Alberta’s Premier took questions Wednesday night for the first time since reprimanding several UCP MLAs - but he didn’t speak to journalists, instead fielding inquiries from commenters on Facebook.
“I’m right here, I’m not hiding,” Kenney said from the Federal Building in downtown Edmonton.
“I’m taking questions from the public right now. The way we work these things is when my schedule allows me to add in an hour or 90 minutes of Q & A on Facebook like this, it’s usually the day of,” the premier said of the surprise appearance.
Kenney did not comment on why he hasn’t held a news conference since Jan. 1, but said he would provide more information during the province’s COVID-19 news conference on Thursday.
On Wednesday, a communications expert and a political scientist criticized the premier for not fielding questions sooner.
"The fact that the premier is avoiding questions from the media on a continuing basis is, I think, a problem," Lori Williams from Mount Royal University said.
"It just doesn't look like he's being particularly effective or decisive. He doesn't look like he's taking responsibility. In fact, it looks quite evasive," Williams added.
Kenney took Facebook questions about everything from pipelines to the safety of vaccines for more than an hour - and insisted he wasn’t editing what was asked.
He was apologetic when asked about the UCP travel scandal.
“I take responsibility for not having been absolutely clear that that was not acceptable,” Kenney said.
“I am deeply, deeply disappointed and I share the public anger. I hear people. People have made huge sacrifices.”
The premier did not address the #ResignKenney hashtag that has trended on Twitter on and off since the scandal broke - but he said the UCP was going to try to rebuild the trust of Albertans.
Kenney was asked repeatedly about what the province plans to do with coronavirus restrictions going forward - and while he stated he believes kids are at very low risk in schools and argued air travel is safer than visiting a friend’s house - he promised to provide more information about restrictions on Thursday.
Damage already done?
After Kenney's appearances Wednesday and Thursday, Williams said the damage may have already been done with the Alberta public.
“The question remains whether, in fact, he can earn back trust," she said.
“Those questions of whether he’s being evasive, I think, are front and centre in a lot of Albertans’ minds.”
“This is a premier who is known for being quite a micromanager," she added. "He would’ve had contact with these people over the holiday to be able to continue to conduct the business of government. And the claim that he didn’t know that they were going or had gone, or were not going until they were leaving to the airport, is one that a lot of people raise questions about.”
Kenney might have some work to do with people in his own party, she added.
“I wouldn’t be surprised," she said, "if there are a lot of people within caucus, whose anger is similar to that of ordinary Albertans, that might be putting pressure on for some kind of change.”
With files from CTV Edmonton