Several Alberta United Conservative MLAs and senior officials are in hot water following international travel over the winter break — and chief among them is one of Premier Jason Kenney’s chief advisers.
While Kenney fielded questions about cabinet minister Tracy Allard’s trip to Hawaii over the Christmas break despite provincial guidelines against non-essential international travel, he also admitted several other key officials travelled during the holidays, including his chief of staff Jamie Huckabay.
Huckabay, Kenney said, travelled over the holidays with his family to the United Kingdom, a country currently wracked by a wave of new infections due to a dangerous new COVID-19 variant.
WATCH: New COVID-19 variant found int he U.K. Story continues below.
“Mr. Huckabay did travel with family before Christmas to the U.K. and when the situation with the new variant emerged there, immediately changed his plans and came back to Canada on Boxing Day through the United States,” Kenney said.
Huckabay had to return through the U.S. because the federal government halted all passenger flights to Canada from the U.K. on Dec. 20 in an attempt to prevent the spread of the highly infectious new variant.
“These additional measures will allow public health officials time to gather further evidence and help reduce the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19,” federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu said in a statement announcing the border restriction.
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The U.S. also currently has a restriction on travel from the U.K., but only limits the travel of U.K. nationals who have been there within the past 14 days, not Canadians coming from the U.K. This allowed for Huckabay’s travel back to Alberta.
Two days following Huckabay’s return on Dec. 26, the U.S. introduced a new requirement for all incoming travellers from the U.K. to test negative via PCR or Antigen test no more than 72 hours before their departure from the U.K.
The new variant is more transmissible than the usual virus causing COVID-19 and has led to a wave of new cases across the U.K. Several cases have already been identified in Alberta, B.C., Quebec and Ontario, all linked to returning travellers from the U.K.
Many Canadians were “trapped” in the U.K. over the holidays as a result of the travel ban.
Kenney said his top aide was “very forthcoming” with Health Canada about his situation upon his return, and is currently observing the 14-day isolation requirement.
The Alberta premier said he’s aware of other members of staff, as well as senior government officials who have travelled abroad in recent weeks, and says he regrets not more clearly advising against travel.
“I regret that I did not make it patently clear that international travel would be inappropriate for people in senior positions of leadership,” Kenney said.
“Not because it violates the rules, but because there is a reasonable expectation we maintain a different standard, a higher standard.”