Alberta Premier Jason Kenney in 2020, but as he might have looked on vacation last August Credit: Thomas A. Lukaszuk @LukaszukAB / Twitter

So who was in command of the good ship Alberta during those troubling weeks last summer when it became apparent the fourth wave of COVID-19 was raging and the premier had disappeared somewhere abroad to “recharge his batteries”? 

That remains a mystery almost as mysterious as the never-answered question of where Premier Kenney was vacationing for three weeks in August as the COVID caseload tripled. 

If, indeed, anyone was in charge at all. 

New documents revealed through a Freedom of Information request filed by the Opposition NDP show it wasn’t Travis Toews who was manning the premier’s watch, as many might have reasonably assumed since a cabinet order issued the month before indicated the finance minister would normally serve as acting premier when the premier is not available. 

But Toews’ calendar, accessed through the NDP FOI request, indicates he acted as premier at no time during Kenney’s absence. He was standing in as minister of jobs, economy and innovation, which can’t have all that arduous since the ministry was essentially set up to give Doug Schweitzer a cabinet title and a little something to do after Kenney shuffled him out of the far more important justice portfolio in August 2020.

How about Sonya Savage? The energy minister is designated as the No. 2 replacement for a missing premier. Well, we don’t know yet. The NDP hasn’t got their FOI request for her calendar back. But no one in the government having yet shouted about how she was in charge, it seems likely she wasn’t. 

In the meantime, we know from Kenney’s post-vacation Facebook Live performance on Sept. 3 that he claimed to not only be recharging his batteries during his vacation, but to be resting and reflecting, catching up on sleep, hanging out with friends, and getting caught up on some non-government reading. 

When his protracted mid-pandemic disappearance became embarrassing upon his return, however, Premier Kenney changed his story and claimed he was in constant contact with his senior officials. As the NDP pointed out, though, the record contradicts that story, with no notations in the premier’s calendar for scheduled calls from the home front. “Executive Council also confirmed in writing that there was no email correspondence between the Premier’s Office and the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health during Kenney’s vacation,” a statement yesterday from the Opposition said. 

In mid-September, Calgary-Fish Creek UCP MLA Richard Gotfried said on social media that he had advocated tougher measures behind closed doors, but got nowhere with his efforts. He apologized for not treating the crisis with appropriate urgency. 

The government “clearly had 30 days’ notice that a crisis was looming … and nothing was done while we lacked any leadership at the helm,” he stated. 

NDP Health Critic David Shepherd said yesterday that “being premier of Alberta is not a part-time job, especially when a deadly crisis is bearing down on the province.”

“If Kenney needed to rest and recharge, he needed to designate a senior cabinet minister to act in the event of a crisis,” Shepherd said. “But no-one seems to have been left in charge.”

We do know that Education Minister Ariana LaGrange was left in command of Tyler Shandro’s portfolio when the former health minister took a vacation that overlapped the premier’s holiday during a major public health crisis. 

This selection has been criticized as not a good choice, however, since LaGrange is widely considered one of Premier Kenney’s least effective ministers — at least if one defines effectiveness as dealing with problems, rather than passively ignoring them. At any rate, she did very little. 

That interesting factoid was also revealed as the result of an earlier NDP FOI filing. 

As for Kenney’s mysteriously relaxing vacation, the prevailing theory — never confirmed or denied — is that he was in Europe. Ottawa Frank Magazine, the Parliamentary and media tip sheet that appears only behind a paywall, says he was at a dude ranch in Colorado. 

The NDP called on the UCP government to disclose who will be in charge during the upcoming holiday season. “We must never be in a situation where the government is unable to protect Albertans,” Shepherd said, arguing that this is exactly the situation Kenney created when he disappeared from the radar last summer.

Lakeland Conservative MP: Wonderful staff; wonderful surprises!

Well, as some wag recently observed, who among us hasn’t taken a few days off and returned to find that somebody had broken into our house and painted the bedroom just the colour we wanted? 

I speak, of course, of the recent troubles experienced by Lakeland Member of Parliament Shannon Stubbs, who stands accused of bullying staff members and overseeing a “miserable, unhealthy, toxic” workplace in her Parliamentary offices. 

The allegations were forwarded to the House of Commons human resources office by no less than Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole. For her part, Stubbs denies it all, accusing O’Toole of retaliating for her bad reviews of his leadership. 

Be that as it may, she admitted that someone from her staff did go into her home to paint her bedroom in 2016. 

“The painting of the house was a wonderful surprise that I didn’t know about,” she explained to The Globe and Mail. “It was a wonderful gift of kindness from staff members. I never asked or directed staff to paint my bedroom.”

I wonder how they knew what colour to choose? And who paid for the paint? One certainly hopes no one was yelled at for putting the furniture back in the wrong place. 

Seriously, people, you can’t make this stuff up and, this being Alberta where all one requires to be elected to the House of Commons in 94 per cent of the province’s ridings is a Conservative nomination, you’ll never need to. 

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...