Red Deer-South MLA Jason Stephan has apologized for exercising “poor judgment” in flying to world COVID-19 hot spot Arizona over the holidays.
In the wake of Stephan’s controversial travel decision, which enraged many Albertans, he resigned from the government’s Treasury Board on Monday.
“In discussing my resignation with the Premier (Jason Kenney), we both agree that I exercised poor judgment when I travelled to Arizona on Dec. 31,” said Stephan in a statement released Tuesday morning.
“This includes a realization that I failed to see my travelling to Arizona could be hurtful to the very individuals and families I have been seeking to serve, and who have made such huge sacrifices, including with the additional restrictions imposed over the Christmas holidays.
“To those individuals and families, I am very sorry and apologize for my poor judgment.”
Minister of Health Tyler Shandro addressed the anger Albertans might be feeling towards politicians, who defied government orders with non-essential travel over the holidays.
“Over a million Albertans voted for us because we campaigned on hard work and humility. Some folks from our team forgot about that last part,” Shandro said.
Newly minted interim Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver added Albertans have every right to be angry with those who travelled over the holidays. McIver is taking over for Tracy Allard, who was in Hawaii over the holidays.
“There is no doubt in our mind we didn’t get it right and what we offer is a commitment to get it right in the days, weeks and months,” he said.
Reaction to Stephan’s apology was swift on social media. About 200 people had commented on his Facebook page by Tuesday afternoon.
Some praised him for taking responsibility for his decision. However, others said he did not go far enough and should resign as MLA.
On Tuesday, data from John Hopkins University showed Arizona has the highest rate of COVID-19 in the world.
Over the past seven days, Arizona is reporting 120 positive cases for every 100,000 people. Arizona has seen about 560,000 COVID cases and more than 9,000 people have died in the state of 7.3 million people.
It is the second time during the pandemic Arizona has led the world with the highest seven-day average of virus infections per capita.
Word that Stephan and half a dozen other MLAs and senior government officials had used the holidays to travel ignited a storm of online protest in the last few days.
Premier Jason Kenney announced on Twitter early Monday afternoon that Allard was resigning and that he had asked his chief of staff Jamie Huckabay to hand in his resignation “which he has done.”
Three other MLAs have stepped down from committee positions and Jeremy Nixon has resigned as Parliamentary Secretary for Civil Society.
Besides the resignations of Grande Prairie MLA Allard, Huckabay and Calgary-Klein MLA Nixon, three MLAs — Calgary-Peigan’s Tanya Fir, Tany Yao of Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo and Lesser Slave Lake’s Pat Rehn — have lost their committee responsibilities.
“By travelling abroad over the holidays, these individuals demonstrated extremely poor judgment,” said the premier.
Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley has sharply criticized the travel by UCP members.
An online petition was launched on Monday calling on the premier to provide a list of all of the MLAs and provide an explanation as to why the travel was allowed.