How the Conservatives Spun Murray Edwards and Vicki Kaminski

This week the conservatives spun Murray Edwards’ decision to move to England and Vicki Kaminski’s decision to leave Alberta Health Services for a job in Australia to convince Albertans to ditch the NDP.

The spin looked like this:  Facts [Edwards/Kaminski is leaving Alberta] plus conjecture [due to the NDP’s failed ideologically driven policies] equals disaster [Alberta is losing its brightest and its best…and most importantly, its richest]Vote conservative!!!!

Spin is pretty flimsy at the best of times but this was flimsier than most.

Picking on the billionaires

Mr Edwards runs Canadian Natural Resources, he holds a major stake in Ensign Energy Services and Penn West Petroleum and is a co-owner of the Calgary Flames hockey team.

He’s ranked at 30th on Canadian Business magazine list of Canada’s 100 richest people with an estimated net worth of $2.69 billion.


Mr Edwards

Mr Edwards refused to comment on why he’s moving to England but that didn’t stop the Canadian Taypayers’ Federation and Mark Milke, former director for the Frontier Centre for Public Policy and the Fraser Institute, from using Mr Edwards as a case study in failed government policy.

Mr Milke admits he knows nothing about Mr Edwards’ financial situation.  Small wonder given that Mr Edwards earns the paltry sum of $1.00 in salary from Canadian Natural, the bulk of his compensation comes in the form of bonuses and stock options.

Nevertheless Mr Milke says the tax changes introduced by Notley (and Trudeau) will increase Mr Edwards’ tax burden by $4.5 million.

And while $4.5 million is a lot of money, in Mr Edwards’ case it amounts to a 0.04% hit on his net worth.  Perhaps this was the last straw in a year that saw Mr Edwards’ energy stock portfolio plummet but somehow I doubt it.

Mr Milke suggests that Mr Edwards may be the first of the uber-rich to bail on Alberta.


Alberta’s richest resident, Edmontonian Darryl Katz is worth $4.14 billion and is about to get a whole lot richer having just sold the family drug store chain to McKesson Group for $3 billion.  Mr Katz is going to focus on real estate, sports and entertainment.  He has big plans for Edmonton’s Arena District.  It is extremely unlikely that he’ll turn his back on Edmonton after accepting a $279 million support package to make his $606.5 million vision for the ICE District a reality.

Calgarians JR Shaw of Shaw Communication ($1.92 billion), the Southern family of Atco ($1.76 billion) and the Riddell family of Trilogy and Perpetual Energy ($1.31 billion) don’t appear to be in a big hurry to hop on their private jets in search of a kinder gentler tax regime either.

Which brings us back to Mr Edwards.

The only person who knows why Mr Edwards is moving to England is Mr Edwards.

Trotting out Mr Edwards as the poster boy for failed government policy is not only a disservice to the Notley government it’s an insult to Mr Edwards.

Meddling with the CEO

When Vicki Kaminski resigned her post as CEO of Alberta Health Services (AHS) she said she “sincerely enjoyed working at AHS” and was leaving for “personal reasons”.

Later we learned that Ms Kaminski was unhappy under the new regime.  She accused the NDP government of political interference.


Ms Kaminski

The Wildrose Official Opposition seized on Ms Kaminski’s comment in Question Period.*

Mr Jean commended Ms Kaminski’s for walking away from her $600,000 dream job halfway through her contract.  He demanded answers from the government:

  • Did the government force AHS back to the bargaining table to avoid being booed at an AUPE function? No, the government wanted AHS to resume negotiating.
  • Why did the government interfere with Ms Kaminski’s decision to outsource a $3 billion lab services contract to an Australian company? Because there was no evidence that Ms Kaminski seriously considered any options other than privatization.
  • Why did the government interfere with Ms Kaminski’s decision to outsource laundry and linen services? Because the NDP was elected to provide publicly delivered, not privately delivered healthcare.
  • Why did the government interfere with “every day” people management? Because AHS planned on laying off thousands of front line workers, contrary to the NDP’s promise not to cut front line services.
  • Did the Health Minister tell Ms Kaminski to communicate in “voice mode” to avoid creating a written record of her political interference? No, there are lots of records of communications.  If Ms Kaminski was seriously concerned about political interference why did she agree to delay the announcement of Jim Prentice cancelling the Calgary cancer centre until after the election?

