Mr Prentice: Premier or CEO?

“We have to do more with less. That will apply across the board. It will have to apply to the very good work [of the child advocate], it will have to apply to my office, it will have to apply to the auditor general’s office. That’s the way it’s going to be.” Jim Prentice defending cuts to the Child Advocate’s Office and the Auditor General’s Office, Feb 11, 2015

Would someone please tell Mr Prentice that he’s not the President of the United States?

Unlike President Obama, Mr Prentice does not have a unilateral right of veto and cannot revoke the decision made by an independent all-party Standing Committee to restore $546,000 to the Auditor General. If he did, he wouldn’t have to frog march the independent all-party Standing Committee into a meeting next week to “reverse” their decision. It would stand without further action on anyone’s part.

Ms Forsyth, WR Interim Leader

And while we’re on the topic, would someone please tell Mr Prentice that an all-party standing committee should include representation from the Wildrose Official Opposition. Remember them? There have been no Wildrose MLAs on the committee since the Wildrose defected to the Tories last December but the committee has been making budgetary decisions willy-nilly ever since.

A CEO’s perspective

Mr Prentice is acting like the CEO of a $40 billion enterprise, and making a mockery of Alberta’s democratic system in the process. Unfortunately even in CEO-mode, he’s botched it.

Consider how a CEO would conduct what in corporate-speak is referred to as “right sizing”.

When CEOs take an axe to their organizations they draw a “line in the sand”—I want 9% cuts across the company, or else!

And that’s what Mr Prentice did, right? Wrong.

When Mr Prentice said that the 9% cuts were going to apply “across the board” he wasn’t being entirely truthful. Yes, he hammered the Child Advocate investigating children’s deaths while in government care and the Auditor General investigating the government’s misuse of taxpayers’ dollars; but Alberta Health Services will get more resources, not less—Mr Prentice hired an executive search firm to find 10 or so part-time board members to oversee its activities.

Mr Prentice

If he pulled this stunt in the private sector, he’d lose his job. Here’s why.

The byzantine world of healthcare

First, a quick primer on the byzantine mess that passes for healthcare delivery in Alberta. (NOTE: this is not a knock on healthcare workers who go above and beyond the call of duty to keep the system from imploding altogether).

Healthcare is provided by two entities: the Department of Health led by the Health Minister Stephen Mandel (let’s call them “The Government”) and Alberta Health Services, a governmental agency run by CEO Vickie Kaminski and her team of highly paid vice-presidents (let’s call them “The Agency”).

The Agency was “advised”* by a board of directors until June 2013 when the former Health Minister, Fred Horne, summarily fired the lot of them (long story involving fat bonuses and severance contracts) and replaced them with three official administrators in rapid succession (bit players, ignore them).

The Agency has been ticking along without a board ever since. Interestingly nobody noticed.

Parallel universe

The Tory government justifies the parallel universe in healthcare delivery by saying The Government is the strategic arm of healthcare delivery, responsible for policy, strategic direction, global budgets and doctors’ compensation while The Agency is the delivery arm that puts it all into effect.**

Got it. Government = policy. Agency = delivery.

Before a smart CEO resurrected The Agency board of directors he’d ask himself why The Agency with its high priced CEO and executive team needs two entities to give it policy direction—The Government and the board. Wouldn’t this increase the risk of crossed wires and create greater confusion?

Mr Prentice’s response is it’s “unacceptable” for Alberta’s multibillion-dollar health budget to be overseen by “just one person”. Hence the need to appoint “a board of respected Albertans…to keep an eye on what is happening in the system.”***

Mr Mandel

Oh please! What Mr Prentice really said was that Health Minister Mandel can’t be trusted with the job, but it’s perfectly acceptable for “just one person”, Mr Dirks, to oversee the $8 billion education budget, or Ms Klimchuk to oversee the $4 billion human services budget, or indeed, Mr Prentice himself to oversee the $40 billion dollar provincial budget without the assistance of an outside board “to keep an eye” on things.

If Mr Prentice doesn’t trust his hand-picked Health Minister to manage his $18 billion budget with all of the assistance available to him from his colleagues in Cabinet, his deputy ministers, associate deputy ministers, staff, and countless high-priced consultants then he doesn’t deserve the job and should be sacked.

A smart CEO would make an additional observation.

Healthcare makes up 40% of the budget. When the Tories centralized healthcare in 2000 healthcare was 22% of the budget. Perhaps healthcare costs are rising not because Albertans pile into Emergency Departments at the first sign of a sniffle or old folks don’t have the good grace to kick off quickly and free up an acute care bed for someone else, but a policy/structural problem that merits more thought.

A smart CEO would call off the executive search team because even the Dream Team isn’t going to fix this problem any time soon.

