Conservative Sen. Don Plett arrives at the Senate, Tuesday October 29, 2013 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

At least two senators left country amid COVID-19 pandemic, five not saying

At least two senators left country amid COVID-19 pandemic, five not saying

OTTAWA — Sen. Don Plett is facing calls for his resignation as Conservative leader in the Senate after choosing to vacation in Mexico over the holidays.

But Plett is not the only senator who travelled abroad even as Canadians were being told to stay home to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Sen. Vern White, a former Conservative who now sits with the Canadian Senators Group, has admitted to the CBC that he went to Finland to visit his wife’s parents.

And four other senators have not responded to repeated questions from The Canadian Press about whether they’ve left the country since Dec. 1.

The vast majority — 87 of the current roster of 93 senators — say they have stayed home, as recommended by public health authorities. Indeed, most said they haven’t travelled anywhere since the pandemic began sweeping Canada last March.

“Personally, I find it insulting to Canadians when politicians promote or recommend rules that they themselves don’t follow,” said Sen. Rosa Galvez, a member of the Independent Senators Group.

“I’m appalled that the leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Donald Plett, travelled to a resort in Mexico when he berated the prime minister for going to a close-by cottage this summer and he stated in his end-of-year message, ‘We cannot travel and gather as we normally would.’”

Galvez said Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole should remove Plett as his Senate leader, just as MPs from multiple parties have been stripped of their committee and other parliamentary duties for failing to abide by public health instructions.

However, O’Toole’s office has said it’s not up to the leader. The party’s Senate leader is chosen by Conservative senators.

Sen. Marilou McPhedran, also a member of the Independent Senators Group, doubted that Conservative senators will choose to punish Plett.

“Most of them have followed his preference for not wearing a mask in the Senate chamber much of the time, thereby exposing the rest of us, but particularly more vulnerable members of their own caucus sitting nearer to them, to their aerosol expulsions for hours on end,” McPhedran said.

“So it seems doubtful that they will see Sen. Plett’s decision to vacation outside Canada to be a significant reflection on his leadership.”

Most of the 20 Conservative senators declined to comment on Plett’s future.

One, Sen. Elizabeth Marshall, said in an email: “I consider any concerns I have about Senator Plett’s travel an internal matter.”

Two Conservative senators expressed support for Plett.

“Sen. Plett continues to have my full confidence as the Conservative Senate caucus leader,” Sen. Linda Frum said in an email.

“He made a mistake, he acknowledged that mistake, and we need to move forward.”

On Monday, a spokesperson for Plett said the senator travelled to Mexico on Dec. 28. Upon his arrival, he “reflected on his decision to travel” and immediately made arrangements to return home to Manitoba on Dec. 31.

Plett’s arrival in Mexico would have coincided with the furor that erupted over the Dec. 29 revelation that Ontario’s finance minister, Rod Phillips, was vacationing on the Caribbean island of St. Barts. Phillips resigned several days later.

Plett is now quarantining for 14 days, as required by Manitoba public health protocols.

A spokesperson for Conservative Sen. Salma Ataullahjan said the senator does not feel that Plett should resign as Senate leader.

“The government has not called for a clear ban on international travel, therefore those who made a choice to travel have to (follow) the guidelines on how to protect themselves and others before, during and after they travel,” the spokesperson noted.

“Sen. Plett is self-isolating after his travel as he should, and that should not impact his position as leader of the Opposition.”

Plett’s office declined to comment on his future.

The Canadian Press contacted all 93 senators to see if any others vacationed outside the country.

Five, including White, did not respond to repeated email and phone messages. White did, however, tell the CBC on Wednesday that he was in quarantine in Finland, in accordance with that country’s pandemic guidelines, after travelling there with his family on Dec. 28.

The other four non-responders included Sen. Scott Tannas, leader of the Canadian Senators Group, and his deputy leader, Josee Verner.

Verner aide Renée Farrell initially said she didn’t know if the senator had travelled outside the country and promised to check with the senator. She did not respond to subsequent email and phone messages over several days.

The other non-responders were Jean-Guy Dagenais of the Canadian Senators Group, and Rosemary Moodie of the Independent Senators Group.

Meanwhile, Governor General Julie Payette said she has not left the country since the start of the pandemic in March and has restricted her movements in Canada to those needed to carry out her constitutional duties and to care for her teenage son and older parents in Montreal.

