EDMONTON – Calling it “simply unacceptable” the Alberta Health Services board wouldn’t change its mind on the issue of executives’ compensation, Health Minister Fred Horne on Wednesday fired all 10 of its members.
The move may not only be the end of this particular board, but all AHS boards. Horne said in a news conference from Lethbridge he hasn’t decided if he will proceed with one administrator — he has named Janet Davidson on an interim basis — or hire an entire new board.
Davidson’s biography lists her as a former chief operating officer of the defunct Capital Health in Edmonton and a former assistant deputy minister of policy at Alberta Health.
Front-line care will continue as usual and Horne said he’s not worried the firings will create turmoil in the system. Chris Eagle will continue in his role as CEO.
Horne characterized the last few months dealing with the board as difficult, and said there isn’t room for people to declare autonomy on government boards.
The situation came to head Tuesday when he issued a directive for the board to reconsider its decision to award a total of $3.2 million in “pay at risk” to 99 executives. The board, under chairman Stephen Lockwood, voted to stay with its original position, referring to the “sanctity of contracts.” Lockwood also warned that the board needed to be left alone to operate the health system, free from political interference.
But Horne said he felt the board failed to give his command the proper response, adding that he had given several similar directives in recent weeks.
“The response was not a reconsideration. The response was to move forward,” Horne said. “When the board to refuses to respond to those directives, we have a problem. Because at that point the question of who’s in charge of governance of the system and the stability of the system comes into question, and I’m not prepared to allow that to continue and neither is the premier.”
The comments represent a change of position for Horne, who back in March said it wouldn’t be right for him to interfere with the terms of employee contracts.
He said Wednesday the situation had changed since then, in part because he was told last week some AHS executives had volunteered to forgo their pay at risk this year but were blocked by the board.
“That caused me great concern.”
He said it is inappropriate to hand out executive bonuses at a difficult financial time when doctors, teachers and others are being asked to take a pay freeze.
Besides Lockwood, the fired board members are Catherine Roozen, Ruth Collins-Nakai, Donald Cormack, Don Johnson, John Lehners, Fred Ring, Gary Sciur, Don Sieben and Eldon Smith. All had been appointed by Horne, including Lockwood, who served as chairman only nine months.
Members receive an honorarium rather than a salary, so they will not be paid a severance, Horne said.
“I don’t think this is about power and control. I think this is about the fact that people look to their elected representatives, MLAs and ministers of the Crown, to represent them and to make sure things are running as they should be in the health care system.”
He said he will ask Davidson to review the board’s decision to award pay at risk.
NDP Leader Brian Mason called Horne’s surprising decision to disband the AHS board a “good first step,” saying the corporate model of a stand-alone board is not appropriate for a critical public service like health care, which should be accountable to the government and legislature.
“I think Minister Horne needs to replace the board, not with another board, or not with an administrator, but with a deputy minister,” Mason said. “It’s time that Alberta Health Services was brought back in house and made once again part of the Department of Health and Wellness.”
But Mason questioned whether the Redford government will be able to reverse the bonuses built into health executive contracts that Horne asked the former board to overturn.
“My understanding is they are contractually obligated to those individuals and regardless of who is running the health system, they will have to meet those obligations,” Mason said. “I think that Horne has not solved that problem. The time for him to have spoken up was before these contracts were signed. The government allowed this type of compensation and contractual obligations to be established by the AHS and they did nothing.”
More to come …
With files from Sarah O’Donnell
The Former AHS board
The Alberta Health Services’ board had 10 sitting members when Health Minister Fred Horne disbanded it Wednesday for defying his request to withhold bonuses for AHS executives. Here’s a look at those volunteer members, based on the biographical information AHS previously posted about them on its website.
Stephen Lockwood, board chairman (Calgary)
Appointed to lead the AHS board in September 2012, Lockwood is a Calgary resident and lawyer, who practised with the firm Carscallen Lockwood LLP until 2004. He currently works as president, Co-CEO and director of the Mullen Group, a network of businesses focused on trucking, logistics and specialized services to the energy sector. He sits as a director for several private companies and on the province’s Strategic Transportation Advisory Committee.
Catherine Roozen, vice chairwoman (Edmonton)
Serving a second term on the AHS board, Roozen was recently honoured with the Alberta Order of Excellence for her contributions to health care, business and the community. Roozen has served on numerous boards, including STARS air ambulance, the Alberta Cancer Board and the strategy council of the Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute. She worked for Cathton Investments Ltd, and currently sits on the private investment company’s board, along with the board of the Allard Foundation, Melcor Developments and Corus Entertainment.
Dr. Ruth Collins-Nakai (Edmonton)
Trained as a cardiologist, Collins-Nakai has experience in a wide range of professional, academic and board-related positions. At the University of Alberta, she held posts as a professor of pediatrics and associate dean of medicine. She left academia in 2001 to focus on clinical practice and health care consulting. She has served as a commissioner on the Premier’s Commission on Future Health Care for Albertans and as president of the Alberta Medical Association. Among many honours, she was ranked one of Alberta’s 100 Physicians of the Century in 2005.
Donald Cormack (Calgary)
Cormack, a chartered accountant, joined the AHS board after retiring from PricewaterhouseCoopers, where he was a partner in audit and assurance and a specialist in the energy sector. He previously held posts as a director of the Calgary Police Foundation and as chairman of the Calgary Foundation. He has experience working with a number of public and private companies.
Don Johnson (Taber)
Johnson joined the AHS board after serving as a councillor with the Municipal District of Taber since 1995. At the provincial level, he served as president of the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties and on many committees, including the Alberta Law Enforcement Response team and the Alberta Water Council. In the private sector, he worked in real estate, financial planning and management.
John Lehners (Grande Prairie)
Lehners is a school trustee with the Grande Prairie School District and a senior partner with Beairsto, Lehners, Ketchum Engineering Ltd., where he leads the firm’s structural and planning departments. The civil engineer and land surveyor has a range of experience with sports organizations, parent councils and neighbourhood groups.
Fred Ring (Calgary)
Ring worked as a teacher, counsellor, assistant principal and principal for more than three decades. Before he retired from the Calgary Board of Education, he was principal of Western Canada High School for eight years. In 2001, he joined WestJet Airlines and retired in 2011 as executive vice-president, corporate projects.
Gary Sciur (Edmonton)
Sciur is a senior partner with the law firm Prowse Chowne LLP, specializing in corporate, business and commercial law. His experience with community organizations includes serving on the board of the former Royal Alexandra Hospital, the former Capital Health Authority, the Health Disciplines Board, Alberta College and the Edmonton Police Commission.
Don Sieben (Edmonton)
Sieben is a partner with Peterson Walker LLP Chartered Accountants and previously served as a commissioner for the Edmonton Police Commission, and the University of Alberta’s Senate and Board of Governors. His resume includes a range of work on corporate, government and community boards.
Dr. Eldon Smith (Calgary)
Smith’s extensive resume includes five years as dean of the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Medicine in the 1990s. He was served as a board member of the former Calgary Regional Health authority. From 1997 to 2010, Smith was editor-in-chief of the Canadian Journal of Cardiology and currently is chairman of the Libin Cardiovascular Institute of Alberta’s strategic advisory board. He also served on the boards of the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research, the Alberta Health Professions Advisory Board and the Premier’s Advisory Council on Health. Smith is an emeritus professor of medicine at the University of Calgary.