Either way it’s a disaster

Mr Prentice decided that in order to prepare an austerity budget he cannot be bound by the rules of parliamentary process. Instead he will act like a private sector CEO, and in his words, “that’s the way it’s going to be”.

Unfortunately he’s made a hash of it.

*Regional Health Authorities Act Section 17(1)

**Hansard, Apr 13, 2011, p 645

***Edmonton Journal, Feb 11, 2015

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40 Responses to Mr Prentice: Premier or CEO?

  1. I enjoyed your article as always very insightful Susan.

  2. Thanks Dave. These are very difficult times.

  3. John Smith says:

    Why do we even need 87 MLAs if Diamond Jimbo is going to make all the rules as he goes along?

    • John, you’re right. None of the 70 odd MLAs he has now will utter a word of criticism so he’s got a free hand to do whatever he pleases. Frankly I think that’s part of the underlying message in making the standing committee go back into session to “reverse” its decision–do what I want or I’ll embarrass the lot of you by making you do it all over again. Absolutely no respect for the parliamentary system of checks and balances.

    • Carlos Beca says:

      John that is absolutely right but that is the way Canada has been run for at least 20 years. At the Federal level there is only one voice – Harper. It is not coincidental that so many MPs are leaving the caucus and the only ones staying are like Steven Harper and cannot wait for their chance to play Putin’s game. It is called stealth dictartorship created by Margareth Tatcher. Remember her, the one that said that society does not exist, only individuals. A great example of the next player is Jason Keney. Baird was the heir apparent, the Kim Jong-un III but he saw a much better chance on now making as much money as he wants by selling government inside information to the highest bidder.
      This idea that government is a business and that a business is an individual, are destroying any good concept of government and most importantly – democracy.

  4. Einar Davison says:

    What is that often used saying that “insanity is doing the same things over and over again, hoping for a different result”. Ralph Klein did the “across the board” cuts and that is why we don’t have enough classrooms, our roads have gone from being the best in Canada to being almost slightly better than horse trails and why small and large communities are threatened with high property taxes and no room to generate more revenue, because the government dumped and downloaded their costs onto the municipalities.
    The problem is that most Albertan’s are uninformed and apathetic and the government always says we have to “tighten our belts and if you don’t then all you are is a greedy traitor” and we do because that is our nature and they know it and they use it. In good years they use oil revenues to keep taxes low and for most people they are happy to not have to pay taxes. Hey don’t get me wrong I’m not a fan of taxes, but I do know that they help to pay for good roads, good schools and good health care. However most people are happy to have their taxes subsidized. They don’t realize that school resource fees are a tax by another name or the fact that classrooms are bursting at the seams is a tax too, and in my own communities case a hospital that has a shortage of beds, but has half the hospital shut down (25 beds in long term care…gone), that is a tax too.
    I bet you that if Prentice is going to call a spring election he will introduce a budget that is painless to the voter and meaningless because if he gets re-elected I guarantee you the budget after the election will tighten our belts and not his.
    By the way a final thought, if every legislature since 1985 has raised MLA salaries is 5% really a cut back. It reminds me of Don Getty’s time where they raised salaries by 35% and then when things went badly they took a 5% cut too. Now maybe my math skills are faulty but if you increase something by 35% and then reduce it by five, you still have a 30% increase. Maybe Albertan’s will wake up for this election, but I’m not insane and I don’t expect a different result. My apologies at being so “long-winded”
    Excellent blogs, keep them coming Susan!

    • Thanks Einer. Excellent points, no need to apologize. You’re right about the Tories playing the people just before an election, I think the consequences of this round of cuts will be felt very broadly, hopefully that will make some people sit up and take notice. While the Tories continue to keep taxes low in pursuit of the so-called Alberta Advantage, they’ve lost sight of the fact that in doing so, they’re creating the Alberta Disadvantage. Why would anyone want to make a life here when their children can’t get a decent education, their family can’t get decent healthcare and their parents can’t get decent elder care? It’s nuts.

  5. Liz says:

    It’s positively vile to see what Prentice is doing, acting like a dictator while implementing his massive cutting program in Alberta. Good grief…..just who does he think he is??? My head hurts, as I see what horror each new day brings from our Premier’s office.
    Our household has sent several letters to our MLA and the Premier, yet Prentice keeps saying he hasn’t heard any of our suggestions (get rid of the flat tax, no healthcare premiums, adjust oil royalties, bring in a sales tax), so he has very selective reading skills.
    Last night I answered a polling phone call from Environics, which was all about current AB politics and trust. No need to guess my answers!!! I certainly hope my answers were not given in isolation and that others did likewise.
    Keep up the good work, Susan. You are one bright spot in a currently very sad province.

