Rick Hansen in a press interview from 2016.
Rick Hansen in a press interview from 2016.

Food safety, children’s safety and public health are topics too important to be left to a committee chosen and led by a Conservative sinecure holder and former star candidate.

Nevertheless, that’s precisely how Premier Danielle Smith and Health Minister Adriana LaGrange propose to set up an “external” panel to look into the E. coli poisonings of more than 300 pre-school children and staff members at 11 day care facilities in Calgary at the start of September, an incident that quickly became a major embarrassment to the United Conservative Government.

The government announced on Sept. 27 that the panel would be led by former Calgary police chief Rick Hanson, who in 2015 ran for the Progressive Conservative Party in the Calgary-Cross riding.

Hanson is also the chair of the Alberta Parole Board, former UCP Premier Jason Kenney’s idea of a big slap in Ottawa’s face and the very definition of an unneeded expense, including the stipends Hanson and other members are entitled to receive for attending the board’s unnecessary meetings. 

Kenney’s objective appeared to be to fool voters into thinking Alberta was being tough on serious crime by creating a body that had no jurisdiction over prisoners in federal custody serving sentences longer than two years. 

Never mind that that the federal government was willing to do that job for the province for free – presumably because there were so few cases of inmates with short provincial jail terms applying for sentence reductions, or that there was already plenty of Alberta representation on the National Parole Board. 

It was a meaningless gesture, but it made a nice sinecure for Hanson, which by the sound of it didn’t involve much work, after his ambition for a new career in politics was swamped by the Orange Wave that brought Rachel Notley’s NDP government to power in 2015. 

The lack of legitimate purpose may explain why the Alberta parole board now has almost zero presence on the Government of Alberta website or anywhere else. Too much attention and Albertans might cotton onto just what a waste of time and money it is! 

Come May 5, 2015, and Hanson was defeated by Ricardo Miranda, a former flight attendant and Canadian Union of Public Employees staffer that almost nobody in Alberta had ever heard of until election night. Miranda later served as minister of culture and tourism in Notley’s cabinet. 

Shortly after Hanson’s political ambition went up in smoke, he resurfaced briefly in 2017 as part of a legalized-marijuana advocacy organization called the Canadian Cannabis Chamber. 

One of the eventual results of the NDP victory, of course, was the union of the Progressive Conservatives and the Wildrose Party in the United Conservative Party, now led by Premier Smith. 

It should be obvious why having a political partisan like Hanson select and lead such a committee isn’t a good idea, even if the incident that prompted the decision to strike the “Food Safety and Licensed Facility-based Childcare Review Panel” hadn’t immediately become a major embarrassment to Smith and the UCP. 

It would be a bad idea even if the UCP didn’t already have a tarnished reputation for mishandling possibly the most serious public health crisis of the past century and running the province’s public health care system into the ground, not to mention the fact the party is led by a group of people who reject the key role of government in both public health and regulation to protect citizens from unsafe business practices. 

Indeed, the committee’s structure would be inappropriate even if Smith and the UCP didn’t desperately want the whole messy and potentially scandalous business put on a back burner as quickly as possible where it can simmer down and be passed off as an isolated incident at one centralized kitchen, not the result of a systemic failure of inspections and licensing. 

After that, the committee could safely make a few anodyne recommendations that won’t upset any commercial apple carts. 

In other words, no matter how well intentioned, there’s nothing particularly “external” about the committee Hanson is likely to cobble together. 

This is true whether or not he still nurtures the political ambitions he did in 2015, when then-premier Jim Prentice appointed him PC candidate in Calgary-Cross less than 24 hours after he’d stepped down as chief of the Calgary Police Service. 

The seven PC candidates who had been campaigning to be the party’s standard bearer when an election was called just had to swallow their disappointment with Prentice’s choice of what local media repeatedly described as a “star candidate.”

“We have a candidate that I, as the leader, have chosen in consultation with a nomination committee that’s responsible for this, province wide,” Prentice explained at the time. “This is a candidate who has overwhelming support in the community … and so he’ll be an extraordinary candidate.”

Ah well, the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley.

What’s actually needed is a real public inquiry, called under the terms of the Public Inquiries Act, and led by an impartial judge with the power to compel testimony from witnesses. 

That might risk some embarrassment for the Smith government, but it would also demonstrate good faith on its part. 

With an impartial inquiry, members of the public could be confident that any findings and recommendations had not been drafted with partisan political considerations in mind.

They can have no such confidence now.

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...