Ken Hughes in the Crosshairs

Update:  It’s official.  On Jan 21/12 Ken Hughes was narrowly defeated on the 3rd ballot by Shiraz Shariff.  Good move on the part of the PCs.  Bad news for the opposition parties–the job of taking Calgary West away from the PCs just got a whole lot harder. 

It’s not every day that a politician plants himself squarely in the crosshairs but that’s exactly what happened when Ken Hughes announced he was running for the Conservative nomination in Calgary-West on the strength of his record as the chairman of the Alberta Health Services board.

Mr Hughes was chairman of the AHS board for 4 years.  He says he has a “good” record and highlights his achievements as (1) creating objectives for the healthcare system, (2) making it more responsive, (3) making it accountable and (4) providing it with stable funding.* Sounds good, but is this true?

Objectives

Yes, the system has objectives but the critical ones are not being met.  Surgical wait times, ER wait times and seniors blocking acute care beds are still in the “red zone”.** Physician engagement has improved—now it’s 43%–but this is still nothing to write home about.  Interestingly,  patient satisfaction is up to 86%, once again confirming that if you can make it through the mob in ER you will receive good care.  Bottom line:  nothing has changed.

Responsiveness

It is unclear what Mr Hughes is referring to.  If it’s responsiveness to Albertan’s needs I urge you to re-read the last paragraph.  If it’s responsiveness to the 7400 doctors represented by the Alberta Medical Association (AMA), they’ve been without a contract since March 2011.  Contract negotiations broke down because the government and Mr Hughes refused to accept physician input into decision making and conflict resolution.  Negotiations will hang in limbo for another 3 to 6 months to ensure that the AMA doesn’t rock the boat in the critical run-up to the election.

Meanwhile the AMA continues to be excluded from healthcare strategy.  It was completely blindsided when Ms Redford rolled out her plan to implement Family Care Centres.  The AMA doesn’t know what FCCs are or how they’re different from Primary Care Networks.  Neither do we.

Do Ms Redford and the Health Minister deliberately keep Mr Hughes in the dark or is he privy to their strategy but loathe to share it with the AMA because his primary loyalty is to his political masters?  In either case his conduct can hardly be described as responsive.

Accountability

During Mr Hughes’ tenure he had two opportunities to demonstrate accountability.  The first was when Dr Duckett was summarily dismissed by the Health Minister.  Four of his board members resigned citing ministerial interference.  Mr Hughes said nothing.  The second opportunity arose when the 7400 doctors in the Alberta Medical Association called for a public inquiry into the intimidation of doctors.  Mr Hughes said nothing.  Instead of being accountable to his board and the physicians Mr Hughes ducked below the parapet out of the line of fire.  We all know it can be a career limiting move to contradict the boss, but that’s when integrity kick in.

Stable Funding

Mr Hughes is right, the 5 year funding plan is an excellent idea—one small snag, it wasn’t his idea.  The 5 year funding plan was created by the former Health Minister, Mr Zwozdesky, so it’s a little disingenuous of Mr Hughes to take credit for the plan.  ‘Nuff said.

The complete record

If Mr Hughes wants to talk about his record let’s talk about his entire record, including the rough patches.  In addition to the culture of intimidation which continues to drive top-notch physicians out of the province and unacceptable wait times, the record contains sloppy diagnostic processes resulting in misdiagnoses all over the province, the mismanaged H1N1 vaccination program topped off by the Calgary Flames queue-jumping episode, transferring the Tom Baker cancer testing centre to an AHS subsidiary and the creation of 5 new health regions—a signal that the centralization strategy Mr Hughes is so proud of is unravelling.

Why is Mr Hughes relying on his record? 

Given these blemishes on Mr Hughes’ record why is he relying on it in his bid for Ron Liepert’s old seat?  Perhaps he actually believes his own PR.  Or perhaps he knows his record will be a tough sell but as any good litigation lawyer will tell you, it’s always better to get the bad news out first and reshape it into something more palatable (if the voters are asleep they really will believe that black is white).

Or, and this is more likely, it doesn’t matter what Mr Hughes’ record is.  Mr Hughes has been a loyal foot soldier and the Conservatives take care of their own.  The old guard will ensure that Mr Hughes wins the nomination and lands a cabinet post that will ease him gently into retirement.

If this is the case Mr Hughes is not in the crosshairs at all.  In fact he’s wearing a bullet proof vest and Ms Redford and her friends will ensure that he comes to no harm.  However, his competition, young Mr Ellis, doesn’t stand a chance.