    • Thanks Liz. I too give the Prentice government feedback at every opportunity but it seems to me the Tories don’t care unless someone really influential hits them hard. Remember the Calgary Cancer Centre? It went into limbo (again) until John Osler, a well known Calgary lawyer and former chairman of the Alberta Cancer Foundation, tore Prentice to shreds for delaying it yet again and voila, it’s going ahead at the South Centre Campus (not a great location but at least it’s moving forward). That tells me we need to find rich, influential people who share our concern about the deterioration in education, healthcare and elder care in order to make any significant changes. Not exactly a promising model for democracy, is it.

  6. Roy Doonanco says:

    Very well said Susan. Thank you!

  7. Julie Ali says:

    This mess is all due to Mr. Prentice.
    He picked the duds in charge of important departments like health, education and inhuman services.
    He is actually worse than Redford and Klein because he is smoother than Redford and smarter than Klein.
    We’ve got a real political bomb on our hands. I just don’t know when this bomb is going to go off and end our democracy completely.

    I mean he put Mr. Mandel in charge of our most important department that is responsible for the care of our most vulnerable citizens. The Prentice guy is like a cartoon character–that wily coyote character. He appears from nowhere, he is cunning –and he is running off into the distance now— seeking the same things the Redford looked for–pipelines and more markets for a product that is already in over-supply. He definitely is not a CEO of corporate Alberta and he isn’t a premier for the little people (us). What he is a dud in charge of duds.
    But he sure knows how to choose fundraising Tories for important jobs.
    The only reason Mandel got the job in Riverbend is because he can raise money. The Tories need money. This is the same reason that the Klimchuk woman got a high profile job as the minister of InHuman Services. She is not the brightest lightbulb in the Christmas light display of the Tories –but what does Prentice care? It’s all about money, money, money. Not about being a leader. It’s about the money.

    The last job this Klimchuk woman had was as the Minister of Culture which is a light weight job where she she still managed to mess up.

    I wrote to her about her disgraceful bullying of the dance group–the Shen Yun troupe.
    Here is the article below where the Klimchuk shows her lack of class or sensitivity to this group. She behaved badly with this group because the Alberta government’s stance with China is all pro-China (China is our next bitumen customer and anything to please main customer is good). The official stance of being antagonistic to the dance group and therefore to the group sponsoring it was to curry favor with the main customer–China.

    The dance group is sponsored by the Falun Dafa who aren’t welcome in China and therefore any connections of this group aren’t welcome in Alberta. This government sucks in both big and small ways. In this case they stomp over the rights of the Falun Dafa group to sponsor a dance group simply by barring them from performances at public venues such as the Jubilee Auditoriums in Edmonton and Alberta.

    When I read this article I was steamed. What the heck is going on in Alberta? Is Alberta now China? What next? And why do these poor dance troupe folks have to yap with the Tories privately? Is is all about the image that must be kept according to the myths? Must the problems all be hidden like the two spills of oil per day in Alberta? It’s stupid. And I think we should all yap endlessly about the things the Tories want to keep hidden, silent and not in writing.

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/alberta-to-meet-with-chinese-dance-show-organizers-1.1240174

    Alberta to meet with Chinese dance show organizers
    The Canadian Press Posted: May 28, 2012 9:34 PM MT Last Updated: May 28, 2012 9:32 PM MT

    Related Stories
    Shen Yun dance troupe told to find new Alberta venues

    Alberta Culture Minister Heather Klimchuk said Monday her staff will meet with organizers in a dispute over cancelled performances of a controversial anti-government Chinese dance troupe.
    But the Opposition Wildrose party says Klimchuk’s actions show the bullying culture of the Progressive Conservatives is alive and well at the Alberta legislature.
    Wildrose leader Danielle Smith accused the minister of cancelling shows by the Shen Yun troupe because organizers had gone public with concerns about lighting, safety, and the welfare of the dancers when they had performed in the past at Calgary’s Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium.

