A photo of Brock Harrison with his boss, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney.
Brock Harrison with his boss, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney (Photo: Twitter/Brock Harrison).

If Premier Jason Kenney’s executive director of communications followed all the rules when he expensed his stay in in an Edmonton hotel and claimed meal allowances after a positive COVID test while on a business trip, he shouldn’t have been asked to pay back the $1,400 in expenses. 

Indeed, making Brock Harrison pay back those expenses shows a kind of situational disrespect for contractual agreements with employees that is all too typical of the United Conservative Party (UCP) government he represents, wrong despite the obvious irony.

Moreover, it represents the dangerous mentality – which, also ironically, Harrison himself worked hard to evangelize – that public health measures to control the spread of COVID-19 were somehow frivolous expenses to the operators of businesses and business-minded governments and that we should hurry to lift them even as the disease continued to spread.

Readers of this column will be aware that its author is not Harrsion’s biggest fan, so this may turn out to be what they call on social media a “possible unpopular opinion.” But a contract is a contract, and if Harrison fulfilled his part as he appears to have done, then the government should honour its financial obligation to him. 

The circumstances are that last January Harrison took a bus from Edmonton to Calgary to join the premier on a trip to Washington, D.C. Before their flight to Imperial capital, however, Harrison tested positive for COVID on a pre-flight test. He did the right thing and booked himself into a Calgary hotel, spent the required days in isolation, and, since he was on business when this happened, quite properly billed his employer for the expense. 

I would have done the same in the same circumstances. 

So when the Premier’s Office self-righteously announced yesterday that despite the fact Harrison “followed the rules and was transparent with his expenses, out of respect for taxpayers, (he) is reimbursing the GOA for expenses incurred,” it was not doing any favours to taxpayers if they care about keeping promises and legal obligations. 

Notwithstanding the fact that feelings of Schadenfreude are quite understandable when contemplating Harrison’s unexpected travel expense – he is well paid, after all, and he’s not known for being very understanding when others find themselves in similar predicaments – the NDP was off base when Labour Critic Christina Gray argued he shouldn’t have been compensated for his hotel stay because other Albertans don’t get sick leave and other benefits.

Isn’t this exactly the kind of argument Conservative operatives like Harrison trot out when they want to deprive government employees of sick time, decent pensions and other benefits fought for over many years by their unions?

This strikes me as a knee-jerk reaction without much reflection about the important principle that once agreed to, a deal is a deal. It would have been better left unsaid while the irony of Harrison’s predicament was savoured privately.

The fact that Harrison had his quarantine costs covered should have been used to argue that we would all be safer during a pandemic if every infected person was entitled to the same level of support. 

Harrison, a long-time Conservative operative, was fired from his job as communications director for former federal Opposition leader Andrew Scheer soon after the Conservatives lost the 2019 federal election to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals. The CBC reported at the time that Harrison was not allowed to resign. He was soon hired by Kenney. 

Effort by Jonathan Denis to get judge to stay contempt ruling falls flat

Speaking of Schadenfreude, former Conservative Justice Minister Jonathan Denis didn’t get far with his effort yesterday to ask Madam Justice Ritu Khullar of the Alberta Court of Appeal to set aside a lower court’s ruling he was in contempt of court for trying to intimidate a witness in a high-profile wrongful-dismissal trial he threatened to sue for testimony she might give

In mid-April, Madam Justice Doreen Sulyma of the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench found Denis guilty of contempt for a letter his lawyer sent to Dr. Anny Sauvageau, Alberta’s former chief forensic pathologist, warning her to be careful what she told the court in her suit against the province seeking $7.6 million in damages for wrongful dismissal in 2014, when Denis was Justice Minister.

In addition to denying Denis’s request for a stay. Justice Khullar also denied his request for an expedited appeal.

Denis also didn’t appear to win over a lot of sympathy in the court of public opinion for his argument that the contempt ruling could put his Calgary law firm out of business and was already causing clients and lawyers to abandon ship.

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...