Do Albertans Have A Right To Know? (I’m taking bets)

In a classic display of clumsy timing Stephen Lockwood, Chairman of the board of Alberta Health Services (AHS), announced that the independent audit into allegations of expense account abuse at Alberta Health Services would be limited to auditing the expense account claims of ex-CFO Allaudin Merali.  Reportedly Mr Merali blew through $346,208 in expenses in 3½ years while working as a senior executive at the Capital Health Region (Calgary Health has since been rolled into AHS).  That’s $270 a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year for every day for 3½ years.* 

Mr Lockwood’s announcement reversed an earlier decision by Dr Chris Eagle, Alberta Health Services CEO, that the Merali audit would be expanded to include the expenses of about 30 former Capital Health executives including Sheila Weatherill, formerly the CEO of Capital Health and an ex-AHS board member and Neil Wilkinson, formerly Chairman of the board of Capital Health and now Ms Redford’s ethics commissioner.  (Yes the ethics commissioner)

Predictably Mr Lockwood’s decision to shield Ms Weatherill and Mr Wilkinson from further public scrutiny was met with outrage.  Dr David Swann (Lib) characterized Mr Lockwood’s decision as a “bait and switch.”**Kerry Towle (WR) called it “atrocious”.**  They’re absolutely right.

To rub additional salt in the wound, Mr Lockwood’s retreat from Dr Eagle’s promise came just one day after Ms Redford’s Privacy Commissioner, Jill Clayton, announced that Sept 24th to 28th was Right To Know Week.

Right To Know Week is ”…an annual event to promote freedom of information as essential to both democracy and good governance”.***Ms Clayton will be hosting two all day forums, one in Calgary and one in Edmonton, entitled “Openness and Transparency—From Concept to Reality”.  These forums will “showcase some initiatives undertaken in Alberta to make information more accessible to the public”.       

Ms Clayton was quick to acknowledge that “Leadership support is essential in developing a culture of openness and transparency”.   (Hear hear!)

Turning our attention back to the leadership at Alberta Health Services…what did Mr Lockwood, the AHS Chairman of the board, say in support of his decision to reverse Dr Eagle’s decision?  Oops, sorry, Mr Lockwood was not available for comment.  Well, okay, what about Dr Eagle, the CEO of AHS?  Did he make a statement about the chairman’s reversal of his decision?   Ah, no, Dr Eagle was also unavailable for comment.

Well, how about Health Minister Horne, the politician ultimately responsible for AHS?  Nope, Minister Horner was not available…however his press secretary, Mr Johnson, said Mr Horne had directed AHS to arrange an independent audit of Mr Merali’s expenses and to allow the auditor to go beyond Mr Merali if it was necessary to do so.  To quote Mr Johnson “As far as we’re concerned, [AHS has] been given a direction and they’re following that direction.  Why they did and said what they did is for them to explain.”**

Oh I see, go back to Mr Lockwood and Dr Eagle…who have no comment.

How much do you want to bet that at next year’s Right To Know forum, Privacy Commissioner Clayton will not be “showcasing” the backtracking and stonewalling on the Merali audit as “an initiative to make information more accessible to the public”?

It’s a crying shame.

*Calgary Herald, Sept 17, 2012, A11

**Calgary Herald, Sept 21, 2012, A4

***Alberta Government News Release, dated Sept 20, 2012

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11 Responses to Do Albertans Have A Right To Know? (I’m taking bets)

  1. Hello Susan. With every one`s efforts to be “open and transparent“ yet offer “no comment“, they don`t seem to have clued in that the public can “see through them.“

  2. Joanna, you’re bang on, the public knows that talk is cheap, it’s actions not words that count. Unfortunately here we’ve seen nothing. So much for integrity and credibility.

  3. Carlos Beca says:

    Well what a change to same old same old. Protect your pall just in case in the future you get caught doing the same thing.
    Yes atrocious is the right word and so predictable. These are the same people that just last week were salivating on Peter Lougheed’s honesty, integrity and democratic values. No shame whatsoever, none. They march on as if these are just small hicups on their dark journey of abuse of power, lack of transparency and no respect at all for the citizens of this province. It is a DISGRACE. Another 4 years of this in a time when it is crucial for us to make very important decisions for the future of our province. Another 4 years of idiotic government.

