While Premier Brian Pallister urged Manitobans to stay home over the holidays, his chief civil servant travelled outside the province to spend Christmas at his former home in Ottawa.
Pallister’s staff confirmed Sunday that David McLaughlin spent the last two weeks of December working "from his immediate family’s home in Ontario."
"The assertion that the Clerk of Executive Council was on vacation is false and it would be grossly inaccurate for such a narrative to be propagated," Pallister’s communications chief, Blake Robert, said in an email, responding to Free Press questions about McLaughlin’s travel.
The government’s admission comes at a time when the premier, his cabinet and public health officials are pleading with Manitobans to avoid travel and stay home.
Before and during the holidays, the government implored Manitobans to stay put with its #StayAtHomeMB campaign.
However, McLaughlin, who was Pallister’s campaign manager in the 2016 and 2019 general elections before being hired last May as Manitoba’s chief bureaucrat, was apparently given the green light to travel.
As well, given his status as a government official, he was not required to self-quarantine for two weeks upon his return from Ontario, meeting with Pallister at the legislative building on Saturday, according to sources.
In recent days, politicians of virtually all political stripes in Canada have got in hot water for travelling abroad during the holidays.
Ontario’s Tory finance minister, Rod Phillips, was forced to resign his cabinet post after news broke that he vacationed in the Caribbean island of St. Barts.
Alberta’s municipal affairs minister, Tracy Allard, was sharply criticized for taking a family vacation in Hawaii last month.
And, Manitoba NDP MP Niki Ashton was stripped of her critic’s roles after travelling to Greece to visit an ailing family member.
Robert, the premier’s director of media relations and issues management, stressed that McLaughlin was on the job while away in Ontario.
"The Clerk returned to his immediate family’s home in Ontario and, for the last two weeks of December, was working remotely — just as thousands of Manitobans have been for months," he wrote. "The work of government does not stop over the holidays. The Clerk was actively participating in virtual meetings, conference calls, or working on Government of Manitoba business from his home daily."
Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said it is hypocritical for a top government official to travel outside the province to be with family members when the government is requiring Manitobans not to mingle with persons outside their home during the code red restrictions.
"While everybody else has been told, ‘Don’t even see your grandmother, don’t see your family on Christmas day, you have people getting on a plane and going to see their family for weeks," he said.
"(It) was supposed to be all hands on deck, and you have the senior most civil servant in the entire province taking off back to Ottawa to be back with his family at Christmas," Lamont said.
Lamont also questioned the fact McLaughlin was away at a time when the province was putting the finishing touches on plans for the massive roll-out of the immunization of Manitobans for COVID-19.
"It smacks a little bit of abandoning his post during a time of emergency," he said.
Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.