Alberta Politics

Firing AHS board a short-term solution to a Tory political problem.

Fred Horne Alberta Health Minister
Fred Horne

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.

Alberta Finance Minister Ron Liepert
Ron Liepert

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.


3 replies on “Firing AHS board a short-term solution to a Tory political problem.”

I was around for most of the politics involving health boards and health board governance – first as the last elected chair of the Red Deer Regional Hospital Board and later as an elected trustee on the David Thompson Health Region. (okay okay, it wasn’t really an election – I got in by acclamation). I witnessed first hand a lot of rather questionable actions and interventions by the Government. Bottom line was almost always – if it was good, the Government said they did it, if it was bad or politically unpopular, it was all the Health Boards fault. So I take any spin doctoring by Fred Horne and his colleagues on health board governance with a very large grain of salt. They are guilty of of a whole lot of things, but don’t count on any upfront public disclosure by them on what really went on.

I do not recall since coming to Alberta in 1981 as a brand new Mountie where things ever ran smoothly with focus on helping the people of Alberta get the health care they each to this day HAVE THE RIGHT TO. In the complete absence of accountability there will always be corruption. Having an enforcement board to police politicians is the only way to get our governments to start serving the people instead of themselves!!! It is the same way in police work still today as the OLD BOYS CLUB gets first dibs and the best seats!

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