Red Deer-South MLA Jason Stephan’s controversial Arizona holiday vacation in the midst of a pandemic has gone viral on social media.
By early Sunday afternoon, more than 2,100 people commented on Stephan’s Facebook page, most of them lambasting the central Alberta politician for ignoring his government’s own health department’s recommendation to stay home these holidays and avoid travel to reduce the spread of the virus that has killed more than 1,000 Albertans.
The Red Deer Advocate’s story on Stephan’s trip was closing in on 200 comments by Sunday afternoon.
Many called on Stephan to resign.
After the story broke that Stephan and a number of other UCP MLAs had travelled internationally — mostly to vacation hot spots over the holidays — Premier Jason Kenney ordered them home.
The premier’s office confirmed on Saturday that at least eight UCP MLAs had travelled outside the country recently.
Stephan said on Facebook that he was returning home “right away” as requested by the premier.
“Upon returning, I will be complying with all isolation requirements,” said Stephan.
“There is already too much contention in our society and I regret if my actions have contributed to that. I look forward to moving past this experience and COVID, in positive directions.”
In the same post, he defended his trip saying he had “continued to follow Alberta’s guidelines in Arizona, limiting contacts to immediate household members, etc.” and he supports individuals and families “having the freedom” to decide whether to travel or not.
On Monday, Alberta Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw tweeted that the province had recorded 400 new cases on 8,100 tests. While those numbers are down, she cautioned that fewer tests were conducted on Jan. 1 than usual.
Here is today's #COVID19AB modified update.
On Jan. 2 there was an estimated:
– 400 cases
– 8,100 laboratory tests
– 5% positivity
– hospitalizations – stable
– ICU – stable
Please note: fewer people were tested Jan. 1 so fewer tests were processed and reported Jan. 2.
— Dr. Deena Hinshaw (@CMOH_Alberta) January 3, 2021
Online reaction to what some called Stephan’s “non-apology” was immediate and negative.
NDP leader Rachel Notley called out Stephan on Twitter for refusing to apologize.
“This is nothing but disrespectful,” she tweeted on Sunday morning.
UCP MLA Jason Stephan, who is in Phoenix, said, "individuals and families have the freedom to choose whether they travel if they are respectful of others.”
He also refused to apologize.
— Rachel Notley (@RachelNotley) January 3, 2021
“We sacrificed our honeymoon, Christmas with family and my birthday with family while politicians are immune to the regulations?” wrote one woman.
“Give me a break. They want people to follow regulations but don’t lead by example.”
Another woman, a Calgarian who moved to Phoenix, Arizona shortly before the pandemic hit, said she avoided returning to Calgary for the holidays “because it would have been irresponsible” given soaring infection rates in that state and the poor health precautions in place.”
“You put so many people in jeopardy. I’m in shock at your flagrant disregard for your fellow human beings safety.”
Dozens wrote about flights and trips they had to cancel in light of the government’s health restrictions.
One man wrote that his family cancelled both summer and Christmas vacations to see family in Alberta this year to comply with recommendations not to travel. Grandparents did not see their grandson at all in 2020.
“And people in power like you take off on holidays? When the pandemic is clearly getting worse? Shame on you. Resign.”
Another pointed out that Alberta Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw has urged Albertans not to look for “loopholes” in health restrictions to continue to gather with friends and family.
“You have now shown Albertans that we don’t have to follow those rules or even the spirit of those rules. Why should we when our chosen leaders won’t even do it??”