As Canadians were urged to stay indoors and limit holiday celebrations to members of their households, a growing number of politicians across Canada have admitted to travelling outside the country despite pandemic restrictions.
Federal and provincial politicians alike have come under fire — or drawn rebuke from their leaders — for choosing to leave Canada as COVID-19 cases continue to climb in parts of the country.
The federal government has advised Canadians throughout the pandemic to avoid all non-essential travel and introduced new testing requirements this week for those planning to travel by air.
Here are the cases CBC News has confirmed so far.
Liberal MP Kamal Khera has announced she is stepping down as parliamentary secretary to International Development Minister Karina Gould after revealing she travelled across the border to Seattle to attend a private memorial.
In a statement shared Sunday on Twitter, Khera said she attended a gathering of fewer than 10 people to mourn the loss of her uncle and father. The Brampton-West MP left Canada after the most recent parliamentary session came to an end and returned home Dec. 31. Khera said her visit was deemed essential but said she is leaving her parliamentary secretary role to ensure her choices “do not distract from the important work of our government.”
Khera contracted COVID-19 back in March and previously volunteered as a nurse at a long-term care facility in Ontario early on in the pandemic.
The office of chief government whip Mark Holland issued a statement Sunday detailing the international travel of five Liberal MPs, including two who left Canada during the holidays.
In addition to discussing Khera’s situation, the statement said MP Sameer Zuberi visited his wife’s sick grandfather in Delaware on Dec. 18 and returned to Canada on Dec. 31. Zuberi, who represents the Quebec riding of Pierrefonds—Dollard, has stepped down from his roles on parliamentary committees, according to the statement.
“The Whip was not previously made aware of their requirement to conduct essential family business during lockdowns in their respective jurisdictions. Both MPs followed all local health and safety advice at all times during their travel,” the statement read.
Three Liberal MPs did inform the whip over the summer about trips abroad “that they required to complete essential family affairs,” according to the statement.
“MP Alexandra Mendès went to Portugal in July, in August, MP Lyne Bessette went to Mexico, stopping briefly in Massachusetts [and] MP Patricia Lattanzio went to Ireland in September,” the statement read.
Calgary-Signal Hill Conservative MP Ron Liepert travelled to Palm Desert, Calif., on two occasions since March to address what his office called “essential house maintenance issues.” Liepert, who previously served as Alberta’s health and wellness minister, owns a home in the city.
A spokesperson in Liepert’s office confirmed Saturday that one of the MP’s visits took place during the current parliamentary recess.
“There has been no non-essential travel, and he has complied with all public health guidance, including the Alberta border testing program, each time he has travelled,” the spokesperson told CBC News in an email.
NDP MP Niki Ashton was stripped of her critic roles on Friday after sharing that she travelled to Greece to visit her sick grandmother after spending Christmas alone with her family in Manitoba.
According to a statement from the NDP, Ashton “was allowed entry by Greek officials based on this urgent family situation.” Leader Jagmeet Singh was not informed beforehand of Ashton’s intent to travel and removed her from her roles in the NDP’s shadow cabinet.
The party said Ashton, who represents the Manitoba riding of Churchill—Keewatinook Aski, is the only member of its caucus who has travelled internationally, while the Bloc Québécois said none of its members have left the country since March of last year.
The Prime Minister’s Office confirmed to CBC News on Saturday that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spent the holidays in the National Capital Region and said no cabinet ministers travelled during that time.
Despite Liepert’s trips across the border, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has emphasized that MPs “follow all public health guidance including travel advisories,” his press secretary, Chelsea Tucker, told CBC News on Saturday. “It is our understanding that all members of caucus have.”
In Alberta, Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard is now home in Grande Prairie, Alta., after vacationing in Hawaii in December. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said he first learned of Allard’s trip on Tuesday and asked her to return. Kenney has ordered MLAs not to leave the country unless it was for government business and said he did not plan to sanction members of his government for their actions.
Meanwhile, Lesser Slave Lake MLA Pat Rehn posted a statement on Facebook Saturday confirming his return to Alberta following a trip to Mexico. The United Conservative Party MLA apologized for taking “a previously planned family trip, following a busy legislative session” and said he planned to follow Kenney’s new travel directive.
Jason Stephan, MLA for Red Deer-South, is also en route home from a trip abroad.
“MLA Stephan travelled to the United States and has indicated that he is returning to Alberta in line with the Premier’s directive,” Kenney’s press secretary confirmed to CBC News by email on Saturday.
Three other UCP MLAs — Calgary-Klein’s Jeremy Nixon, Calgary-Peigan’s Tanya Fir and Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo MLA Tany Yao — also recently travelled to the United States. Nixon spent time in Hawaii over the holidays, Fir visited her sister in the United States and Yao travelled to Mexico.
Former Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips made headlines earlier this week after returning to Toronto Pearson Airport following a personal vacation to the Caribbean Island of St. Barts.
Phillips — who called the trip a “dumb, dumb mistake” — resigned from his role as finance minister on Thursday. Ontario Premier Doug Ford said he had not been informed about the trip ahead of time but admitted he failed to ask Phillips to return after learning of his travels.
Saskatchewan Party MLA Joe Hargrave is another provincial cabinet minister drawing criticism for leaving the country during the pandemic. The Highways Minister visited Palm Springs, Calif., to finalize the sale of a home over the holidays.
Hargrave said he told Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe of his travel plans and plans to self-isolate upon his return to Canada. Moe said in a separate statement that he expects Hargrave to follow required public health advice, while the province’s official opposition called the minister’s actions a slap in the face to residents of Saskatchewan.
Hargrave has since apologized for his “error in judgment,” but does not plan to step down from cabinet.
In Quebec, Liberal MNA Pierre Arcand said he now regrets his decision to visit Barbados with his wife for the holidays.
“Despite the fact that travel is not prohibited, we are aware of the magnitude of criticism against people travelling south [during the pandemic],” said Arcand, who said he and his wife were tested for COVID-19 before and after their trip.
Coalition Avenir Québec MNA Youri Chassin, meanwhile, flew to Peru to visit his spouse, who he said he has not seen for nearly a year. Chassin said he has been involved in a sponsorship program to have his partner immigrate to Quebec, a process which has reportedly slowed due to the pandemic.
The MNA for Saint-Jérôme said Quebec Premier François Legault permitted the visit.