    Shen Yun was told by the province they’re not welcome back to the Jubilee Auditoriums in Calgary and Edmonton. (triangleartsandentertainment.org)
    “I’ve asked my officials, my assistant deputy minister, to meet with them,” said Klimchuk.
    The Shen Yun troupe has been performing around the world for years. The show highlights China’s traditional culture but also criticizes crackdowns that have occurred under Communist rule.
    In Alberta, Shen Yun’s performances are put together by local associations in Calgary and Edmonton known as Falun Dafa.
    The Falun Dafa group has had problems with Jubilee auditorium management in Calgary for years. They say that things hit rock bottom in 2010, when a lighting mistake ruined one show and a worker walked into a change room while female dancers were disrobing.
    Jenny Yang, with Calgary’s Falun Dafa, said auditorium officials also ordered a net be put up around the stage for audience safety.
    Yang said while they dispute whether the net is needed, their main concern is that the auditorium ordered it in place with no consultation.
    Yang said they have tried to meet with the government for years to resolve the issues without so much as a reply. In frustration, she said, they went public with their concerns in April, prompting a written reply from Klimchuk earlier this month.
    In the letter, Klimchuk chided Falun Dafa, saying that by going to the media, “we may have missed an opportunity to resolve these issues efficiently and effectively.”
    Klimchuk wrote she was cancelling all future Shen Yun dates in both Jubilee auditoriums saying, “the relationship has dissolved to the point that I do not believe it can be resolved.”
    Klimchuk said in the letter that the troupe can go to other venues, but the organizers say only the Jubilee auditoriums have the facilities to host such a large show.
    “It seems like she (Klimchuk) is scolding us for bringing the issue to the public,” Yang told reporters outside the legislature chamber.
    With members of Falun Dafa in the legislature galleries Monday, Klimchuk refused to apologize for not meeting with the group in the past.
    And while the focus of her letter was deteriorating relations, she told the house the issue was strictly tied to the safety nets.
    “I’m not going to apologize for the safety of the performances or the musicians,” said Klimchuk.
    Smith said the Klimchuk letter shows that the Progressive Conservatives — criticized before the April 23 election for bullying municipal leaders, doctors and educators who challenged them in public — are back at it.
    “It’s a bullying issue for me,” said Smith. “It’s very clear in the letter that the reason why Minister Klimchuk chose not to deal with this is because they’re punishing them for going public.”
    Yang said that while they don’t have evidence, they believe the unseen hand of the Chinese government is behind the ban, twisting the arms of Alberta politicians to squelch dissent by proxy.
    “We want to see that the Alberta government will not be influenced by the Chinese Communist Party interference with Shen Yun,” she said.
    Redford is heading to China next month to meet with Chinese trade and political leaders. The province is eventually hoping to sell oil to China through a pipeline to ports in British Columbia.
    **************************************************
    This story really annoyed me. The group is punished for yapping in public.
    Just who does this woman think she is?
    She is pissed because the performers yapped to the press instead of doing it the good old Tory way which is meeting with the Tories, yapping behind closed doors and accepting whatever decision the monarchs wish to pronounce.
    If it wasn’t just so outrageous it would be amusing.
    These folks are very powerless and yet she stomps on them like ants with her big foot as minister–and then she refuses to apologize for her high handed behavior. It is pretty revealing of her character. Big bully. She then says this issue was all about safety when in my mind it’s all about keeping good relations with China by showing them that the same minorities who are abused in China are also abused in Alberta (which is a mini-China).

    The arrogance and lack of respect she has for vulnerable Chinese in our country is not a good recommendation for positioning her as a minister of vulnerable Albertans but maybe we are Chinese now so it’s not a problem for the Prentice.

    The choice of this Klimchuk woman (in my opinion)— is solely to ensure that the Glenora folks stay loyal. Now-wow –the rich folks in Glenora can say they have a minister representing them–they can say that they have the direct line to the Prentice. Maybe with the Klimchuk as minister the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta will also get the rich folks in Glenora to ignore the lack of skills of the minister and donate big time to the Tories.

    Similarly the thinking is the same for my part of Edmonton— the rich folks in Riverbend have a HEALTH minister as our beacon of hope for our families stuck in long term care who are receiving abominable care. Maybe the Mandel can repair the messes created by the Tories themselves? Maybe if he can’t we can all complain endlessly to him for —-he also has the direct line to the Prentice! We are so lucky in Riverbend–we have so much influence–that I only have to write for two years on a blog to get the Tories to get AHS to send someone to the Good Samaritan Extended Care facility at Millwoods to show the staff how to put on a BiPaP machine rather than leave it off and nearly kill my handicapped sister.

    What more could we hope for in Riverbend? Well it would be useful to have a health minister with some experience in health care who doesn’t need the deputy minister moving back from AHS to Alberta Health as the Janet Davidson woman had to do so that the learning curve for the Mandel would not be so steep.

    But alas, health care is a major education that won’t happen any time soon for the Mandel. It’s not as easy as municipal politics where he spent his time telling off citizens and ramming a Katz arena down our throats.

    Health care is a dinosaur that is going extinct as the Tories implement patient care based funding restrictions on the serfs while wasting cash to fill the next AHS board with their faithful —who will be the whipping boys and girls for the problems that Mandel will not be able to solve. He’s not got the ability to do this sort of stuff. He’s good at being condescending to citizens but he won’t be able to play this trick with physicians; they don’t put up with this sort of crap like ordinary citizens at city hall who bow down to the masters.

    Instead of a health minister with essential experience in health care we get a former mayor who has a good record raising money from developers. The cynical selections of the Prentice team are all about fund raising for the Tories.

