Covid livid: Canadian fury at leaders’ holidays amid other people’s misery – The Guardian

Across Canada, December was a month of cancelled gatherings with friends and family and holidays spent alone. Vacations to escape snow and frozen rain were put on hold as Covid-19 cases surged again.

The message across the country had been clear: a shared sense of solidarity and sacrifice was necessary to fight the coronavirus.

But over the last two weeks, the country has been convulsed by fury and disbelief as more than a dozen politicians, political aides and senior public health figures have admitted to hopping on a plane for tropical vacations over the winter holiday.

“It’s incredibly insulting to frontline workers, to people grieving the loss of loved ones and to those not able to see their families – whether they’re in hospital or not,” said one ICU nurse in the province of Alberta. “It’s tone-deaf to those who have lost their jobs, to businesses or those who are struggling to put food on their table.”

While the outrage is unlikely to bring down a federal or provincial government, the outbreak of anger speaks to a growing frustration with the country’s political leadership, say experts.

“The public is livid. A lot of them just see blatant hypocrisy and find it morally reprehensible,” said Nelson Wiseman, a professor of political science at the University of Toronto. “It feeds cynicism and lowers public trust – not just in politicians, but in institutions.”

The scandal began last week, when it emerged that Ontario’s then provincial finance minister, Rod Phillips, had not only traded the grey skies of Ajax, Ontario, for the white sand beaches of St Bart’s but also posted messages on social media apparently crafted to conceal his whereabouts. In a holiday greeting video posted when he was already in the Caribbean, Philips sat by a roaring fire, sipping eggnog as he thanked his constituents for their “sacrifice”.

Amid a swift backlash Phillips returned to Ontario and resigned.

But fresh revelations that politicians across the political spectrum had taken ill-advised vacations kept coming.

A man pushes a baggage cart wearing a mandatory face mask at Toronto Pearson international airport.
A man pushes a baggage cart wearing a mandatory face mask at Toronto Pearson international airport. Photograph: Carlos Osorio/Reuters

In Saskatchewan, the provincial minister of highways said his trip to California was essential to finalize a real-estate transaction, although his house wasn’t even listed when he travelled.

The Conservative federal senator Don Pletts posted a video acknowledging the pandemic “has forced us to change some of those traditions, since we cannot travel and gather as we normally would”. Days later, he went on holiday to Mexico.

And in Alberta – the province with the one of the worst rates of case growth – eight provincial leaders and staffers admitted to travelling abroad.

The province’s municipal affairs minister, Tracy Allard – a key figure in the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines – apologised for taking a family trip to Hawaii despite her government’s own recommendations against travel. She and four others either resigned or were stripped of their legislative duties this week.

Justin Trudeau acknowledged that officials had disregarded the very advice they had given to the public. Two of his parliamentary secretaries stepped down after travelling outside of the country for family reasons.

Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau.
Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau. Photograph: Blair Gable/Reuters

“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,” said the prime minister.

But for some communities, the expressions of contrition have not gone far enough. In the town of Slave Lake, Alberta, the mayor and six city councillors have called on their regional assembly representative, Pat Rehn, to resign after he posted a Christmas message from Mexico.

“It is no secret the people of this Region have lost faith in your ability to do your job,” the group said a letter to Rehn.

Even health officials have been caught in the scandal. This week, both the CEO of an Ontario hospital and the head of a university’s school of public health admitted they travelled to sunny destinations.

“There was clearly no political calculation behind this – because they didn’t think they’d been caught,” said Wiseman.

In a country where winter-like weather can last for nearly six months, the scofflaws’ tropical destinations twisted the knife for many Canadians.

“We are a winter people, but we feel better when there is no winter,” said David Phillips, senior climatologist at Environment Canada “These [politicians] were going for the layered down – not layered up – look, while the average person is stuck at home.”

The scandals have elicited near-universal condemnation from the pandemic-weary public, but they have been particularly hurtful for healthcare workers especially those in the hardest-hit provinces.

“It’s infuriating to have [politicians] hide behind misleading Christmas messages that seem to demonstrate solidarity with hardworking people when in actuality they are untroubled by their unethical and dangerous behaviour,” said the ICU nurse in Alberta, which has some of the highest infection rates in the country. “We expect more and deserve better respect than this.”

Another nurse in the province said news of trips came as morale in the hospitals reached rock bottom after months of “suffering and death”.

“We have been disappointed with such frequency that this feels like exactly what we would expect from our leadership,” she said. “Their practice of personal exceptionalism is honestly just a slap in the face, but we’re too busy trying to keep people alive to engage.”

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Covid livid: Canadian fury at leaders’ holidays amid other people’s misery – The Guardian

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