  4. Carlos, not a day goes by without another revelation about the Tories hitting the press. I was flabbergasted by this morning’s story: all 61 Tory MLAs have contributed $2700 each to pay off the $194,000 that some, but not all of them, collected for NOT attending committee meetings.

    What a gong show! First of all why did ALL of the MLAs have to pay? They didn’t ALL collect payment for no-meet committees. Sounds to me like some of the culpable MLAs didn’t believe Redford’s threat to toss them out of the party and simply refused to pay and Redford had to do something or be caught with another broken promise. Second, why is Redford “proud” of her team for paying back money they didn’t earn? This wasn’t a heroic achievement, it was correcting bad behavior. Lastly, if she was so proud of their team effort why didn’t she announce it at the time? How come it came to light weeks later as a result of an intrepid Edmonton journalist’s hard work?

    I think we all know why, it’s another demonstration of the Tory machine at work….What a fitting end to the Right To Know Week.

    • Carlos Beca says:

      Susan, I just read about that $2700 deal and it is really pathetic. I very rarely agree with Lorne Gunther but his article about this same event is correct. These people are so out of touch with reality that it is hard to make any constructive comment about their behaviour. It is actually hard for me to believe that people can reach this level of alienation from the regular citizen in this province. I definitely do not expect anything anymore from them and if anything, that survey they are releasing on what to do with the Heritage Trust Fund scares me. I would not trust any of them with $50 never mind 15 billion. I hope that the majority of Albertans keep these people away from touching this money at all.

  5. Wendy Armstrong says:

    Hi Susan et al,

    Speaking of our “right to know” I’ve read some fascinating political science books in the last few years about changes in the nature and role of government over the last two decades (under the rubric of “reinventing government and “new public management”). According to the authors, these changes in the process of government and the delivery of public services have led to many of the things that cause us all so much angst. Yet most are invisible to the public.

    Of most significance is the enthusiastic adoption of private business practices in both the bureaucracy and its relationship with politicians and public as well as the demise of traditional bureaucratic structures and practices.

    Citizens were also recast as customers in their relationship to the state – concerned with only their own needs, not the needs of the larger society. And it’s not just an Alberta phenomenun., although the Klein government and Tories were enthusiastic early adoptees and disciples.

    Really encourage everyone to pick up any book by Donald Savoie (particularly “Court Government and the Collapse of Accountability in Canada and the United Kingdom” that I just finished reading) and a collection of essays by various authors that I’ve only read a review on – “New Public Management to New Political Governance.”

    These books suggest that things like large spending accounts, government by media management (along with lack of transparency of decisions, actions, rationale) and the increasingly partisan nature of civil servants, are not the cause of our problems, but an adverse effect or side effect of many changes that sounded good 20 years ago but didn’t turn out so well.

    It’s fascinating stuff that I think more people need to know about if we are to find our way out of our political/societal messe and come up with a new plan, not just new politicians/parties in power.

    Wendy Armstrong
    (Alias Red)

    • Carlos Beca says:

      Wendy thank you for the book suggestions. I have not read any of these and I sure will look them up. On Democracy, I read the one by Sheldon Wolin titled ‘Democracy Inc’ which is quite good.
      I could not agree with you more that the new language of government and its realtionships with the citizens is designed to make us the ‘customers’ and ‘consumers’ that the market so desperately needs to grow and prosper. Interestingly enough, they want the growth but not the one that causes the spending. They only want the one that they can profit from.
      This forced cosmetic relationship between us and Government along with the extreme individualistic view of society, causes people to be more alienated from each other, to be more agressive towards competitors and less concerned with the health of society as a whole. Of course those are exactly what the market fundamentalists wish to develop. The results are pretty obvious and only acceptable to the 1% that benefit extremelly from our work and weak strength as a group.
      By the way this has nothing to do with left and right, it has to do with reality.

      • Wendy Armstrong says:

        I agree with your comments Carlos- – – I’m also pretty sensitive on how the word “consumer” has been recast and vilified over the past two decade. This is because I am often billed as a “consumer advocate” because I was spokesperson of the Consumers’ Association of Canada (Alberta) during the 1990s and still sit on the board.

