Over the past eight months, Premier Alison Redford‘s Tories have been quickly dispatching the handful of scandals and allegations that dogged them and robbed them of their political agenda throughout 2012. Facing an aggressive Wildrose official opposition, the Progressive Conservatives were marred by controversy as they struggled to put forward a coherent government agenda in the months following last year’s election.
With the delivery of Justice John Vertes final report from the semi-independent Health Services Preferential Access Inquiry, the long-governing Tories have dispatched another potentially embarrassing scandal that has dogged them since their party’s 2011 leadership race.
The final report into allegations of politically-influenced queue-jumping released today found no smoking gun or Watergate-type connections between senior politicians and preferential access in Alberta’s health care system.
While the scope of Justice Vertes’ inquiry was narrower than Premier Redford originally promised, with no investigations into the alleged intimidation of medical professionals, there are no signs of any massive cover-up.
There are questions about the quality of the responses from those questioned during the inquiry hearings. As the report said, “many witnesses, even though called to testify under oath, exhibited a regrettable failure to recollect events and activities that should not have slipped so easily from memory.”
While the inquiry did discover some startling cases of queue-jumping, including at the private Helios cancer screening clinic in Calgary, the report rebukes the two prominent individuals who claimed there was political interference.
The first allegation was made by former Alberta Health Services President and CEO Stephen Duckett in a speech and he admitted his sources were second-hand. Dr. Duckett has since returned to Australia, where he is the health program director at the Grattan Institute.
Maybe the politician to lose the most from this report is Liberal Party leader Dr. Raj Sherman, who has spent years claiming to have first-hand evidence of queue-jumping. Dr. Sherman, an emergency room doctor and former parliamentary assistant to the Health Minister, spoke with credibility two years ago and earned a folk-hero status when he was turfed from the Tory caucus in 2010. The Doctor has been unable to produce any evidence supporting his claims, which will certainly hurt his credibility.
Dr. Sherman’s absence at today’s inquiry report announcement was noticed, as New Democrat MLA David Eggen and Wildrose official opposition leader Danielle Smith made themselves readily available for interviews outside the official media briefing. None of the province’s five Liberal MLAs were present at the event.
Looking and sounding more like a Premier-in-waiting each day, Ms. Smith responded to the final report with calm and ease. Not overly critical, the opposition leader questioned the limited scope of the inquiry compared to its originally promised mandate and complimented its recommendations.
The report makes numerous recommendations, including the creation of a Health Advocate and the strengthening of whistleblower protection legislation for health care workers. Both of which have the potential to be positive changes for the health care system.
The Tories may take the recommendation to create a Health Advocate as an opportunity to push the long-shelved and controversial Alberta Health Act into law. Approved by the Assembly in October 2010 , the legislation has collected dust without Royal Assent since.