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Former Alberta Health Services CEO's accusations of NDP 'interference' raise more questions than they answer

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Vickie Kaminski

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Vickie Kaminski's self-justifying letter of resignation, leaked to the CBC by a person or persons unknown with the obvious intention of wounding the NDP government, raises plenty of questions.

More of the questions arising from yesterday's CBC story, though, are about the mission, objectives and conduct of the former Alberta Health Services CEO and president, who resigned the post last November effective Jan. 1 for what she described at the time as personal reasons.

Yesterday's prevailing headline, and certainly the emphasis of the CBC's unbalanced story, was Kaminski's previously unreported assertion she had quit because of NDP "interference" that "prevented her from doing her job independently."

Sounding remarkably like a typical conservative talking point, the former hospital-region executive from Newfoundland hired by the previous Progressive Conservative government in March 2014 for a three-year term at $540,000 a year, claimed in the letter the government's actions were "rooted in an ideology of the new government that does not allow AHS to do what needs to be, and should be done."

Of course, in the case of health care, what needs to be and should be done was a key policy question over which the May 2015 election was fought and decisively won by the NDP.

Kaminski also believed, according to her letter to AHS Chair Linda Hughes, that the government’s alleged interference was putting her own professional reputation in jeopardy.

Specific examples of interference cited by Kaminski, according to the letter that the CBC quoted but did not publish in full, included:

  • Plans to privatize and contract out Edmonton medical lab services to a private Australian company
  • Plans to privatize and outsource linen, laundry and food services in hospitals
  • "Workforce initiatives that are simply everyday good management practices that the government is now blocking" -- that is to say, presumably, highly contentious human resources policies strongly opposed by employees
  • Negotiations with the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees -- although the CBC's paraphrased explanation, which seemed to suggest the NDP had interfered politically to help its supporters, was confusing and also implied AUPE actually settled for less than it might have
  • The government's decision to overrule AHS's controversial plan to end its ambulance dispatch contract with the City of Calgary and run a centralized dispatch system itself

We cannot know for certain, because the mandate under which Kaminski was hired by the government of former PC premier Jim Prentice has never been fully explained. But it seems likely both from PC policies and statements and Kaminski's own decisions during her short tenure at AHS that her mandate involved continued incremental privatization of public health-care services plus rollbacks and job cuts for front-line health workers.

So whether or not Kaminski personally agreed with the NDP's approach, it seems tendentious for her to argue that implementing the party's clear mandate for health care amounted to political interference.

Political it was -- elections, after all, are inherently political events. Interference it was not. Indeed, by implementing the health-care policies it had campaigned on, as Health Minister Sarah Hoffman put it, the NDP was governing.

So one question that now needs to be answered is what was happening behind the scenes after the NDP won the election. Was Kaminski resisting the government's policies and demanding continuation of Tory policies pursued by Prentice and his health minister, Stephen Mandel, who had hired her?

If so, sooner or later the NDP would have had to deal with it in order to follow through on its commitment to voters.

As for Kaminski's characterizations of questions from a new government opposed to the previous government's obviously ideologically motivated health-care policies, this also hardly amounts to political interference. As Hoffman put it: "I would consider that good governance."

How confident we can be of Kaminski's version of events? Certainly Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who was closely involved in the fight against the AHS CEO's plan to close the Calgary EMS dispatch centre, stated that "nothing in Ms. Kaminski's letter relating to 911 or EMS bears any relationship to what I understood to be true."

"Nenshi said he understood from both the previous PC government and the current NDP government that the decision had not been made," the CBC reported. "Both minister Mandel and minister Hoffman affirmed multiple times that AHS had moved forward on this without approval from government," Nenshi stated.

Finally, what other factors, not mentioned in her resignation letter, may have influenced Kaminski's decision to depart?

For example, what of her controversial public announcement of disciplinary action against a large group of employees after allegations of a privacy breach at Calgary's South Health Campus in October 2015 that unions involved believed broke Alberta's privacy laws?

It is an indisputable fact almost all the formal disciplinary actions against employees were quietly withdrawn by AHS early this year, weeks after Kaminski announced her departure.

Yet that departure, Kaminski stated categorically on Dec. 1, 2015, six days after her resignation letter, "isn't about anything underlying." There are "no hidden bad things happening," she asserted to reporters after an AHS board meeting that day.

Rather, she said then, "it's really, honestly, personal reasons."

Apparently not. Albertans are entitled to wonder why she tells such dramatically different stories.

Will Kaminski, who now has a senior public-sector health executive position in Australia, a jurisdiction that may be more sympathetic to her ideas of "everyday good management practices," ever enlighten us?

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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