David Swann (Lib) was the only MLA to focus on the real issue, namely how would the Health Minister improve the relationship between her ministry and AHS.  Ms Hoffman cited her good relationship with the deputy minister, the AHS board and the interim CEO and said public health services couldn’t be delivered by pretending AHS was a business organization.

Ms Soapbox wonders whether Ms Kaminski resigned because she supported the conservative position that the free market can do everything better than government and couldn’t work with a government that believed otherwise.

The spin  

The formula “facts plus conjecture equals disaster, vote conservative” won’t push Albertans into the conservative camp unless the conjecture is rooted in logic.

There is no logic linking Mr Edwards’ departure to Alberta’s tax regime because no one knows what he pays in taxes (maybe he’s leaving for love, not money).  There is no logic linking Ms Kaminski’s move to Australia to political meddling because she accepted “meddling” from the previous Progressive Conservative government (maybe it’s a promotion or she likes kangaroos).

The Opposition’s real test will come when the NDP rolls out its first full budget.

An effective opposition will focus on the consequences of the government’s budgetary decisions.  A silly opposition will waste everyone’s time with “facts plus trumped-up consequences equals disaster.”

A silly opposition is all about spin.

*Hansard, Apr 6, 2015, 388, 389 and Apr 7, 438  

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21 Responses to How the Conservatives Spun Murray Edwards and Vicki Kaminski

  1. CuJo says:

    I remember Murray well as a Young Liberal. Alas, we don’t want him either.

    • Cujo, I don’t know the man, and there are a lot of things that I would question but I do have to give him credit for NOT laying off any of the 7600 people who work at CNRL. So many oil companies jumped on layoffs as a way to demonstrate to shareholders and analysts that they recognize the industry has hit hard times and they’re doing something about it, but the savings from layoffs are insignificant compared slowing down expansion and cutting waste.

  2. Great blog, Susan! Puts the spin in perspective!
    I am so sick of the blunting of our attitude toward the siphoning off of uber wealth from the public purse to public ‘servants’ in executive positions. Grrrr….. Are we even looking for the lost moral compass??

    • Jane, you’re right about the misguided effort to make the public sector look like the private sector, at least when it comes to executive pay. I can’t understand why Ms Kaminski was so exorcised about the Health Minister challenging “Kaminski the CEO’s” decisions. I’ve worked in the private sector all my life and have seen many a CEO stopped dead in his tracks by the Chairman of the Board (Health Minister) and/or the shareholders (the rest of us). No CEO has carte blanche to do whatever his/her little heart desires.

  3. Public Servant says:

    If Mr. Edwards left Alberta because of a microscopic tax increase, it reflects poorly on him; not Alberta.

    • Public Servant, I agree with you. I think there’s more behind Mr Edwards’ move than the tax increase. In 2015 Mr Edwards’ total compensation (salary, bonuses, options, etc) was $6,092,001. That’s $6 million less than he made in 2014 ($12,662,001) and anywhere from one million to four million less than he made in the years 2011, 2012 and 2013. There’s a lot going on in Mr Edwards’ finances, I suspect the NDP tax hike is the least of his problems.

  4. GoinFawr says:

    Those first three bullet points regarding the AHS are indeed key components of the mandate delivered to gov’t in the last provincial election; feathers all in the Alberta’s NDP’s cap. I would go so far as to say they more than make up for their silly flavoured tobacco gaffe.

    Ms.Kaminski is just another example of the entrenched partisan bureaucracy built up over four decades that wants purging. Nothing against her personally, she was just doing the job she was paid to do: undermining Alberta’s publicly delivered health care system via the same old Con M.O that has always been:
    i) get the public to do all the initial heavy lifting, then
    ii) create a crisis by chronically under funding crucial services and
    iii) present as the only solution ‘privatization’, because nothing can turn publicly created dollars away from serving the public and move them into offshore accounts faster than foreign private interests.

    Now, on the healthcare front, if I could just figure out the reason funding for midwives is currently being eviscerated; because that is one mother loved, cost saving program that I did not expect to be dismissed by any stripe of gov’t, very least of all by the NDP. And I know one or two expectant mothers who voted for Ms.Notley who would agree with me. L’l’ help?

  5. GoinFawr, you’ve laid out the conservative modus operandi very well. The only thing I’d add to the MO you’ve set out is “hire your good friends as department heads and agency CEOs so they can push the privatization agenda from within and will be ready to take over when the service is privatized.”

