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COLUMN: Lack of leadership on political jet-setters will be Kenney's legacy

"For those of us who have watched our loved ones suffer unimaginably and ultimately lose their lives to COVID-19, the actions of some of our political leaders cannot be forgiven."

My father-in-law died from COVID-19 in early December. He was 89.

I knew the man for over 35 years. Yes, he had underlying health issues, but he otherwise would have made this Christmas with ease. I’d bet he would have made the next one too, and he had an excellent chance of making the next Christmas after that.

He was an immigrant, unable to speak the language and he didn’t have a cent to his name when he moved to Canada some 70 years ago, but he held an unshakable belief that Canada could provide a better life.

Through sheer determination and hard work, he built a successful business and was a father to eight children.

Why am I telling you this? COVID-19 is real, and if you’re a person of common sense, you know it is real too. Our public health community has been warning us over the past nine months to take precautions. Our politicians have stood by the health experts, reiterating and pleading for the public to adhere to the guidelines set out by Alberta Health: wash your hands frequently, wear a mask, social distance, and refrain from travel.

Our families listened. We sacrificed our Christmas traditions. No traditional Ukrainian Christmas Eve feast with my side of the family. No Christmas Day celebrations with my wife’s side of the family. We all stayed home.

Premier Jason Kenney and his UCP government are under fire because many other Albertans made sacrifices, too. When we find out some members of the government and their staffers didn’t make the same sacrifices, we understandably feel betrayed by the very people who expected us to follow the guidelines.

Instead, Albertans got to see pictures of some of them frolicking on a beach in Hawaii. We got to hear Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard, who has travelled to Hawaii over the holidays for the past 17 years, say, “I was looking to honour a tradition with my family.” Are these people so far out of touch to not realize a statement like that is offensive and insulting to the rest of us? The answer is an unequivocal yes. If they are that brazen, or inept, or both, to not follow the travel guidelines set out by Alberta Health, while expecting the rest of us to abide by them, then yes, we should also expect the hypocrisy of their words and actions to be lost on them. Ignorance truly is bliss.

It was equally disappointing to learn that one of our city councillors, Sheena Hughes, jetted off to Mexico for a Christmas vacation. While she has come out against wearing masks and other Alberta Health recommendations, which is her right, she has a moral obligation as a civic leader to lead by example. She has flouted the rules, and in the process she has disrespected those whose lives have been greatly impacted by COVID-19.

Perhaps these politicians and staffers think COVID-19 isn’t serious. Perhaps they think they’re invincible. Or perhaps they think the rules don’t apply to them. We are treated like children and given a patronizing pat on the head – "Don’t do as I do, do as I say."

Kenney had the chance to take a leadership role on New Year’s Day when he called a press conference after learning of Allard’s tropical trip a couple of days prior. Instead, he mealy-mouthed his way and did nothing. Only after a torrent of public backlash on the weekend did Kenney step up and accept resignations and issue demotions. That is the antithesis of leadership.

For those of us who have watched our loved ones suffer unimaginably and ultimately lose their lives to COVID-19, the actions of some of our political leaders cannot be forgiven. For those of us who did our part over the holidays and sacrificed being with family, and who continue to follow the guidelines, public apologies will always ring hollow and insincere. And as we watched our premier fail to accept the responsibility and burden of leadership at the outset, our disappointment grew. This will be Jason Kenney’s legacy, and he will be reminded of that come election day.

Brian Bachynski is the publisher of the St. Albert Gazette and the president of Great West Publishing.