    As a CEO the Prentice is a failure but as a money generator he’s doing pretty good.
    We’ve never really had premiers.
    We’ve had figureheads.
    The figureheads pretend to be leaders.
    They stay until they no longer are able to be figureheads according to the big boys in charge of the party.
    Then they get done in like the Redford got done in.
    That poor woman was no different than the Klein but she got done in for nothing more than making the same sort of entitled mistakes as the Klein. But unfortunately she wasn’t a folksy advertiser of the baloney Conservative fiscal restraint myths and so she got dumped.
    Now the Prentice is advertising the same sort of fiscal restraint baloney of the Klein while the Tory faithful still make money like mad. The AHS board will be filled by Tory party faithful who will do whatever the Tories want them to do. When the Tories tell the AHS board members to jump–they will only say –How high do you want us to jump Mr. Prentice? We serve only the Tories and not the people of Alberta.
    Heck the whole production is getting tiresome now.
    I am bored of the entire myth making business that hasn’t come up with any new material in decades.

    In the last few cases they pretend us premiers who can’t do the leaders of corporate Alberta business—-the CEO thing.
    Prentice is not only a poor premier myth, but also an incapable CEO thing.
    He is bad at picking ministers but then he doesn’t have to be good at this matter–he’s not interested in us.
    But he is good at picking fundraisers for the party— and that is all the Progressive Conservative Party is interested in.
    The party doesn’t really need to have good people in this production of deMockracy.
    They just need money to ensure the functioning of the myth making machine.
    The machine produces the myths that Albertans believe.
    The production of these myths is very skilled but getting boring (to me).
    The actors are bad at acting out their roles– but they don’t need to be good–their work is all about creating chaos.

    I imagine this chaos is the way they keep Albertans so off-balance that they keep voting for these knuckleheads.
    Or maybe Albertans are also knuckleheads and like to see the knuckleheads in charge of the money.
    Who knows?
    In any case, I feel that if we didn’t have the chaos of the bust every few years, we might have had a chance to figure it all out. What would we have figured out by now? We’ve been had and the money’s gone.

    • Bruce Jackson says:

      Thanks for the courage and finding your voice. Albertans need to hear more of what and how you speak. Thank you for your words.

    • Julie, thanks for this compelling overview, so many excellent points. I was struck by the irony of Danielle Smith’s comment where she said Klimchuk’s letter shows that the PCs, who were criticized for bullying municipal leaders, doctors and educators, were at it again. But now that she’s back in the fold, Prentice’s bullying of the independent all-party standing committee is just another day at the office. The hypocrisy of the PCs and ex-WRers knows no bounds.

  8. anonymous says:

    “Would someone please tell Mr Prentice that he’s not the President of the United States?”

    Good point Susan. And after this someone has made this point to Jumbo Jimbo, could they please head on down to Ottawa and explain this to Stevie-Joe too?

  9. Peter says:

    My daughter is a teacher at an elementary school in NE Calgary. Her classroom is the stage located in the gymnasium.

    • Good lord Peter! Is that even safe?
      Today’s Globe & Mail published a letter from a Calgary parent who said her daughter was one of almost 40 (!) children in her kindergarten class and that two sets of Grade 1 classes have been put into the school library. When I was a child I went to school in North Battleford. We had free 1/2 day kindergarten and split classes for Grades 1 to 7. The maximum class size was, get this, 12 kids, so the combined class size for each split class was 24. And that was in a tiny town in Saskatchewan, in the poorest school, on the wrong side of the tracks. I still remember my teachers, including the cranky Ms Goodfellow, and am eternally grateful that they were able to provide us with a top notch elementary education. I doubt that parents would say the same today in Calgary, a rich city, in Alberta, the richest province in Canada.

  10. Bruce Jackson says:

    Just another domestic bully using all the power and control measures along with absence of equality and respect. No wonder family violence is off the charts in Alberta. Lead and the people follow and wallow in crisis, never knowing when and where the next blow will come from!! Thanks for illuminating the source of our angst. Albertans know better.

  11. Elaine Fleming says:

    You raise good questions, Susan, not the least being what is the purpose of another Health Superboard, noting that neither Education nor Human Services have ever had them.

    It gets tricky though, in terms of responsibilities of the Health Minister and where the buck stops. A board can be useful in terms of deflecting criticism of unpopular decisions (e.g. contracting out health services to the private sector) but can also become a headache for the government (e.g. if they give whopping salaries, benefits and severance to executives). Hence the pretzel that previous Health Minister Fred Horne got twisted into, where politically he had to fire the previous Superboard for financial excess and lack of accountability, but knowing he was bound by the legal contracts they negotiated with certain executives. I think the lesson in that mess is that in the public’s perception, the Minister’s office is still, as I said, where the buck stops.

    I think having a Board of Directors for Health “corporatizes” the organization and makes it easier to put a business template on it, and bring in more “marketplace” initiatives.

