Local politicians’ travel activity has come under scrutiny this week.
In December, Victoria Coun. Sharmarke Dubow travelled to Somalia and Metchosin Coun. Kyara Kahakauwila attended a wedding in Mexico despite COVID-19 health orders.
While Coun. Heather Gartshore was at home in North Saanich during the holidays, she has also come under fire for travelling abroad earlier in the year.
“Since mid-March, I have spent a week in Seattle with our daughter and her family, departing prior to the [provincial] travel ban,” she said in a statement to media. “I abided by the required 14 day quarantine period upon my return. I will have nothing further to say on the matter.”
The Canada-U.S. border was closed on March 18, 2020, to non-essential travel in both directions. The closure has been extended multiple times since and does not impact trade and business travel.
“It is up to you to decide what ‘non-essential travel’ means, based on family or business requirements, knowledge of or familiarity with a country, territory or region, and other factors,” reads, in part, the Government of Canada’s website that discusses risk levels and travel advisories.
The definition of non-essential travel on the website of the U.S. Embassy and Consulates in Canada offers more detail. According to that website, non-essential travel includes travel that is considered “tourism or recreational in nature.”
Essential travel includes travel for “work and study, critical infrastructure support, economic services and supply chains, health, immediate medical care, and safety and security.”
Two Metchosin councillors have clarified they weren’t told about Kahakauwila’s trip to Mexico until it took place.
Coun. Marie-Terese Little said in a statement that she learned in early December that Metchosin’s Dec. 7 council meeting would be cancelled due to Kahakauwila’s absence. Little found out Kahakauwila was quarantining during a Zoom meeting after her return and said there was no formal discussion of plans beforehand.
“I did not at any time endorse, support, or defend her choice to travel to Mexico contrary to provincial health orders and travel advisories,” Little said.
Coun. Sharie Epp echoed Little’s sentiments that the trip was not disclosed ahead of time nor was it supported by council.
Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes was dismayed to hear that Dubow and Kahakauwila travelled outside of Canada, and said municipal politicians, like politicians of all levels, “need to hold themselves to the highest possible standard.”
He confirmed all Saanich councillors followed public health orders to abstain from travelling.
“I didn’t even need to think to tell council not to travel,” he said, adding that many, himself included, cancelled travel plans and family events. Haynes called off a family reunion in Europe, his wife opted not to visit family in Japan and their son cancelled his wedding. Now, Haynes’ 86-year-old father-in-law is in the hospital in Australia but the family has decided not to go see him – no matter how hard it is.
“‘Do as I say, not as I do,’ is the worst example of behaviour” for politicians, he added.
However, he said resignation is not the only option and councillors should be allowed to deal with the situation themselves as mistakes were made but these are “hardworking, conscientious councillors.”
The City of Langford also confirmed, despite rumours to the contrary, that mayor and council have not travelled outside of the country since mid-March.
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