EDMONTON — One of Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s caucus members says it’s obvious to her that Kenney’s drinks and dinner on a rooftop patio this week broke COVID-19 health rules.
And Angela Pitt says if Kenney’s party can ignore restrictions, restaurant owners should get more leeway as well.
"Looking at these photos it seems clear to me that several health restrictions were violated," the United Conservative member of the legislature for Airdrie-East said in a Facebook post Friday. "Much of the public concern about this incident has been about the hypocrisy of senior officials breaking their own rules.
"I can certainly understand these concerns."
She said the patio dinner was one more slight against business owners who have been trying to adapt for months to shifting public health orders.
"I see the extreme amounts of uncertainty. I see the unmeasurable levels of creative problem-solving being invested into working with COVID-19 restrictions, only for the restrictions to change over and over again," wrote Pitt.
"The premier had a restaurant dinner on his patio with seven friends, and it remains unclear to Albertans why a restaurant owner can't have larger groups on their patio.
"I am calling on the premier today to make the rules more consistent, to give businesses fairness, and to allow restaurants to safely operate in the same fashion in which the premier just portrayed."
Pitt could not immediately be reached for comment.
Photos of the Tuesday night dinner were taken surreptitiously from long range and delivered anonymously to media outlets. They showed Kenney and key members of his inner circle sitting at a table on a deck outside Kenney’s temporary office in the penthouse of the Federal Building near the legislature.
The penthouse suite was nicknamed "Sky Palace" after it was learned in early 2014 that then-premier Alison Redford had been retrofitting it as a work residence with high-end accents and furnishings.
Kenney has said the dinner, which included Health Minister Tyler Shandro, was within public health rules because it was under the 10-person limit on outdoor social gatherings.
He has not addressed apparent violations of masking and distancing rules. Dr. Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer of health, said she wasn't there, so couldn't say if rules were broken.
Alberta is in the first phase of a three-part plan that could see almost all COVID-19 restrictions lifted by the end of this month or early July.
Restaurants have been allowed to reopen their patios with four members from the same household at a table. People who live alone can sit with their two close contacts.
Kenney spokeswoman, Jerrica Goodwin, responded to Pitt's comments in a short statement: “Private outdoor gatherings of 10 or fewer are now allowed under Phase 1 of Alberta’s Open for Summer plan, which began on June 1.
"Albertans provincewide are now happily enjoying Phase 1 provisions — be it with backyard BBQs or hitting up a great restaurant patio — while looking forward to the further reopening of our province in the very near future."
Pitt, and many other UCP backbenchers, have criticized the government's rules as unfair and unnecessarily restrictive.
Pitt, deputy house speaker, has been a persistent critic.
Legislature members Todd Loewen and Drew Barnes have also been outspoken about Kenney and were voted out of caucus last month. They now sit as Independents.
"She reached a point where she felt the need to say something on behalf of her constituents and Albertans," Barnes said of Pitt’s statement.
"This is another example of a solid, respectful, hard-working constituency conservative that realizes (with) the premier and cabinet, (it's) the level of hypocrisy, the level of entitlement, and the level of indifference for what the average Alberta family and average Alberta family are going through right now."
Sarah Hoffman, deputy leader of the Opposition NDP, said the premier "lied to Albertans when he claimed no rules were broken with this Sky Palace dinner.
"Now, his own MLAs are calling him out. His arrogance and entitlement have lost (him) the trust of his own caucus and the trust of Albertans.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 4, 2021.
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press