In the months leading up to the spring election, my Wildrose colleagues and I highlighted example after example of what happens when a political party has been in government for too long. We called attention to behaviour like the PC party soliciting and accepting illegal donations from public institutions like municipalities, school boards, Alberta Health Services, and post secondary institutions, bullying and intimidation of health care professionals and local elected representatives, closed door contracts with PC connected firms with no public tendering, and the promotions and appointments of officials who have track records of abusing public dollars to top spots in government and the PC party. We called it a “culture of corruption”, where mutual back-scratching insiders use public dollars for personal or political benefit. This is what happens when a party has been in power for more than four decades- politicians and insiders get out of touch with everyday Albertans, entitlement sets in and they believe the rules that apply to everyone else no longer apply to them.
This week, a glaring example of this deep seated and entrenched behaviour hit the news. The Chief Financial Officer of Alberta Health Services was revealed to have received about $350, 000 in expenses for unbelievable claims like car detailing and repairs to his Mercedes Benz, expensive meals, butler service and opera tickets, in his previous role with Capital Health between 2005-08. Despite this background, he was appointed CFO of Alberta Health Services about three months ago. Because of public exposure, the CFO is stepping down and may walk away with a hefty taxpayer funded severance package of nearly half a million dollars.
What’s more, just prior to the election, he had actually been appointed as the Controller for the entire government of Alberta, through an Order-in-Council, which is a special decree put forward by the Minister of Finance and approved by the Premier and Government Cabinet Ministers. Regardless of this abhorrent track record with the public purse, including involvement in a similar spending scandal in Ontario and despite warnings from Alberta’s former Auditor General about his previous expenditures and expense claims with Capital Health, the PC government put him in charge of internal financial controls for the entire government in March. It’s unclear why he left that role, but immediately after the election, he became the CFO of Alberta Health Services (AHS).
Trying to explain this fiasco after it became public, the Minister of Health had very few answers for Albertans. When trying to justify how this individual got hired as the top financial watch dog for our health care system in the first place, the Minister of Health said he was “dumbfounded”, “outraged” and didn’t know about expenses or his previous involvement with the Ontario scandal.
Dumbfounded. The problem is that other Ministers acknowledged they did know about the individual’s role in the spending scandal in Ontario. And it is incredulous that the Minister of Health, or other senior officials, did not seem to know anything about his penchant for living high off the hog on taxpayers’ dollars before he was hired. Either nobody knew, which reveals rank incompetence and negligence in the hiring and appointment process, or they’re fudging the truth. Of course, Premier Redford isn’t here to address Albertans directly about this affront, because she is at the Olympics in London, on a trip that will singlehandedly cost taxpayers much more than what most Albertans will make this year: an estimated $84,000.
There is so much wrong with this situation, it is hard to even know where to start.
Aside from the galling expense claims and obscene waste of public dollars, the incompetence or wilful oversight in the appointment process, and the pattern of politicians and senior government officials only looking out for themselves, Albertans can be forgiven for also being alarmed about what this fiasco says about the government’s priorities. Mere weeks ago, Alberta Health Services shocked residents and front line health care staff in Carmangay by announcing the closure of the Little Bow Continuing Care Centre because they say renovation of the facility is too costly. Adding together just the expense claims, potential severance payment and the Olympic trip I’ve mentioned here, it looks like there is surely enough money in the coffers to fix that facility after all. This kind of irresponsible abuse of public dollars is probably just the tip of the iceburg, and it is symptomatic of a broken and corrupt system.
But, sadly, this is par for the course. After four decades in power, this government’s decisions are totally out of whack from the common sense of most Albertans. They treat taxpayer dollars like a bottomless personal piggybank to reward insiders and political pals while Albertans suffer on waiting lists for specialized procedures and surgeries that are among the longest in the country, emergency rooms and Emergency Management Services are in crisis, seniors in long term care facilities have been fed disgusting, processed and packaged food shipped long distances, many Albertans have trouble finding family doctors who will take on new patients, and front line staff are scrambling to provide core services and going above and beyond to serve Albertans in a top heavy, unresponsive system that pays extravagant bonuses to senior AHS executives, even though the system continually fails to meet most of its targets.
Clearly, Albertans deserve answers– not only about expenses and hiring in Alberta Health Services, but about the management and oversight in other government departments too. As the Official Opposition, I and my Wildrose colleagues will keep asking questions and holding the government to account. As the constituents of Chestermere – Rocky View know, we will continue to advocate for “whistleblower” legislation so public servants, contractors and employees can speak out about ethical breaches and wasteful spending without fear of reprisal and for a more responsive freedom of information system to make politicians accountable. We will continue to fight for local delivery of health care, to get rid of the top layers of high priced executives and to focus funds and decision making authority on the front lines so the health care system works better for all of us.