* Calgary Herald, Jan 4, 2012, A4

**AHS Performance Report Q2 2011/2012

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8 Responses to Ken Hughes in the Crosshairs

  1. roy wright says:

    I find it utterly amazing how someone can make public statements about his contribution to the betterment of health in Alberta and somehow not self implode and fly erratically across the room like a popped balloon. The nomination meeting will be a real harbinger of things to come. Mr Hughes, one of the old boys, will compete against young Mr. Ellis.
    Alison said during her run for the leadership she was going to change things. So far we have seen her resolutions turn into a bit of a flop as per your last blog. However, the nomination process to see who will form the new PC candidates for the expected spring election will be the true litmus test of Alison changing the party…if she allows or is forced into letting these old party hacks maintain control, then the election mantra is set.
    If you are happy with the way things are and do not feel there is any need to change, and that Alison needs to be reined in by the “faithful”, then Mr. Hughes and his ilk are all you need. However, if you feel change is needed and new blood such as Mr. Ellis will help move change forward like Alison promised, pay attention to the Calgary-West PC nomination results. The outcome of that riding association nomination process will tell us the true intent of the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party.

    • Ms Redford’s promise of change will be put to the test in this PC nomination race. The young Mr Ellis says he threw his hat in the ring because Ms Redford promised new leadership and new ideas. Now we’ll have a chance to see (a) whether Ms Redford has the will to keep her promises and (b) if she does, whether the old guard will let her do so. Thanks for your comments Roy. Interesting times ahead!

  2. Carlos Beca says:

    It is very clear to anyone outside of the world of politics that we are now attracting real jewels to govern our province. Like Roy I wonder what is missing that this Hughes person did not do to compare him to Eisntein. We have to very soon form a group to get this person on the list of the Nobel prize, does not matter that braggind is still not a category.

    I do not want to make any more comments about Alison Redford so that I do not scare away the other participants in this blog. So far she has done basically nothing other than breaking promises and spinning what she does into looking almost as if it was what she promised. The one good thing so far is that her so called ‘liberalism’ has scared away some real pests that no one is going to miss at all and even remember their names in the near future. This may be a bit difficult as I am sure they will show up on the boards of the major corporations in Alberta.

    I wonder who is next to continue the excellent work Mr. Hughes has done for us. How can we find someone with the credentials of this genius. Oh well maybe we can get another Aussie that does not eat cookies.

  3. Carlos, you’ve identified one of the real dangers with overstating one’s accomplishments. There are others like you, me and Roy, who’ll examine those accomplishments and draw their own conclusions as to whether they were as significant as we’ve been led to believe. In fact Mr Ellis seems to agree with us. The Herald quotes him as saying (ever so tactfully) that he didn’t know whether Hughes’ track record would help or hurt Hughes’ campaign. We’ll learn the answer to that question on Jan 21 when the candidate is chosen. Thanks Carlos, like we’ve said many times before…this is going to get really interesting before it’s all over!

  4. Don Thompson says:

    Mr. Hughes’ “record” will be appropriately spun by or for Mr. Hughes and related to the voters by the Sun with the addition of the glowing adjectives for which the Quebec-based propaganda machine is so justifiable famous. Albertans, being the silent lambs they are will obediently elect Mr. Hughes because he had little to do with the National Energy Plan. Should he seriously screw up whatever ministry he is given – and get caught at it – he will not seek re-election. Rather he will opt for one of Alberta’s “here-is-your-payoff” ambassadorships from which he may choose to return with yet another personally written success story.

  5. Don, you make a very important point in your reference to the Sun. The public needs a reliable source of information that explains who the politicians are and what they stand for–and most importantly, whether the politicians, once elected, are living up to their promises. The Sun abandoned the standard of objectivity a long time ago. This is a significant impediment to the opposition parties who struggle to bring the whole story before the public. The result is a hobbled democratic process. The only solution that I can see is deeper public engagement–and that is a huge issue that has plagued the opposition for quite some time.
    Thanks for your comments and welcome aboard.

  6. Debbie says:

    Enjoy your comments, as always, Susan. You do manage to elicit some very tongue-in-cheek responses. I, too, hope voters in Calgary-West will come to their senses. If they instead do a Liepert-Hughes double-double, then I hope they receive their own deserved reward one day.

    • “A Liepert-Hughes double-double”, that’s very catchy and should become the battle cry of all of Hughes’ opponents. It succinctly captures the fact that notwithstanding Redford’s promise of change it’s still the same old same old. Thanks for your comments Debbie and welcome aboard!

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