Pickering's deputy mayor steps down from post after travelling abroad to visit son's ashes

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TORONTO — Pickering’s deputy mayor is stepping down from his post after travelling outside the country over the holiday break to visit his son’s ashes, and a city councillor is apologizing for flying to Costa Rica to supervise the construction of his retirement home.

Kevin Ashe, the regional councillor for Ward 1, announced his decision on Thursday. It comes after he and his family travelled to abroad to visit his son Alex’s ashes “and deal with our ongoing grief.” Ashe said his son died by suicide.

“In making this decision, I believed it was a necessary one for the mental well-being of our family. But I am also aware of how this appears, recognizing that we have all been urged to stay home in an effort to contain COVID-19,” he said in a statement.

Ashe said he did not want his trip to detract from the important work the city council does and apologized to the mayor and his fellow councillors.

He also made the decision last week to not continue as the chair of the Durham Police Services Board because Ashe said that he did not want to be a “distraction.”

“I also recognize that the pandemic and resulting social isolation have negatively impacted the mental health of many in our community. And as such, I fully accept the criticism of myself and my efforts to heal abroad, because your struggles over the past year, as well as your efforts to stay safe at home are not lost on me.

“I have heard you. I acknowledge your feelings of frustration and anger; and I am truly sorry for my actions,” Ashe said.

Another Pickering councillor, Bill McLean, also released a statement on Thursday, revealing that he is currently in Costa Rica with his wife.

McLean said he travelled to the Central American country “to finalize the construction of our eventual retirement home.”

McLean, the regional councillor for Ward 2, insisted that he thinks his trip is essential but acknowledged that he disappointed his constituents in his decision to travel.

“My intent was never to hide this fact and I want to take this opportunity to explain my decision to travel and express my apologies and regret for the unnecessary distractions to our council and the residents of Durham,” McLean said.

In the statement, he noted that they had postponed a couple of trips since the pandemic began in March. However, McLean said he found in November that it was becoming “critical to be on site to finalize our project.”

McLean said he booked the trip before the provincewide lockdown went into effect on Dec. 26.

“I made sure to have the proper infrastructure in place so that I could continue to serve my constituents and actively participate in council meetings for the duration of my travel,” he said. “I share these details not as an excuse, but instead to present the facts that led to my decision making.”

Ashe and McLean join the list of politicians and other high-profile officials who are facing criticism for travelling abroad despite public health guidance to avoid non-essential trips.

Ajax MPP Rod Phillips resigned as Ontario’s finance minister after his trip to the Caribbean. Dr. Tom Stewart, the president and CEO of St. Joseph’s Health System, also stepped down after it was revealed that he went on a trip to the Dominican Republic. Halton’s police chief also received backlash for travelling to Florida to tend to his property.

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