Tag Archives: Neil Wilkinson

Alberta politics this week

Alison Redford Joe Clark Nelson Mandela Alberta Funeral

Former Prime Minister Joe Clark and Premier Alison Redford at Nelson Mandela’s funeral in South Africa this week (photo from Premier Alison Redford’s Facebook Page)

A new provincial cabinet was sworn-in this morning, one a week after the cabinet shuffle was announced. The original announcement, made by press release at the unusual time of 4:45pm on Friday, December 6, was typical of a tactic used by government when it wants a story to be underreported.

After facing a week of stories about unreported deaths in the foster care system and introducing arguably unconstitutional anti-labour laws, it appeared that Premier Alison Redford‘s government was looking to quietly reshuffle the cast of characters involved in those stories. But the week-long delay was caused by Ms. Redford’s trip to South Africa to attend the funeral of former president Nelson Mandela. Upon her return, the new cabinet was sworn-in.

In response to the cabinet shuffle, the Wildrose Official Opposition announced minor adjustments to its critic roster.

Young dropped from cabinet at the last minute

CBC reports that Edmonton-Riverview PC MLA Steve Young has been abruptly dropped from the provincial cabinet over undisclosed allegations dating back to his time as a police officer in Edmonton. In last Friday’s government press release, Mr. Young was announced to become the Associate Minister of Public Safety in Ms. Redford’s cabinet. He previously served as Whip of the PC caucus. Calgary-South East MLA Rick Fraser was appointed as Associate Minister of Public Safety instead.

Ken Hughes Don Iveson Mayor Edmonton Alberta

Ken Hughes and Don Iveson (photo from Twitter at @kenhughesMLA)

A provincial-municipal detente?

Some cabinet ministers did not wait for the cabinet changes to occur before tackling their new portfolios. In a move of detente to Alberta’s civic leaders, Minister of Municipal Affairs Ken Hughes met this week with Edmonton mayor Don Iveson , Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi, and Association of Municipal Districts and County president Bob Barss before he had transitioned out of the Energy portfolio. Tensions rose high between municipalities and the provincial government during former minister Doug Griffiths time in the post.

Edmonton’s Mr. Iveson announced this week that expansion of the city’s Light Rail Transit system is the top infrastructure priority for the newly elected City Council. The City is searching for the additional $515 million needed to build the southeast Valley Line to Mill Woods.

Following the cabinet shuffle, Grande Prairie-Wapiti MLA Wayne Drysdale is Transportation Minister and Calgary-Hays MLA Ric McIver is Infrastructure Minister.

AUPE launches court challenge of Bill 46

Not long after controversial Bill 45 and Bill 46 received royal assent from Lieutenant Governor Donald Ethell this week, the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees submitted a statement of claim against Bill 46 laws to the Court of Queen’s Bench.

Sandhu rejoins the Tories

Controversial Edmonton-Manning MLA Peter Sandhu was allowed to rejoin the Progressive Conservative caucus this week after sitting as an independent MLA for seven months. The second-term MLA resigned from the governing caucus in May 2013 after a CBC investigation revealed that a company owned by the politician had accumulated a trail of unpaid debt. While Ethics Commissioner Neil Wilkinson cleared Mr. Sandhu of conflict-of-interest charges, the MLA’s creditors beg to differ.

Former NDP MPP now on Liberal Party executive

Shelley Wark-Martyn is now the secretary of the Alberta Liberal Party. Ms. Wark-Martyn was the Ontario New Democratic Party MPP for Port Arthur from 1990 to 1995 during which time she served as Minister of Revenue and the junior minister for health and education in Premier Bob Rae‘s cabinet.

Three investigations kick-off 2013 in Alberta politics.

Despite winning a large majority in last spring’s provincial election, Alberta’s long-governing Progressive Conservatives had a rough ride in the media and on the floor of the Assembly last year. If Tory MLAs hoped for a reprieve in 2013, they may be disappointed.

Starting off the year are three investigations that are direct results of political scandals and controversies from 2012:

Queue-Jumping Investigation

After a disappointing start late last year, the Health Services Preferential Access Inquiry continued this week with testimony from former Capital Health CEO Sheila Weatherill.