    I have no idea why the government has taken this position on the funding for midwives. Perhaps someone out there can enlighten us.

    • Julie Ali says:

      Hi Susan, I looked into this issue of funding for midwives and asked questions about the cost benefit analysis of midwife delivery of babies versus doctors. I was under the impression it was cheaper to use a midwife than a GP. But this doesn’t seem to be the case.

      I did not get a response from the folks at the Alberta Medical Association; they referred me to Alberta Health. Alberta Health was initially silent.

      After yapping several times with Alberta Connects and complaining to the auditor general about the lack of responses from the folks at Alberta Health, I got a long winded bureaucratic response that provided little new information. They basically told me to go add up the costs myself. But why should I add up the costs when Alberta Health could jolly well ask any doctor on staff at AHS and provide this information?

      I eventually tracked down a comment on an article about midwives; the commenter wrote a comment about costs. I don’t know how he knows but he seems knowledgeable. In any case, there has been no sort of response to his comment to refute his claim that doctor delivery of babies is cheaper than the delivery by midwife.

      Personally, based on the government restrictions on funding to midwives, I think he is correct in saying that doctor delivery of babies is way cheaper than by midwives.

      I wrote about this matter here:

      But just to be sure about the costs, I again asked Alberta Health for more clarification.
      Alberta Health has not responded to my request for more information to date.

      If midwife delivery of a baby costs $4,600 –while a doctor delivery costs much less, then it is my opinion that mums need to pony up the difference in cost.

      The difference in costs may be the reason why Alberta Health is not putting even more money into this mode of baby delivery. Prudent stewardship of health dollars and all that stuff. Frankly in the current financial situation, it’s my opinion Alberta Health should not have put more money into this sector. While it is nice to have personalized delivery of babies by midwives, unless the cost benefit analysis proves that the delivery by midwives saves us money, I don’t believe the public should be paying for such deliveries. We should pay for what the doctors get and any sum over this amount should be paid privately.

      Here is the comment I read; if there are any midwives available to clarify this cost difference this would be useful.

      David Smyth
      Absolute nonsense. MD’s are paid less than less than a $1000 per total care and delivery. Then there is the baby who is now brain damaged in our community because the midwife delivered her at home and couldn’t handle the cord around the neck, she called the ambulance and just handed the mec covered infant to the paramedics. The infant had a long resuscitation and was alive but unresponsive. I am fine with midwives delivering but they need to be paid exactly the same as a Family Doctor and do it in a hospital. A case eload of 40 births per year is a joke for the money they are paid. O and G physicians that I knew did 50 in a month along with surgey and they didn’t hand mec covered infants to paramedics and walk away. I saw total abruptions on the ward and the team saved the twins because they were in a hospital and the C section was done ASAP. MD’s get complications too but they also deliver vastly more children. If people want touchy feely they should pay for it.

      • Thanks for doing all this research Julie. I’m disappointed to hear that AHS and Alberta Health were not forthcoming with the relative costs of doctor delivery versus midwife delivery. I share the concern about the unforeseen consequences of a midwife delivery going wrong. I am personally aware of too many instances where something goes tragically wrong at the last minute with what was until then was a perfectly unremarkable pregnancy. It’s not a risk I would take.

  6. ronmac says:

    I don’t get it. Australia seems to be this giant black hole in outer space somewhere that’s sucking former Alberta Health Care bureaucracts into its vortex.

    First you had Dr Stephen Duckett, an Australian, a former CEO of AHS who was forced to resign in 2010 fo not answering reporters questions fast enough because he was eating his gd cookie.

    Now Ms. Kaminski is resigning from AHS and fleeing to greener pastures in Australia. She had plans to outsource lab services to an Australian company called Sonic Health until the NDP stepped in and pulled the switch.

    I had my research department at Google do some checking and they came up with some juicy tidbits.

    Turns out Ms Kaminski is taking a job at SA Health in South Australia, headed by one David Swan. Turns out this Swan character found himself the subject of some unflattering headlines last Dec: “SA public service chiefs rewarded with outrageous salary rises!” and “Furore Over Fat Cat Pay Rises.”

    Remember Dr. Duckett? He may turn out to be the good guy in all this. Soon after he returned to Australia he joined the Grattan Institute, a public policy think tank. In February of this year he authored a report charging the government was paying too much for lab services provided by Sonic Health, the same company which had its sights set on Alberta.

    • GoinFawr says:

      Thanks for providing even more clarity ronmac, nice work.