    Which leads us to the justification of having the two separate entities you mention, the “strategic arm” (Alberta Health and Wellness) and the “delivery arm” (Alberta Health Services). What actually ensues from that, however, is confusion and problems with accountability. Who’s in charge? A good example is the chaos that occurred during the Swine flu outbreak. This confusion should never happen in health care. Nor in fire/emergency response, nor law enforcement. It is absolutely necessary for lines of authority to be very clear.

    I suspect, the reason Mr. Prentice is contracting out the search for new Superboard members is so that he can say they are not political appointees. However, we all know there are ways for our government to contrive desired outcomes. I would sure like to see that RFP.

    • Elaine, my friends in healthcare tell me that a resurrected AHS board would put an end to the political interference and inconsistent leadership that’s plagued AHS for years. Let me tell you what I’ve told them (sorry, I know this isn’t the point you raised in your comment, but I’m piggy backing on to it). My response is that the PC government will never allow the AHS board to have the degree of autonomy required to stop the political interference. (Let’s face it, Prentice won’t give his PC packed, independent, all-party standing committee the autonomy to make a $500,000 decision, why would his government ever give the AHS board the autonomy to make multi-billion decisions with political consequences).
      Furthermore, I wonder whether people understand what a “real” board does. The AHS board is modeled on a private sector board. Private sector boards are comprised of senior business people and professionals from all walks of life. They focus on the entity’s financial performance, operations, compensation, governance, and health & safety. They review recommendations in these areas from senior management (in this case AHS CEO Vicki Kaminski and her executive team). They don’t dream up new policies independent of senior management. In fact under the Regional Health Authorities Act no one has the power to make policy except the Health Minister. I keep hearing that the health professionals hope that a new independent board will protect them from a meddling Health Minister. This is unrealistic. Never in my corporate career have I encountered a Board that was prepared to step in when an employee was being tormented by a shareholder or senior management. They just don’t do that because the day to day interaction between the executive and the staff is not their business. The only time that the AHS Board might reject the interference of the Minister is in a circumstance like the one where Fred Horne fired the Board because it refused to take away the bonuses the staff were legally entitled to by contract. Which brings us back to where we started—the government will never give the AHS board the autonomy it needs to prevent political interference. Instead of trying to fix the problem of the meddling Minister with a band-aid in the form of a PC appointed AHS board, let’s get rid of the meddling Minister. In order to do that we need to get rid of the PC government. And if all of the healthcare workers who’ve suffered under the PCs joined all the teachers and other groups who’ve been treated shabbily we could change the face of government.

      • Elaine Fleming says:

        Thanks, Susan, for explaining more about what “Boards” are all about, and especially in the business world where my knowledge is not deep.

        I found the minutes of the last Alberta Health Board’s meetings. It makes for interesting reading. For example in the June 7, 2012 minutes, these statements about the goals of the Board, “…. helping Albertans be as well as they can be, by reducing disparities in health outcomes, and promoting prevention of illness and injury; strengthening primary care; reducing wait times for emergency care, surgical services, and radiation therapy; and expanding continuing care options.”
        http://www.albertahealthservices.ca/board/ahs-board-2012-06-07-minutes.pdf

        Then skip forward to June 11, 2013, “Mr. Lockwood advised that the Board has received direction from the Minister of Health to reconsider the decision to award contractual pay at risk to eligible employees for the 2012/13 performance year, and furthermore, to defer publically releasing the Financial Statements and the 2012/13 Annual Report until such time as further direction is received (the “June 11th Directive”).
        The Board discussed the June 11th Directive and both the legal and moral implications that AHS would face if the Board followed such directive and retroactively changed senior leadership compensation.”
        http://www.albertahealthservices.ca/board/ahs-brd-pbm-2013-06-11-minutes.pdf

        The next day, the Board was fired.

        Your points were spot on. You can rest your case, Counsellor. 🙂

      • Carol Wodak says:

        The primary reason for devolution is evasion of accountability.

  12. Kim says:

    Mr. Prentice has no ethics. He will say and do whatever it takes to keep the PCs in power. Party before people is the PC mantra.

    I think that the media needs to go back and look at the Federal Hansard records regarding Mr. Prentice’s retirement from Federal politics. It wasn’t about family, it was about saving face.

    “Mr. Speaker, let us talk about ethics. When Jim Prentice stepped down as minister, he said two things: that he had talked to the ethics commissioner about his job at CIBC and that he would be leaving the House on December 31.
    Since then, the commissioner has been absolutely clear that Jim Prentice never talked to her about CIBC. Yesterday, he resigned immediately after the commissioner contradicted him. Mr. Prentice brokered a golden private sector opportunity for himself when he was minister and chair of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates.”

    http://openparliament.ca/debates/2010/11/16/thomas-mulcair-2/

    • carlosbeca says:

      Thank you Kim for this link. I could not remember that Pipeline Prentice had been Minister of the Environment. My goodness he is as appropriate for that role as the one in Malaysia that said that it was better to cut the whole rain forest down and put the money in the bank for the future of the country. He just forgot to mention which account he meant?

