albertans to stay home to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Last week, Kenney took away legislature committee responsibilities from Rehn and other vacationers. Tracy Allard resigned as municipal affairs minister for travelling to Hawaii, and Kenney asked his chief of staff to step down for going to the United Kingdom.
Rehn said in a Jan. 5 Facebook post that he made "poor choices" by vacationing with his family in Mexico, but accused municipal officials of "seizing on this to try and sow political division."
He said he has residences in Slave Lake and Edmonton and, while he has needed to travel to Texas in the past year for business matters, he does not own property there.
"It is the honour of a lifetime to represent a region I have lived and worked in since I bought my first quarter-section of trees and also my first sawmill in Wabasca using every penny I had in the bank," he wrote.
"I will continue representing Lesser Slave Lake — the region I love and call home."
Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley called on Rehn to resign and said her party would run a "robust" campaign in Lesser Slave Lake should there be a byelection. Former NDP cabinet minister Danielle Larivee held the seat before Rehn.
Notley said she was in Slave Lake at the end of last summer and heard about Rehn's absenteeism from "absolutely everybody."
Yet Kenney didn't act until it became a news story, she said.
"The message that Jason Kenney just sent to his caucus is 'if you get caught by the media, then there might be consequences.'"
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation noted that Rehn is still entitled to an MLA salary of $120,936, and urged the UCP government to immediately introduce recall legislation so that constituents could vote to remove him from office.
“The premier has done all he can and now it should be up to the people to decide whether Rehn should continue to collect his six-figure MLA paycheque," director Franco Terrazzano said in a statement.
— By Lauren Krugel in Calgary
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 14, 2021.
The Canadian Press