Yesterday I asked “who’s the boss” in the battle between Health Minister Fred Horne and Alberta Health Services board chairman Stephen Lockwood over executive bonuses. We found out the answer early yesterday morning when Minister Horne not only fired Mr. Lockwood, but he fired the entire AHS super board, replacing them with one administrator to oversee the entire agency.
There is little doubt that the Tories decision to fire the entire AHS board puts them on the side of public opinion. Whether the decision proves to be right in the long-term, there is little doubt the centralized super board was almost universally disliked by Albertans since it was created in 2008 and the firing of the board will likely be widely supported by many Albertans. This makes it difficult to believe that Minister Horne’s heavy handed decision was made in the spur of the moment. The skeptic in me says the Tories must have been paying attention to public opinion polling and knew that enough political points could be gained by firing their own appointed AHS board. They were looking for a win and they found it, at least in the short-term.
Short-term political wins aside, the Tories will continue to face the long-term problem which is their inability to stop themselves when it comes to imposing control over those they appoint to as administrators of the health care system.
The centralized AHS-model was imposed in 2008 when Health Minister Ron Liepert dissolved the nine remaining regional health authorities, as well as the Alberta Cancer Board, Alberta Mental Health Board and Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission. The previous regional boards, which were stacked with card carrying Progressive Conservative Party appointees, had become a political problem for Tories.
The normally passive boards of handpicked government appointees had become restless following the selection of Ed Stelmach as Premier in the 2006 PC Party leadership contest. Or perhaps more accurately, they had become restless after the defeat of Jim Dinning, the choice of the Tory establishment.
As I have written before, it is widely suspected that the creation of the provincial health superboard was a reaction to the political brazenness of former Calgary Health Region CEO and Ralph Klein-loyalist Jack Davis. As the Calgary Health Region recorded a $85 million deficit, Mr. Davis went public to get more money from Premier Stelmach’s government before the 2008 election, which threatened to make it an campaign issue. After Premier Stelmach’s Tories were re-elected, the regional boards were dissolved and AHS was created.
But that was not the first time in recent history that the Tories have tinkered with the health authorities to solve a political problem. In 2003, Tory Health Minister Gary Mar ended the short-lived experiment of elected regional health boards by firing most of the members who had been elected in the 2001 vote. It was widely suspected that the Tories disliked the results of their health board elections, which saw Albertans elect more than a few Liberal and New Democratic Party supporters to the new positions.