Alberta Agriculture and Forestry Minister Devin Dreeshen is resigning from cabinet to focus on addressing problems related to alcohol, CBC News has learned.
“This morning, I offered Premier Jason Kenney my resignation as minister of agriculture and forestry, and he has accepted,” reads a statement from the minister provided to CBC News.
“I accept that my personal conduct with regards to alcohol has become an issue for the government as a whole. I deeply regret that this is the case but have decided that it is best for both myself and the province to resign my position and focus on my personal health and wellness.”
Multiple United Conservative government staff have told CBC News that Dreeshen was known to frequently drink in the legislature, a routine that sometimes involved locking his office doors while the alcohol was being consumed, they said.
Three current and former staff for United Conservative Party ministers described at least 10 occurrences of the alleged behaviour over 2019 and 2020 in interviews with CBC News.
CBC has agreed not to use their names because of their concerns about repercussions on their employment.
Doors often locked when alcohol came out, staffers say
Each of the government staffers said they saw the minister drinking in his office on multiple occasions.
Typically, the alcohol consumption would begin in the late afternoon, they said, and would often continue into the evening, including some occasions when late-night sittings of the legislative assembly were scheduled.
The staff saw behaviour they say ranged from a few drinks to nights of heavy consumption.
“One was very sloppy,” a staffer recalled of an evening gathering in Dreeshen’s office.
They said when the minister and his staff would pull out alcohol, the doors to the office were often locked to prevent others from accidentally wandering in. Two said it was common to hear the refrain of “Shields up” as a signal to lock the doors.
Once the doors were locked, a code word for gaining access to the office was sometimes decided on, the employees said.
Kenney recalls sharing drinks in minister’s office once
CBC News had reached out to the minister and the premier’s office for a response to these recent allegations but instead received word that Dreeshen would be stepping down from the cabinet. He will remain in the UCP caucus.
Speaking at a media event about hydrogen energy policy on Friday, Kenney acknowledged he had accepted Dreeshen’s resignation and announced that he has tapped Nate Horner, associate minister of rural economic development, to take over as agriculture and forestry minister.
Asked by a reporter whether he had ever shared drinks with Dreeshen in the minister’s office, Kenney said he recalled one occasion when the minister was hosting investors in the lumber industry.
“I think there was one or two drinks at a social, evening gathering at his office that I attended. And that’s all that I can recall,” he said.
Kenney later said he thinks it’s acceptable for members of the legislature to drink socially from time to time.
“Political life is a very social activity. But people should be mature and responsible in terms of consuming alcohol, especially in any kind of a workplace environment.”
Allegations first made in suit against premier’s office
The resignation and the new revelations from staffers come after Dreeshen was named in a lawsuit against the premier’s office by a former government chief of staff.
In her statement of claim, Ariella Kimmel alleges Dreeshen indulged in “excessive drinking” on a night last fall. She says she intervened and encouraged him to stop. Later that evening, the document alleges, he confronted her and “aggressively yelled at her to the point where she was in tears and a concerned bystander intervened.”
The two had previously been in an on-and-off relationship, according to Kimmel.
She says she reported the confrontation to multiple people in the premier’s office and says the behaviour was never addressed. Her lawsuit alleges she was fired for raising those concerns about the minister’s conduct and also for speaking up about sexual harassment of female staff by a man who was then advising the health minister.
“With my behaviour, there are long, hard days in the legislature, and I think that’s something that everybody has had to deal with,” Dreeshen said Monday in response to the allegations against him in the statement of claim.
Kenney took questions on the matter for the first time Wednesday but did not say what was being done to look into Dreeshen’s alleged behaviour and drinking in the statement of claim.
“I am not aware of any allegations of harassment with respect to that individual,” he said.
“When it comes to individual, personal relationships, those are things that I don’t comment on.”
Kenney himself is not named in the lawsuit. None of the allegations have been proven in court and the subsequent details of drinking provided by staff are not included in the statement of claim.
One staffer noted that while the drinking in Dreeshen’s office was regular, it’s not an issue confined to that ministry alone.
“In some offices, there was a social component to the job, and that involved drinking,” the staffer said.
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