Fred-Horne-Alberta

Fred Horne

Today, former Capital Health Board Chair Neil Wilkinson (now Alberta’s Ethics Commissioner) and Health Minister Fred Horne will be questioned. On Friday, Calgary Flames team doctor Jim Thorne and former Alberta Health Services chairman Ken Hughes (now an MLA and Energy Minister) will be appear as witnesses before the inquiry.

Anyone looking for a Watergate-type scandal that directly connects politically-influenced queue-jumping to the Premier’s office will likely be disappointed.

Elections Alberta investigates billionaire’s donations to PC Party

Global Edmonton:

“…retired Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Ernest Marshall has been appointed Director of the investigation, and Don Vander Graaf and Dave Davies have been retained as independent investigators.”

Daryl-Katz

Daryl Katz

Elections Alberta will investigate a large donation allegedly made by pharmaceutical industry billionaire Daryl Katz, owner of the Edmonton Oilers, to the Progressive Conservative Party during the 2012 election. Mr. Katz is alleged to have made a $430,000 donation to the PC Party by funnelling funds through his family and employees. Under Alberta’s elections finance laws, maximum individual donations during an election period are limited to $30,000.

While to election finance laws introduced last year by Justice Minister Jonathan Denis allow for more disclosure of donors, the new laws did not further restrict the amount that an individual or corporation can donate to a political party.

Ethics Commissioner investigates tobacco conflict allegations

Premier Alison Redford Alberta

Premier Alison Redford

Ethics Commissioner Mr. Wilkinson will investigate alleged conflict-of-interest in a decision by the government to award a lucrative tobacco lawsuit contract to a firm where Premier Alison Redford‘s ex-husband works as a lawyer.

The official decision to choose the firm was made after the Premier had resigned as Justice Minister in 2012, but the recommendation of which law firm to choose was made during her tenure in the position.

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Communications shift

Jay O’Neill, Director of Communications for Premier Redford is leaving his position. Globe  & Mail journalist Josh Wingrove noted on Twitter yesterday that over the last few months, along with Mr. O’Neill, four other staff have departed from Premier Redford’s communications office at the Assembly (Mr. O’Neill, Nikki Booth, Kim Misik, Tammy Forbes, Tracy Balash).

While it is difficult to speculate whether these departures were voluntary or not, it does appear that the Premier’s office may be taking steps to improve its communications and issues management strategy (especially in light of the investigations noted above).

is edmonton’s former capital health board being targeted by a calgary-led witch-hunt?

Witch Trial Alberta Health Services

The Alberta Health Services investigation into former Capital Health executives.

Are executives of the former Calgary Health Region, now comfortably occupying senior positions at Alberta Health Services, campaigning to discredit the work done by executives of Edmonton’s now-defunct Capital Health Region?

AHS President and CEO Chris Eagle announced earlier this week that, following the Allaudin Merali expense-claims scandal, an Ernst and Young audit would expand to include expense-claims from all former executives of Edmonton’s Capital Region Heath Authority. This expenses audit could include investigations into former Capital Health President and CEO Sheila Weatherhill, who recently resigned from the AHS Board of Directors, and potentially Ethics Commissioner Neil Wilkinson, who served as Capital Health’s board chairman until 2008.

Despite calls from critics to expand the expenses audit, it will not investigate former executives from Alberta’s other now-defunct regional health authorities.

Before it was dissolved, Capital Health was widely seen as an example of innovative regional health care in Alberta for its pioneering of Health Link and creation of the Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute and the Edmonton Clinic at the University of Alberta. The targeting of only Capital Health officials in this expense-audit could be seen as a campaign to discredit their many successes of Capital Health by officials from the former Calgary Health Region, which was mired in a financial deficit.

Some current Alberta Health Services senior executives who were employed or connected with the former Calgary Health Region include President & CEO Mr. Eagle, Executive Vice President and Chief Development Officer Bill Trafford, Chief Operations Officer Chris Marzukowich, Chief Medical Officer David Megran, and Senior Vice President (Communications) Roman Cooney. Even the AHS senior vice-president in charge of the Edmonton zone, Mike Conroy, held several senior management positions with the Calgary Health Region.