        It seems we’ve forgotten that the whole consumer rights movement worldwide post WW2 was not about flagrant overspending in unfettered markets but the wise use of personal and societal resources, safer products/services, access to information and justice, “fair” pricing . . . and appropriate societal/govt intervention when markets did not work to the benefit of families/communities. These interventions – at the extreme- included the creation of public programs to supply what the economists call public goods because of widespread private market failure to make such things available to large segments of the population at fair prices. Think public parks, public utilities, public healthcare, public schools, public libraries, public roads.

        There’s also a big difference between collusion and competition. Yet nowadays it seems that collusion is often billed as introducing competition. Most often it turns out to be faux-competition because of concentration or gaming. I personally think we spend way too much time looking at the minutia of government (which has adopted many private sector practices – an idea that many people found attractive 20 years ago) and way too little time looking at private market practices and companies in a whole number of sectors – from banking and IT to agrifood and healthcare. It’s much more difficult and expensive to to monitor and investigate. – so it gets missed. I guess the point I’m trying to make is that we need to keep an eye on both – – – –

        Not sure if you have seen this – written by a friend of mine. I think it’s dead-on.
        Centric is only the latest and largest in a string of horizontal and vertically integrated companies that have become a integral part of our mixed public-private pay health system in Canada.

        Interested in your thoughts on this. . .

        Red (Wendy)

  6. Carlos and Wendy (aka Red), great comments. I’ve been reading George Lakoff and while he’s a little preachy at times he might be on to something. In his view politics are based on the moral values of the population. Progressives value empathy and responsibility for oneself and others. As a result they see democracy as taking responsibility for themselves and their fellow citizens and in order to accomplish this they need a strong public sector.

    Conservatives, on the other hand, value the opportunity to maximize self interest with little or no responsibility for the interests of others. Democracy for conservatives is about liberty, self-reliance and individual responsibility. This requires low taxation and minimal “interference” from the public sector, hence a small public sector. In a conservative’s world if you want to take care of your fellow citizens you can contribute to a charity but the rest of the people shouldn’t have to pay for it.

    Lakoff may be too black and white when he divides the spectrum into “left” and “right”. Carlos, you suggested that it may have more to do with the fact that people are splitting along economic lines and that is driving their thinking more than their political values. This is an interesting idea that deserves more thought on my part.

    Wendy, you mentioned the need to focus less on government minutia and more on private market practices. I couldn’t agree more. I subscribe to a number of legal news services and am astounded with the egregious behavior demonstrated by executives in banking, finance, healthcare, you name it. The scary thing is that the legal periodicals only report the cases that have been discovered. Lord only knows what else is going on. All of this leads me back to the need for a strong public sector and a strong laws and regulations to ensure that big business doesn’t run amok.

    OK now I’m going to dive into Wendy’s link on Centric…

  7. Wendy, just finished the Centric article. Wow! Talk about being completely unprepared for this juggernaut. The potential for abuse is staggering. The fact that Medicare will save $500 million over 10 years as a result of the US legislation prohibiting doctors from referring cases to hospitals in which they were investors shows you just how lucrative this business structure is.

    Once again the fundamental disconnect is the idea that healthcare is a commodity which can and should be purchased in the private market. The minute profits enter into the equation, costs go up and the patient (not the “consumer”) suffers. In the US the cost of administration for Medicare is 3%. The cost of administration for private insurance is 15 to 20% and let’s not forget the focus of private insurance is to deny the claim not pay it out…they are in business to make money afterall.

    So we do what your friend suggests and unite with American activists who are fighting this problem in the US. Although we might get lucky and Centric just might collapse under the weight of its own debt load…wouldn’t that be ultimate justice!

  8. Carlos Beca says:

    Wendy thank you so much for letting me know about the centric article. Bad news but not surprising. If you read the book ‘Thieves of Bay Street’ which I recommend to everyone, you will start forming a picture of the Canada we are building for our children. Like the book clearly states, a first world nation with second world services and a third world enforcement.
    Just like the communists in the past, the destruction of public services to the point when anything will then be acceptable including what we know is not going to work for the majority of Canadians. This process has been going on for a long time and health care is just one of the last frontiers for the corporate mafia and those that support it. I would not even be surprised at all if in the near future we will be flagged for writing messages like this one in a public blog. Paranoia? Maybe, time will tell. Not long ago we thought this all quite impossible to happen in a pseudo-democracy like ours. The fact is that slowly the Harper government is turning us into a banana republic.

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