Concerns raised after photos of Alta. premier, ministers dining on Sky Palace rooftop emerge

Photographs of Premier Jason Kenney and members of the UCP caucus dining together on a rooftop patio are drawing criticism over the alleged flouting of the province's own gathering rules.

The group was spotted on the balcony of the Sky Palace of the Federal Building in Edmonton on the evening of June 1 by a 'concerned Albertan' who captured images of their meal, complete with wine, from another downtown building. The photographs were sent to CTV News Calgary with a request for anonymity.

Among the attendees were the premier, Health Minister Tyler Shandro, Finance Minister Travis Toews, Minister of Environment and Parks and House Leader Jason Nixon and the premier's Deputy Chief of Staff Pam Livingston.

Duane Bratt, a Mount Royal University political scientist, questioned the optics of the gathering.

Premier and the most important ministers: Shandro (health), Toews (finance), Nixon (environment and govt house leader). Celebrating the second dose announcement and re-opening plan.

— Duane Bratt (@DuaneBratt) June 2, 2021

NDP Opposition Leader Rachel Notley took exception with what she views as a violation of pandemic-related restrictions.

"Albertans expect leaders to lead, not break the rules from the top of their castle," said Notley in a posting to Twitter Wednesday afternoon.

A statement from the premier's office said the meal was on the up-and-up.

"Albertans are happy that our province is moving in the right direction, and we fully expect that many Albertans are now enjoying the increased gatherings that Stage 1 allows," said spokesperson Jerrica Goodwin in a statement to CTV News. "The Premier, with a few ministers and staff members, held a working dinner last night.

"You'll note the gathering was outdoors. I suggest you review the Stage 1 guidelines, which began yesterday: "Outdoor social gatherings – up to 10 people (indoor social gatherings still not permitted).

"Attendance was kept under 10. Costs were not incurred by taxpayers." 

The executive director of communications and planning for the premier confirmed the gathering size was in line with the current rules.

BREAKING: Premier holds outdoor gathering of eight after outdoor gatherings of 10 are permitted in Alberta.

— Brock W. Harrison (@BrockWHarrison) June 2, 2021

Under the current restrictions imposed by Alberta Health that remain in place as part of Stage 1 of Alberta's 'Open for Summer' reopening plan, outdoor patio dining at restaurants is limited to a maximum of four members of the same household or three people if diners live alone. Tuesday's gathering atop the Sky Palace included a server.

The Stage 1 rules for outdoor social gatherings place a cap of 10 participants who must maintain physical distancing at all times and the gatherings must not have an indoor component, meaning movement in-and-out of the buildings in not permitted.

Meanwhile, the Alberta Hospitality Association, a group that includes many restaurant and bar owners who have been severely impacted by the government's COVID-19 health guidelines, is upset at the apparent lack of regard.

"We’ve been doing our best these last 14 months to work with the government to get reopened, it's very angering," said president Ernie Tsu. "It just does not make any sense."

Keith Brownsey, a political scientist at Calgary's Mount Royal University, feels its a "bad look" for the Kenney government.

"The hypocrisy of it is that they impose these rules on everybody else but they don’t have to follow them," he said. "It shows a disconnect between the average Albertan and this UCP government.

(With files from Tyson Fedor)