The President and Co-CEO of a billion dollar oil and gas transportation and trucking company headquartered in Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith‘s Highwood constituency has been appointed as the new chairperson of Alberta Health Services.
The previous board chair, Ken Hughes is now Energy Minister and the Progressive Conservative MLA for Calgary-West, so one would easily suspect that Stephen Lockwood‘s connections to the Tory Party are at the root of his appointment as AHS chairperson.
While Mr. Lockwood admits having made financial contributions to Mr. Hughes recent election campaign, the chairperson and founder of the company be runs – the Mullen Group – have been vicious critics of the PC Party and large financial supporters of the opposition Wildrose Party.
In 2007, Mullen Group founder Roland Mullen and his son, Murray Mullen, were two of the loudest opponents of Premier Ed Stelmach‘s decision to revisit Alberta’s natural resource royalty regime. Their opposition to the royalty review extended so far that the billion dollar company laid off 100 staff during the heat of the debate. Perhaps not surprisingly, in 2008, the father and son donated a combined $25,000 to the Wildrose Party. In 2009, they donated $5000 each to Ms. Smith’s leadership campaign and continued to donate to the Wildrose Party over the next few years.
AHS has been a lightning rod for criticism by opposition parties since it was created by the PCs following the 2008 election. Recent criticism over the decision to close the Little Bow Continuing Care Centrein the southern Alberta village of Carmangay has raised questions about the Tory government cutting funding for facilities and programs in rural constituencies that elected Wildrose MLA’s in the April 2012 election. As if the firing of former President and CEO Stephen Duckett in 2010 was not enough of a public embarrassment, the firing of AHS Chief Financial Officer Allaudin Merali and resignation of board member Sheila Weatherill earlier this summer has done nothing to help the already damaged public image of the province-wide health authority.
Mr. Lockwood’s stated goal in yesterday’s Government of Alberta media release was to achieve something called “Total Albertan Satisfaction“, but in reality his goal will be to provide stability and improve public perception of AHS in the eyes of Albertans.
But perhaps most interestingly, by appointing a chairperson from Calgary who runs one of the largest employers in the town of Okotoks and whose founders are financial supporters of the Wildrose Party, the Tories may have put Ms. Smith and her party in a precarious situation of having to temper their non-stop attacks against the AHS superboard. Or maybe not.