      It’s like these global shystering elitists think it is still 1991, and that information from the the other side of the planet is yet inaccessible to the little people.

      Just keep keeping your chin up and upper lip stiff, it may not feel like Christmas is close, but sometimes Yuletide comes super early for those on the naughty list…say, isn’t it ‘winter’ in Australia? And we all know that Christmas is a winter’s event:

      He’s making a list,
      Checking it twice,
      Goin’ to find out,
      Who’s naughty or nice.
      R0b3sp13rr3 is coming to town…

      He sees you when you’re cheating,
      He knows if you’re a fake,
      He knows if you’re a Robin Hood,
      So cry “A Locksley!” for goodness sake…

      You’d better not pout,
      You’d better not whine,
      Or evade your fair share,
      I’m telling you why:
      R0b3sp13rr3 is coming to town.

  7. Fascinating. The guys running the “most poorly performing” departments in Australia are getting great raises because it’s necessary to stay in line with other state agencies. If you want the “good” of the private sector you have to accept the “bad”. BP’s shareholders are fighting a proposal to give BP’s CEO a 20% pay hike (bringing his pay up to $19.6 million) when the stock price dropped 24% (BP lost $6.4 billion). They say he doesn’t deserve it.
    I wonder whether Duckett was right all along, the comment he made that “medicare is not meant to provide guaranteed revenue for corporations” sums it up very nicely.
    PS I can’t get that little ditty out of my head GoinFarw.

  8. Connie Jensen says:

    I do believe that Alberta deserves a better opposition. This one is beyond silly.

    • Connie, you said it. The NDs presented the budget today. I can’t wait to hear what Brian Jean and Ric McIver have to say…I’m sure their response will be thoughtful and measured…*cough, cough*

  9. Carlos Beca says:

    It seems that we are assuming that having people like Edwards and Kaminski is important. Why do I even care that they are gone. Good riddance. Judging by the attitudes it is good for all of us that they go somewhere else. Why pay 500 thousand dollars to someone whose only objective is to privatize so that possible some kickbacks help their cause.
    Australia is a good place for them and we can even send cookies if necessary.

    Connie we simply do not have an opposition. All we have is some toy with a cassette that calls for cutting taxes. Of course the toy has not realized that the last government that cut taxes to the rich and the corporations left us with a 10 billion dollars deficit. I believe that the toy still does not have artificial intelligence so it has been very difficult to get reality across without sounding condescending. It also seems that the toys are connected by Wi-Fi because I can hear the same garbage from the toy Donald Trump in the US.

    • Great comment Carlos (I loved the bit about sending cookies). With respect to Kaminski…she joins the string of AHS CEOs who’ve failed to bring AHS under control. The Herald reported this morning that wait times in Alberta for many types of cancer increased under her watch. The wait time for bladder cancer surgery is 70 days, the national average is 28 days, for breast cancer surgery it’s 50 days, national average is 20 days, colorectal cancer 70 days, national average 27 days. It’s appalling. With respect to Murray Edwards, we don’t know why he’s moving to the UK, but WR ought to be ashamed of itself for piggy backing on to his decision to push its political narrative which, as you correctly point out, is the same thing over and over again–cut taxes.

      • Carlos Beca says:

        Susan one thing I would point out is that we now have the worst health care system in Canada save the reserves. It all goes back to Ralph Klein. He is the one who shocked it to the limit. Of course we are so used to short term everything that we do not even think about it. After Ralph Klein, the privatizations and the lack of respect for any public worker caused a major shift in the culture that existed.
        Now of course they will blame Rachel Notley. Just wait for tomorrow and I bet anything Brian Jean will blame the NDP.

  10. Sources tell me there appears to be a failure in the AHS system to collect patient third – party billing from the insurance companies. People who have additional insurance plans through employment or retired benefit plans etc. is seems the paperwork is not getting done after admission to a service or program. Because AHS picks up the tab – when patients are assessed sometimes are not even asked if they have 3rd party insurance. If they do there are no clerks or personnel dedicated to submitting the claims. If these claims were submitted – rather than left in the ether of cyberspace documents without action – perhaps there should be an audit conducted in all hospitals and care centers. The private operators would not let this gravy fall on the floor. An easy source of funding – which may drop the value of the insurance companies stock as they would not have such unclaimed assets to show on their financial statements. Perhaps this is a legacy policy for continuing the privatization of the health care system. Just wondering???

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