    • Wow, Kim, thanks for this. I wasn’t aware of the “disconnect” between Mr Prentice and the Ethics Commissioner about his job at CIBC. After Prentice joined CIBC he wrote many op-ed pieces criticizing the Harper government for failing to consult with the First Nations on pipeline expansion and failing to improve Canada’s environmental performance. I thought this was particularly bizarre given that Prentice held both of these portfolios (Indian Affairs and Environment) when he was a cabinet minister and should have fixed the very problems he chose to complain about so publicly once he’d left government.

  13. carlosbeca says:

    Good post Susan.
    This is obviously another Lego piece in the ascendancy of the full corporate control of our lives. Prentice just like the rest of his Mafia no longer understands what it is to be a citizen rather than a corporate soldier. I believe that at this moment even some corporations are wondering what will happen in the near future when people just cannot stand them at all. Corporate loyalty is on the decline except for their generals, a new poll just came out recently showing that people’s trust on corporate leaders has gone down 10 percentage points even in Corporate paradise like Alberta and I have no doubts that soon this will all implode and some kind of sanity will come back as to what is a citizen, what is a corporation and what are our roles in this crazy world of ours.
    Jim Prentice is a good corporate general and he is behaving like one and he will not go against the rules he was given to when he accepted to come protect the extreme right wing views of the now PCRose gang. I know some people that participate in this blog do believe in a transition to a more democratic type of government by normal means, but I personally think that a much more drastic intervention is necessary to get this train back on track. Big money has never given power away it will never do it. The last time we made this transition it was with two world wars, this time I am not sure, but certainly I hope we find better ways. Unfortunately there are signs in Europe that the Russian Mafia wants to challenge the Western World Mafia. The Russian Mafia has many advantages because it can force soldiers to fight for them, on the other side it is not as easy and the new generation is not so willing to give their lives away to protect their leaders business interests including Poroshenko’s Chocolate Empire. I have to check the Charlie Hebdo cartoons this week.

    • Thanks Carlos. I had lunch with a good friend last week who like me grew up in the real world and now finds himself working in the rarefied corporate world. We were talking about whether the disappearance of the middle class and the extreme disparity between the 1% and the 99% would lead to revolution. He made an interesting comment. He pointed to Greece and the election of the Syriza-led coalition government and said it already has.

      • Carlos Beca says:

        I could not agree more. What kind of revolution is now the question. Very little is being published about the negotiations especially here, maybe because it is not in the interest of the 1% that we learn too much about Syriza. After all it is a radical left movement for left wing nuts. The fact is that contrary to what I thought it was going to happen Yanis Varoufakis has not given in to the EU and they had no agreement today. Judging by Angela Merkel’s position, the EU is not going to change its position either so we have the making of a tough situation for everyone. Varoufakis said today that Greece is not going to accept the continuation of a situation which does not give Greeks a way out at all. Next is Spain and the ‘Podemos’ movement. This could be a bigger headache for the troika because Spaniards are more difficult to subdue.

  14. Jim Lees says:

    When AHS was created, the message was that smart private sector people from outside the province were needed to lead the new ‘Agency’ – Albertans apparently did not have what it would take to do the job. We all know how that cookie crumbled. For potential Board members, the underlying minefield still exists – smart Albertans are averse to get involved because of the potential for direction to the Agency Board to be political in nature.

    • Jim, you’re so right. An acquaintance was appointed to another significant government board on the same day that Horne fired the AHS board. She said we certainly won’t make the same mistake the AHS board made. This tells me that appointees to these boards fully understand the political nature of their appointments and further that if they wish to keep their board positions they will “play along”.
      I liked your “cookie crumbled” comment…a sly reference to the former AHS CEO, Dr Stephen Duckett perhaps? Duckett was fired by a previous AHS board that was ordered to do so by former Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky. This in turn led to a number of AHS board members resigning because they were appalled that when Dancing Gene said “jump” they were expected to say “how high”.
      Anyone expecting the PC government appointed AHS board to be independent is dreaming in technicolour.

  15. berryfarmer says:

    It’s a great blog, Susan. The government, those who fund it and those who have recently jumped back into the PC fold (because of the opportunity to win) don’t seem to care about democracy as a way to run a government. It’s patriarchy at it’s most insidious. “We’re smarter than you and we’ll take care of you. Just don’t ask us any questions… don’t criticize… don’t demand more than we’re willing to give/tell you.” The saddest part is… they are may win big by not caring about the principles of good democratic government.

