Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he’s “disappointed” by numerous federal and provincial political figures from a range of parties — including his own — who travelled abroad despite advisories to avoid all non-essential travel during the still-raging global pandemic.
Resuming his morning addresses from Rideau Cottage for the first time in the new year, Trudeau said it’s key that Canadians feel as if they are all in the COVID-19 fight together and seeing these political leaders and public officials acting against public health guidance is detrimental to the overall effort to get the virus’ spread under control nationwide.
“The actions of any one person can have a positive or a negative benefit on the health situation of your neighbour,” Trudeau said. “That’s why I was disappointed to find [out] two of our caucus members who travelled and [that’s] why there were consequences… And that’s why all Canadians were so disappointed to see so many examples of folks who should have known better doing things that put us all at risk.”
The prime minister’s office has told CTV News that Trudeau stayed at home with his family over the holidays.
While Trudeau did face some scrutiny over Easter for travelling from his Ontario Rideau Cottage residence to Harrington Lake just across the river in Quebec, he has not left the country since the pandemic was declared.
With the exception of Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne, who travelled internationally to meet with counterparts in late August, and an early March trip to Washington D.C. taken by Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, no federal cabinet minister has made a trip out of the country since the virus began spreading across the world.
But as CTV News has reported, several federal politicians have come under fire for taking international trips over the holidays and prior. In some instances these officials have faced sanctions for doing so, such as being stripped of additional responsibilities and the salary top-ups that come with them.
Three Liberal MPs travelled abroad during the summer “to complete essential family affairs,” and have not faced sanctions for doing so, though two other Liberal MPs had not informed Chief Government Whip Mark Holland’s office of their travel and so they have been stripped of their additional parliamentary responsibilities.
Ontario Liberal MP Kamal Khera has stepped aside from her role as parliamentary secretary to the minister of International Development after visiting Seattle, Wash. on Dec. 23 for a private memorial for her uncle and father, both of whom passed away during the past few months.
Parliamentary secretaries receive a $17,800 salary top-up, which Khera has lost.
Quebec Liberal MP Sameer Zuberi travelled to the U.S. in December in order to visit his wife’s grandfather, whose health was deteriorating, he said. Zuberi resigned from his roles on parliamentary committees, which do not come with financial compensation.
Among the Conservatives, two MPs have taken international trips since the pandemic was declared, as has Senate opposition leader, Sen. Don Plett, who “travelled briefly to Mexico on personal travel,” and upon his arrival “reflected on his decision to travel and immediately made arrangements to return home,” according to his office.
In his role as opposition leader in the Senate, Plett receives an additional $41,300 salary top-up and Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole’s office has indicated no intention of removing Plett from his leadership position.
Alberta Conservative MP Ron Liepert has travelled twice since March, once during the current parliamentary break, to Palm Desert, Calif., to deal with “essential house maintenance issues.” O’Toole’s office has not indicated any sanctions for Liepert as a result of these trips.
However, fellow Conservative MP from Ontario, David Sweet, has resigned as chair of the House of Commons Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics Committee, and has announced he will not be running again in the next federal election.
According to the party, Sweet travelled to the U.S. to deal with a “property issue” but then stayed afterward “for leisure,” without telling O’Toole or the party’s whip. Committee chairs receive a $12,600 salary top-up that Sweet will no longer be receiving.
As for the NDP, Manitoba MP Niki Ashton lost her critic roles after revealing that she travelled abroad to visit an ailing family member in Greece. The party said Ashton had not informed them of her travel before departing. As her additional titles were not governmental or parliamentary, there is no financial compensation attached.
“As leaders we’ve been encouraging and exhorting Canadians to continue to do the right thing, so it is unfortunate to see a number of politicians not take their own advice,” said Trudeau on Tuesday. “I understand and share the frustration that many Canadians are feeling who would have loved to have a little break from all this but who know that it is not the time to do that.”
In addition to the financial penalties, political science experts have warned of the broader reputational and public opinion impact these trips will have on MPs re-election chances with a general public who has largely chosen against behaving similarly and have lost out on being with loved ones at key moments in their lives.
“It is a global pandemic which means if you decide to go on holidays in the Caribbean or in Mexico or somewhere else, you’re not actually escaping the pandemic. You’re acting in a way that’s irresponsible and doesn’t follow the best public health advice that has been available publicly for many, many months,” said cabinet minister Dominic LeBlanc on Tuesday, addressing as well the Canadians who opted for tropical vacations this Christmas and are now facing stricter measures upon their return to this country.