Tag Archives: Sheila Weatherill

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).

new alberta health services chairperson’s tory and wildrose connections.

we gonna roll this truckin convoy

We gonna roll this truckin convoy…

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.

Stephen Lockwood Alberta Health Services

Stephen Lockwood

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.

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.

legislative agenda a side-show. leadership contests the only show in town.

Amid all the regal pomp and ceremony we could spare ahead of Wills & Kate’s expected visit this Summer, Lieutenant Governor Donald Ethell delivered his first Speech from the Throne today.

PC leadership candidate Alison Redford

An annual event, politicos patiently lined up to listen to the Queen’s representative sit on a throne and read a speech (and then afterward network at a giant cocktail party under the Rotunda’s giant marble dome).

Typically, these speeches are used to present vague feel-good messages about the government’s legislative agenda during that session of the Assembly. With Premier Ed Stelmach having announced that he will resign in September 2011, there is little doubt that most of the real political action overt the next eight months will take place outside the Assembly. As the experience in the provincial cabinet was parred down with the departure of leadership candidates Ted Morton, Doug Horner, and Alison Redford, this government’s Legislative Agenda is appears to be as decisive as a lame-duck. Its only saving grace may be the Provincial Budget, to be presented by Finance Minister Lloyd Snelgrove on Thursday, February 24.

PC leadership candidate Ted Morton.

The government legislation prepared for the Spring Session (announced via media release last week) presents a mostly light agenda, including house-keeping amendments in the Livestock Industry Diversification Amendment Act, Alberta Investment Management Corporation Amendment Act, Securities Amendment Act, Rules of Court Statutes Amendment Act, Corrections Amendment Act, and the Victims of Crime Amendment Act.

Justice Minister Verlyn Olson

Bill 1: The Asia Advisory Council Act,, tabled immediately following today’s Throne Speech, proposes to create what its title suggests, a council to advise on Asian trade. A watered down Education Act is expected to be tabled during the spring sitting and debate on the Bill is not expected to be concluded until the Fall sitting, when a new PC leader/Premier will decide its fate.

Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky

The most interesting piece of legislation presented by the government in this session may be the Alberta Land Stewardship Amendment Act, which the government hopes will quell dissent by rural landowners concerned that government is encroaching on their property rights. The property rights issue, spurned by the development of transmission line corridors and the passage of Bills 19, 23, 30, and 50, has drawn thousands of rural Albertans to town hall meetings over the past four years. The Liberals and NDP have tried to hone in on the issue, but the Wildrose Alliance appears to have shown some short-term success in making it one of their key political wedge issues.

PC leadership candidate Doug Griffiths (right) and his wife Sue (left) with a supporter.

Health care was the issue that defined the 2010 fall sitting of the Assembly which ended last November. Emergency debates, the ejection from the PC caucus of outspoken Edmonton-Meadowlark MLA Dr. Raj Sherman, the allegations of a smear campaign started by Edmonton-Rutherford MLA Fred Horne, and the forced resignation of Alberta Health Services CEO Stephen Duckett made for some of the most exciting political Albertans had seen until Premier Ed Stelmach’s resignation announcement in February 2011.

Wildrose leader Danielle Smith.

Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky will do his best to keep the health care file under control during this political season. He has started off fairly well with the announcement that the provincial budget, to be tabled on February 24, will include the promised 6% increase in health care funding. He has also deflected some criticism of the AHS Board of Directors by appointing five new members, including former Capital Health CEO Sheila Weatherill, who all seem like appropriate choices. His biggest challenge will to actually prove that patient care can be improved under his guidance.

On the surface, the governing PCs will be talking about a Legislative agenda, but in reality their attention will be focused on choosing a new leader. It may be the hottest leadership contest in the province, but they are not the only party having to face the reality of a fairly fluid political environment.

Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman.

The Liberal Party and Alberta Party are also in the midst of their own leadership contests. Independent Edmonton-Meadowlark MLA Raj Sherman has non-chalantly mused that he may seek the leadership of a political party, but that he is not yet sure which one (Watch the video of Dr. Sherman’s interview with CHAT TV) and Edmonton-Centre MLA Laurie Blakeman defused rumours that she was crossing the floor to the Alberta Party by announcing that she will seek the leadership of the Liberal Party.

With leadership contests in full-swing until Fall 2011 in three of the province’s five main political parties, Albertans may have to wait until 2012 to see another solid Legislative hit the floor of their Assembly.

See more photos from today’s Speech from the Throne.