REGINA — Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, saying he failed to ask government members not to travel, has accepted the resignation of his highways minister for going to California over the holidays while people were urged to stay home.
Moe said Joe Hargrave will remain in the Saskatchewan Party caucus as the legislature member for Prince Albert Carlton.
"I should have been more clear with all of our caucus on ensuring that we were not travelling when we're asking the people of the province to do so much," Moe said during a news conference Monday in Saskatoon.
Hargrave said in a statement last week that he had travelled to Palm Springs during the COVID-19 pandemic to sell a vacation home and move back his belongings.
County tax records show a US$489,000 furnished property, located in a gated community with a golf course and a pool, as belonging to Joseph Hargrave.
He initially said the trip was to attend to personal business and that the premier knew about it beforehand. Hargrave apologized for a lapse in judgment and, at first, Moe's office said the minister would stay in cabinet.
The pair spoke again on Monday during which they "came to a mutual agreement that a resignation would be the best way forward," Moe said.
All 48 Saskatchewan Party members have since been instructed not to leave the province except on urgent government business or to attend to an emergency. Any travel will have to be approved, Moe said.
Nobody else, including political staff, left the country for the holidays, he added. He defended an earlier trip to Palm Springs by Corrections Minister Christine Tell to visit an ill relative, because it occurred when the COVID-19 situation wasn't as severe.
Hargrave's resignation came hours after the Opposition NDP pointed to a real estate listing that called into question his characterization of the trip as essential.
The listing circulated by the NDP showed the home was put up for sale on Boxing Day and that an offer was accepted Dec. 27. A government spokesperson said Hargrave left Saskatchewan on Dec. 22.
"It's irrelevant," Moe said in response to the discrepancy.
"The issue here is the perception, as we said, that we have a different set of rules for governing members versus the broader population."
The NDP accused Hargrave of lying and providing a "flimsy excuse" and a "bogus story" for not abiding by provincial and federal recommendations to avoid non-essential travel to prevent COVID-19 from spreading.
Leader Ryan Meili said Hargrave only exited cabinet because of public pressure and suggested Moe demonstrated a lack of leadership.
"He shows no real understanding of the anger his government's arrogance has caused. We all know none of this would have happened if they hadn't been caught," Meili said in a statement.
Moe said Hargrave will be replaced in cabinet by Fred Bradshaw, member of the legislature for Carrot River Valley.
The government has said Hargrave is to return to Saskatchewan when his two-week quarantine in California expires on Tuesday. Once back in Canada, he will have to isolate for another 14 days.
In Alberta, Premier Jason Kenney said Monday he had accepted the resignation of his municipal affairs minister and asked his chief of staff to step down after they took holiday trips during the pandemic.
Several other United Conservative Party members of the legislature were also disciplined for their out-of-country vacations.
Last week, Rod Phillips resigned as Ontario's finance minister after it was revealed he vacationed in the Caribbean.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 4, 2021.
Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press