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Update: Councillors Stedman, Tkachuk, Cote, Moore and L'Heureux had stay-cation holidays

Municipality does have work-travel restrictions and out-of-Canada guidelines in place for staff

* UPDATE: This story was updated Jan. 5/21 at 2:28 pm to include Deputy Mayor Colin Cote's comments and County recommendations for staff travel.

They didn't create the rules or regulation relating to COVID 19 safeguards, but Lac La Biche County councillors spoken to so far say they have followed the province's health protocols as carefully as possible.

On Monday, LakelandToday.ca sent out a request to each of the municipality's nine council members asking if any have traveled out of the country or taken a Christmas holiday since enhanced COVID measures were implemented by provincial health officials at the end of November.

Councillor George L'Heureux hasn't been very far from his farm and his council duties since the pandemic began — and even long before.

"I'm a farmer, I never go anywhere — I haven't been out of country since I was elected," he told Lakelandtoday.ca with a laugh.

L'Heureux said he wouldn't comment on the recent provincial travel fiasco that has resulted in one minister resigning her position and others being demoted after it was discovered they had recently gone on personal holidays, some to Hawaii, others to Mexico and England — despite provincial COVID guidelines recommending Albertans not travel.

"I won't comment on what the province is doing. I'll let it run its course and let the proper people deal with it," he said on Monday night.

Deputy Mayor Colin Cote, the owner of a local hot tub service and supply company, says there were no incidents to get him into any figurative hot water with COVID guidelines this winter. Cote and his family spent a quiet holiday at home.

"(It was a) very peaceful holiday season here with no travel —really missed visiting family though," he said.

 

"It's been a very disappointing month,"

         — Lac La Biche County councillor Charlyn Moore

Councillor Jason Stedman also chose not to comment on the political fallout at the provincial level over the holiday issue, but said he and his own family have maintained safeguards when it comes to the pandemic protocols.

"I have not travelled out of country since before COVID began," Stedman told the Lac La Biche POST and LakelandToday.ca, explaining that there have been challenges as well as opportunities during the pandemic months. "It’s been different not seeing friends or family for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year's — but I’ve also enjoyed the more personal time with my wife and kids." 

Honeymoon at home

Councillor Lorin Tkachuk flew out to his own tropical wedding last February before any COVID measures were in place. Since then, he's been enjoying family life close to home. In recent months, he's traded in any thoughts of tropical beaches for the icy surface of Lakeland lakes.

"(We've) stayed around home and found alternative ways to get out and be active like ice fishing. Been doing a lot of ice fishing these days," he said.

Councillor Charlyn Moore said she couldn't travel to see her 80 year old parents through the holidays due to the enhanced measures and guidelines. 

"It's been a very disappointing month," she said, but added some good-natured humour, admitting that while she abides by the travel and gathering restrictions, those grocery store arrows give her some troubles.

"I just can't follow the arrows. I tend to walk backwards when I'm in the wrong lane," she said.

Provincial fallout

So far provincially, six MLAs and ministers from the UCP have admitted to international travel during a time when provincial health guidelines have strongly advised against non-essential international travel. A St. Albert city councillor's recent family trip to Mexico has also drawn the spotlight. 

In an interview with the POST's sister-paper, the  St. Albert Gazette, St. Albert Deputy Mayor Sheena Hughes apologized to those who are upset. 

"I apologize that this decision has upset people in our community and recognize that it has been a very difficult and stressful year," Hughes wrote. 

After reviewing the risks of travelling with airline precautions and public health measures, including a 14-day isolation period upon return, Hughes said she "concluded that there is minimal risk of contracting or passing COVID to our community if we continued to follow all public health measures when away and upon return."

Hughes said it is legal to travel outside of Canada. Neither Canada nor Alberta have banned travelling, though Canada has issued an advisory urging people to avoid non-essential travel out of the country and Alberta is advising against non-essential travel in general.

Staff holidays

Lac La Biche County administrative officials were also asked if senior staff members had spent any holiday time traveling since the enhanced measures were put into effect, but municipal spokesperson Jihad Moghrabi said it was difficult to answer the question since it touches on privacy issues regarding personal staff time.

"As far as administration goes, as an employer, we can’t collect or share information about staff holidays," said Moghrabi, but added that the municipality has implemented guidelines for work-related travel and made recommendations to staff regarding holidays.

"We did ban all work-related travel outside of Lac La Biche County — unless the matter was urgent, like staff being able to continue providing a necessary service to the public," Moghrabi continued, "and we encouraged staff to not travel outside of Lac La Biche County on their personal time unless it was strictly necessary."

If a municipal staff member does travel outside Canada for personal matters, there is a mandatory 14-day self-isolation required. That time would come out of their allotted vacation time, or be taken as unpaid leave.

As other Lac La Biche County council members respond to the request for comment, this story will be updated.

Comments from Lac La Biche POST facebook followers to the initial story about the provincial travel issues has been receiving steady comments.

A news poll relating to the UCP travel issue can be found on the www.lakelandtoday.ca home page.

EDITORIAL: Feeling Like a Chump





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