For many years, the Calgary Health Region benefited from political proximity to both Premier Ralph Klein, and former Provincial Treasurer Jim Dinning, who later served as chairman of the health region’s board of directors. Prominent politically connected directors appointed to serve on the Calgary Health board included Premier Klein’s constituency president Skip MacDonald and Progressive Conservative Party vice-president Scobey Hartley.

In some circles, it is suspected that the creation of the provincial health superboard was a reaction to the political brazenness of former Calgary Health Region CEO Jack Davis, who was known to use media attention to leverage increased funding from the provincial government. As CEO of Capital Health, Ms. Weatherill used considerably more tact than her Calgary counterpart, relying on official channels to lobby the government.

In its final year of existence, the Calgary Health Region recorded a $85 million deficit and Mr. Davis went public to get more money from Premier Ed Stelmach’s government before the 2008 election, which threatened to make it an campaign issue. Shortly after the Tories were re-elected in 2008, the regional health authorities were dissolved and Health Minister Ron Liepert created Alberta Health Services. The dissolution of the Calgary Health Region led to Mr. Davis receiving a $4 million retirement package (Ms. Weatherill was paid about $2 million under her supplemental executive retirement plan).

Expanding the expense-claims audit beyond the Capital Health Region could reveal similarities and contrasts in expense-claims, but more dangerously for some, it could dive into the annals of PC Party patronage. The regional health boards across the province were notoriously stacked with appointees who also happened to be card-carrying members of the PC Party.

Among the prominent Tories appointed as chairman of the former regional health authorities included cabinet minister and PC election campaign manager Marvin Moore in the Peace Country Health Authority and former cabinet minister, Ernie Isley, who served as chairman of the Lakeland Health Authority, which posted a $4 million deficit in 2002.

allaudin merali’s extravagant expenses and severance package a blow to alberta health services, redford government.

The highest echelons of Alberta Health Services are once again being rocked by a firestorm of public criticism after it was revealed that AHS Chief Financial Officer Allaudin Merali had claimed more than $345,000 in expenses to the former Capital Health regional authority.

Allaudin Merali Alberta Health Services

Allaudin Merali

Mr. Merali was fired by AHS hours before the Canadian Boardcasting Corporation aired the story about how he claimed thousands of dollars on lavish meals at restaurants, bottles of wine, catering, and an expensive phone for his Mercedes Benz car. Shifting quickly into damage control mode, AHS soon after released Mr. Merali’s expense claims on their website.

Making the controversy even more outrageous, Mr. Merali is expected to receive a severance package from AHS after his employment was terminated with cause (even AHS CEO Chris Eagle does not have this provision included in his contract).

The story was uncovered by intrepid CBC reporter Charles Rusnell, who has become one of Alberta’s star investigative journalists after uncovering cases of pork-barrel politics and scores of illegal donations made by public institutions to the Progressive Conservative Party.

The controversy claimed a second high-ranking AHS official yesterday as former Capital Health CEO Shiela Weatherill resigned from the AHS board of directors. Seen as a voice of credibility after her successful time as the CEO of Capital Health until it was merged into AHS in 2008, Ms. Weatherill was appointed to the AHS board after the departure of controversial former AHS President and CEO Stephen Duckett in late 2010. Ms. Weatherill was Mr. Merali’s boss when he served as CFO of Capital Health, when many of the expense claims were made.

Fred Horne Alberta Health Minister

Fred Horne

Questions are also being raised about the role of Alberta’s current Ethics Commissioner, Neil Wilkinson, who served as chair of the Capital Health board of directors during Mr. Merali’s time as CFO of the former regional health authority.

The controversy is a blow for Premier Alison Redford‘s PC government, which was swept into office earlier this year after promising to breath new life into the four decade old government. To his credit, Health Minister Fred Horne responded quickly to the controversy and promised that future expenses for public officials at that level will be made public on a quarterly basis. With the damage already done, the largest measure of response the government has is to ensure this does not happen again.

As others have already pointed out, public funds used to fill these types of extravagant expense claims only take money away from where it belongs – on the front-lines of our public health care system.