NDP calls for Joe Hargrave to resign from cabinet, Hargrave apologizes for “error in judgment”

Prince Albert Carlton MLA Joe Hargrave, pictured wearing a non-medical mask, listens to Premier Scott Moe during a press conference in Prince Albert during the 2020 election campaign. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

Opposition Leader Ryan Meili and Deputy Leader Nicole Sarauer called for Prince Albert Carlton MLA and Minister of Highways, Joe Hargrave, to resign and criticized the premier’s response to the matter during a press availability on Thursday.

Meili said that Moe asked Saskatchewan residents to stay home and not travel but allowed his minister, Hargrave, to travel to California. 

“California which is in a state of a very serious COVID outbreak. Where they have no capacity in their hospitals, where no one should be travelling right now, that’s where Joe Hargrave decided to go and the premier said that’s just fine with him,” Meili said. 

The leader of the NDP added this is “one more sign of the lack of reflection and lack of humility when it comes to Scott Moe’s response to COVID-19.”

A statement from Hargrave released yesterday said that he traveled to Palm Springs on Dec. 22 to finalize the sale of his personal property and move things back to Saskatchewan. He said it was a personal choice to deal with personal business that he deemed necessary. 

Another statement from Moe said that he was aware of Hargrave’s travel plans and “conveyed the expectation that he follow all public health guidelines and self-isolate for 14-days upon his return.” 

Hargrave said in his statement that he will be following guidelines and self-isolating at his home in Prince Albert once he returns. 

Sarauer said the NDP is angry and disappointed with Hargrave’s decision to travel and Moe’s approval of the travel at a time when Saskatchewan residents have been asked to make “very difficult sacrifices” over the holidays. 

“It’s nothing short of disgusting, frankly, to see a minister who thinks that this is acceptable,” she added. 

Sarauer also called for Hargrave to resign from his cabinet position. 

“At this stage to have a cabinet minister who doesn’t think that rules apply to him or guidelines apply to him should not be allowed and he should no longer be a cabinet minister,” she said. 

She added that this “ultimately falls” on Moe who said he knew about the trip and “from what I’ve read has approved it.” 

“We’ve heard nothing by way of remorse or contrition as to whether or not it was appropriate for someone in cabinet to go travelling at a time when it’s been so difficult for so many Saskatchewan families,” Sarauer added. 

Meili said both Hargrave and Moe showed “extremely poor judgement” in having this trip take place. He said they should be talking to the press and explaining their roles in the situation. 

He also called for Hargrave’s resignation from cabinet saying it would show an example that this is a time for leaders to step up, and to follow the rules and encourage others to do so. 

“Instead this premier, all along, has given mixed messages to the public about how to decrease the spread of COVID-19, how to protect each other,” Meili said “What’s a bigger mixed message than saying everybody else should stay home but my ministers can go do whatever they want.” 

As for what Hargrave should have done in this situation, Meili said he should have considered if this trip and business had to be done in the middle of a pandemic and when cases are high in California. 

Meili said Hargrave should have also thought about other options such as seeing if the sale could be done online from a distance and if someone else could pack up his belongings and send them back to Saskatchewan.

“He had other options and to just decide to instead ignore the rules and abuse his power as a minister and decide to do what he felt like doing when everybody else is asked to be making sacrifices, it’s just wrong,” Meili said. 

Meili and Sarauer also called into question the reasoning behind Hargrave’s decision to travel. 

“It seems pretty convenient that the financial matter happened in a warm part of the world during vacation season,” Meili said. 

Sarauer said she finds it hard to believe that selling a personal residence can be deemed a business trip. 

“I think most people would see that and think that’s a personal trip to deal with personal matters. It deals with your personal finances, maybe, but it’s not a business trip,” Sarauer said.

“He didn’t have to go down to conduct business for his job which is what other people would consider a business trip. Just because Minister Hargrave has deemed it a business trip does not make it a business trip,” Sarauer said. 

In an emailed statement, Hargrave apologized for what he called an “error in judgment.”

“In discussions with the premier, I realize that my decision to travel was an error in judgement at a time when so many people have had to make sacrifices during the pandemic.” 

Hargrave is in California with his wife, who has a stake in the property. Both are following public health orders and will be returning to Canada after their self-isolation period in California is finished on Jan. 5, according to the statement.

A statement released by the premier’s office said Hargrave will remain the Minister of Highways. 

The release further stated that no other cabinet or caucus members are travelling internationally during the holidays.