In a video message Thursday to Canadians, in which she urged people to continue to be vigilant, Payette said: “Like you, I have had to adapt to these unprecedented circumstances. As a scientist, I take epidemic outbreaks very seriously, and that is why we closed Rideau Hall at the outset of the pandemic to ensure the safety of our staff and the health of our visitors.

“Like you, I have strictly minimized contacts other than through digital means. “

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 7, 2021.

The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. Earlier version had Jean-Guy Dagenais as a Conservative senator. He is in fact a member of the Canadian Senators Group.


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Town of Ponoka and the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) have ratified a new agreement, averting a strike. (File photo from Facebook)
Alberta gov’t ‘using pandemic as shield to lay off workers,’ says AUPE

The Government of Alberta’s “attacks on workers” is continuing with a new… Continue reading

Rocky Mountain House RCMP, EMS, Search and Rescue, STARS air ambulance and Alstrom Helicopters worked together to rescue a fallen ice climber Friday. (Photo contributed by Rocky Mountain House RCMP)
Rocky Mountain House RCMP help rescue fallen ice climber

Rocky Mountain RCMP helped assist a fallen ice climber Friday afternoon. At… Continue reading

Students Association of Red Deer College president Brittany Lausen says she’s pleased the college is offering students a choice to attend class in-person or remotely. (Red Deer Advocate file photo)
Red Deer College winter term enrolment dips

Enrolment down about six per cent but mix of online and in-person instruction is going over well

Brett Salomons, of Salomons Commercial, and Mark Jones, CEO of the Central Alberta Child Advocacy Centre, in the CACAC's new temporary home. (Contributed photo)
Central Alberta Child Advocacy Centre’s One Day Challenge returns

Central Alberta Child Advocacy Centre has announced its One Day Challenge is… Continue reading

Dwayne Buckle, 40 of Red Deer finished a 1,638-kilometre walk, in honour of his family. The 12-week, 82 day-journey wrapped up in Port Hardy, B.C. on Monday. Facebook photo
Red Deer man completes 1,638 km hike for cancer research

Dwayne Buckle, a Red Deer firefighter returned home Friday after his 12-week journey

A Suncor logo is shown at the company's annual meeting in Calgary, Thursday, May 2, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Body of worker whose bulldozer fell through ice on inactive tailings pond recovered

FORT MCMURRAY, Alta. — Oilpatch giant Suncor says the body of a… Continue reading

A restaurant manager in Orlando used a sign to secretly ask an 11-year-old boy if he needs help from his family after they were spotted withholding food from him. (Photo courtesy Orlando Police Department)
WATCH: Restaurant manager uses secret note to ‘rescue’ child, says Orlando Police

The manager of an Orlando restaurant is receiving praise from police after… Continue reading

Tourists take photographs outside the British Columbia Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday August 26, 2011. A coalition of British Columbia tourism industry groups is urging the provincial government to not pursue plans to ban domestic travel to fight the spread of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. travel ban will cripple struggling tourism sector, says industry coalition

VICTORIA — A coalition of British Columbia tourism industry groups is urging… Continue reading

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Provinces work on revised plans as Pfizer-BioNTech shipments to slow down

Quebec and Ontario, the two provinces hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic,… Continue reading

The RCMP logo is seen outside Royal Canadian Mounted Police "E" Division Headquarters, in Surrey, B.C., on Friday April 13, 2018. A young snowshoer who set out alone on a rugged mountain trail on Vancouver's north shore Thursday has died. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Snowshoer dies after overnight search on Vancouver-area mountain: RCMP

SQUAMISH, B.C. — A snowshoer who set out alone on a rugged… Continue reading

‘It was joyous:’ Sun returns to some Nunavut communities for first time in weeks

IQALUIT — A sliver of orange rose over Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, earlier… Continue reading

People take photos through the extensive security surrounding the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, ahead of the inauguration of president-elect Joe Biden and vice-president-elect Kamala Harris. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Susan Walsh
Less pomp, very different circumstances as D.C. prepares to inaugurate Biden, Harris

WASHINGTON — Some pomp. Very different circumstances. Inauguration day is supposed to… Continue reading

Winnipeg Jets' Nathan Beaulieu (88) and Nikolaj Ehlers (27) defend against Jansen Harkins (12) during scrimmage at their NHL training camp practice in Winnipeg, Wednesday, January 6, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods
Winnipeg Jets cancel practice due to possible COVID-19 exposure

WINNIPEG — The Winnipeg Jets have cancelled their practice today due to… Continue reading

Most Read