  16. You’re right berryfarmer: Prentice appears to think that everyone, including the independent Auditory General, reports to him directly or indirectly (it’s the CEO-corporate model). The media is finally focusing on Prentice usurping the power of the Committee. I just hope Albertans understand how devastating it will be to democracy if Prentice is allowed “exercise” power he does not have. Here’s the link to the CBC story on the issue: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/alberta-auditor-general-budget-vote-lurches-into-uncharted-territory-1.2958987

  17. Verna Milligan says:

    Thank you, Susan, for another great column! And thanks for bringing to
    light a neglected media item – the hiring of a Search Committee for another
    new Board for AHS. As the Premier is cutting even ‘pocket change’, has
    anyone asked him how much of our scarce resource is allotted for these Head
    Hunters? Or how much is set aside for the set-up and operation of yet
    another new delegated Board – one that makes decisions about the allocation
    of healthcare resources without any transparency or means of accountability
    to the public as both taxpayers and families that require healthcare
    services? I suspect the answer will be that it is AHS money. Really?
    Isn’t it all Alberta taxpayers’ money? And isn’t “everything on the table?”

    Yes, we definitely need “respected Albertans… to keep an eye on what is
    happening”. But isn’t that the purpose of Democratic Elections – to elect
    “respected Albertans”– to protect and enhance what we cherish as a
    society?.And isn’t that also the role of our professional Auditor General?
    And as for our Ombudsman, Albertans would be shocked to learn how his role
    is almost non-existent in areas of these new delegated “Agencies”, such as
    AHS, as opposed to Alberta Health, a department of the government.

    What really is the border between our Government and this new, growing
    detached identify, Alberta Health Services? On September 7/09, Iris Evans,
    as Provincial Treasurer, stated that, because of our sustainability fund, Alberta, unlike other provinces, would not have to borrow to fund “vital services such as health care and education”
    But a mere 3 months later, AHS borrowed $ 220 M from the Royal Bank.
    http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/alberta-health-services-to-borrow-220m-1.86304
    9
    “They’re now off on the market borrowing from the Royal Bank and taking all
    kinds of activities that suggest they’re more and more thinking of
    themselves as a single big corporation, and I think the logic of this
    playing out through time is pretty unnerving,” Kevin Taft warned at the time.
    Who gave them that authority? Their board. Who would be responsible in case
    of default? Who knows?

    Before we appoint yet another new Board to AHS, shouldn’t we have a serious
    look at the actual duties, functions and powers we want to give this Board?
    And, yes, since “everything is on the table”, whether or not citizens are
    truly represented by a separate Board, or should AHS be a more integral part
    of our duly-elected, representative government?

    Yes, we need an organization to integrate healthcare services but do the decisions and
    activities need to be hidden through another buffer layer between citizens and our elected representatives?

    Otherwise, isn’t an appointed Board, no matter how ‘respected” its
    members, basically “taxation without representation?”

    • Excellent points Verna. You asked who would be on the hook for the $220 M the AHS borrowed from the Royal Bank in 2009. The answer is simple, us. These boards are creatures of statute. The board members are protected from liability by Section 22 of the Regional Health Authorities Act (assuming they acted in good faith, blah blah). Given the government’s refusal to rein in AHS after it had borrowed the $220 M one can assume that the board acted in good faith and as such is insulated from liability. Which means the burden falls to the taxpayers who backstop the government’s borrowing power.

      As you point out these boards have tremendous power–that is until the Health Minister slaps them down as per Elaine’s example. We have no say in who gets to sit on the board and absolutely no ability to hold them accountable when they screw up. Hansard is full of questions from the Opposition demanding that the Health Minister explain various AHS failures. The Health Minister simply responds with “not my department”.

      An example of “taxation without representation” at its finest. How ironic that the province so concerned about minimizing taxation damn the consequences would allow this kind of abuse of its citizenry.

  18. GoinFawr says:

    Alison Redford has recently been cleared by the RCMP of all wrong-doing regarding her travel expenses while premier. Doesn’t that suggest that Jim Prentice and the alberta conservative/wildrose gov’t will be leaving no stone unturned in a democratically inspired quest to reinstate her premiership so that she, along with them, will be able to fulfill the mandate Albertans ostensibly gave the last provincial election?
    Just kidding.
    C’mon Ms.Redford, take courage and tell us what really happened! Did you use the wrong fork for salad at a Bilderberg dinner?

    • “The wrong fork at the Bilderberg dinner” Good one. Ms Redford announced that she’d been invited to Bilderberg. How much do you want to bet Mr Prentice will also be attending but none of us will hear about it. I’m still trying to figure out if he’s still a member of the Trilateral Commission. His speeches about creating a unified energy strategy for North America certainly line up with the Commission’s objectives.

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