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Smith says it wasn't her decision to nix job offer to Alberta public health doctor


Premier Danielle Smith is denying it was her decision to quash the hiring of Alberta's former chief medical officer to a new job at the province's health agency.

Smith was responding to questions Monday following a resignation letter from former Alberta Health Services senior executive Dr. Braden Manns that was made public by the Globe and Mail.

CTV News has since obtained a copy of the June 11 letter.

In it, Manns said he quit his position as interim vice-president to protest what he said was Smith's interference in reversing the decision to hire Dr. Deena Hinshaw for a job with the Indigenous Wellness Core of AHS.

“It just felt like the most egregious example of reaching into the system. And it just serves as a reminder why we actually need an independent healthcare system that sits outside the government,” Manns told CTV News in an interview on Monday.

"This has really impacted the trusting relationship that Alberta Health Services wanted to have with Indigenous leaders and healthcare workers and patients frankly."

Asked by reporters in Calgary if she interfered, Smith said," I talked with (AHS chief administrator John Cowell) on a weekly basis. We talked about staffing decisions a lot, and we have a major restructuring that we're doing in Alberta Health Services as well."

But Smith added: "Ultimately, it's the official administrator — and now the board and the CEO — who will make those decisions and it was the case in this instance, too, that the decisions of AHS were made by AHS."

When asked the same question a second time, she delivered the same response.

Cowell could not be immediately reached for comment.

In his resignation letter, Manns said Cowell told him Hinshaw's hiring to the Indigenous wellness job was "a major problem." Manns wrote that while he and Cowell were talking in the hallway of a Calgary AHS office, the premier called Cowell directly.

“After your call with the premier, you and I participated in a group meeting. In that meeting, you stated that the premier is firm that there can be no hiring of Dr. Hinshaw," Manns is quoted as saying in the report.

"In response, I expressed my concern that the premier was reaching down four levels into AHS and instructing us to rescind an approved contract after a comprehensive search and selection committee process."

Opposition NDP health critic David Shepherd claims Smith has a track record of political interference, citing a conversation she had with her justice minister about a high-profile COVID-19 case involving Calgary pastor Artur Pawlowski.

"This is a time for leadership, and yet every day we learn new information about how deeply the UCP (government is) failing Albertans,” Shepherd said.

“Political interference into hiring at AHS is completely unacceptable, and this government must be held accountable.”

Duane Bratt, a political scientist at Mount Royal University, said this just leads to more questions about Smith’s influence.

“This was not a senior position. This was three, four, five runs down. And so, do we want the premier making every single staffing decision in the entire public sector? Does winning an election give you a veto over this?” Bratt questioned.

Manns said he received a letter from Alberta's ethics commissioner, informing him she was investigating the revocation of Hinshaw's appointment.

The ethics commissioner, by law, cannot publicly confirm the existence of ongoing investigation.

Cowell’s position ended after Smith installed a new board of directors for AHS last month. The board is to oversee a massive reorganization of health delivery, with the role of AHS reduced to a service delivery arm for acute care.

Cowell was put in the job in November 2022 after Smith fired the previous AHS board.

Smith, who has long aligned herself with those questioning the mainstream science approach to the COVID-19 pandemic, had removed Hinshaw as the province's top public health doctor soon after she became premier in 2022.

Smith blamed both Hinshaw and the leadership of AHS for failing to deliver the best advice and care for Albertans as the hospital system came close to buckling in successive waves of the pandemic, which the premier said forced the province to impose freedom-busting vaccine mandates and restrictions.

In the summer, more than 100 Alberta doctors signed an open letter to express concern over the decision to revoke the Indigenous care job offer to Hinshaw.

"Dr. Hinshaw has been prevented from working for AHS," said the doctors. "This is entirely unfair and unprofessional. Further, it signals to all physicians in this province that their positions are unsafe and could be targeted for political gain.

"There is no place for leadership which undermines the decisions, recommendations and sovereignty of the Indigenous Wellness Core, and no place for political interference in health-care delivery."

CBC News reported in June the revocation of Hinshaw's job also led to the resignation of the group's medical director, Dr. Esther Tailfeathers.

With files from CTV News Calgary’s Nicole Di Donato

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 18, 2023. Top Stories

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