Alberta Politics
Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Premier Jason Kenney shortly after the election of the United Conservative Party Government (Photo: Facebook).

Smoke and mirrors aren’t cutting it — Alberta’s health minister still needs to go

Posted on April 03, 2020, 12:52 am
11 mins

Despite a lot of smoke and mirrors, Alberta’s United Conservative Party Government has never dispelled the queasy feeling many Albertans have that Tyler Shandro’s personal business dealings render him unsuitable to serve as minister of health.

It was Mr. Shandro’s personal conduct, publicly berating a neighbour who posted a critical meme about the Shandro Family’s ownership of a share of an insurance company that brokers services the health minister’s department had cut, that initially spurred calls for his resignation or removal from the post.

The offending meme that sent the health minister, furious, into the street (Image: Facebook).

But for all the opportunities for distraction provided by the COVID-19 pandemic and last month’s letter from Ethics Commissioner Marguerite Trussler saying Mr. Shandro broke no rules, the perception a conflict of interest surrounds the health minister’s personal business dealings lingers.

Yesterday, Press Progress reported new details of that appearance of conflict, noting the timing of the Health Ministry’s letter to dependents of seniors advising them they were being kicked off the province’s seniors’ drug plan and a post on the website of Vital Partners Inc., the company partly owned by Mr. Shandro and his wife, offering help such people find replacement private insurance coverage.

The ministry letter, a second notice, was sent to 46,000 Albertans affected by the cutback on Jan. 27. “If you or your dependant(s) require ongoing health benefits coverage on March 1, 2020, you may consider seeking private coverage, for example through your employer or a private insurer,” it said. (Emphasis added.)

University of Calgary political science professor Melanee Thomas (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

In mid-December 2019, the Vital Partners website reviewed the then-upcoming changes to Alberta’s Seniors Drug Plan. “If you previously qualified for the Seniors Drug Plan because your spouse is over the age of 65, your coverage will cease on March 1, 2020,” it said. “If you don’t have drug coverage through your employer, you may wish to seek alternative coverage,” it continued, directing readers to the firm’s “find-a-plan tool.”

A firm in that business can be expected to be on top of coming legislative changes that might be to its advantage, of course. This would be true even if one of the owners of the company were not married to the minister making the changes.

But the optics, it should have been obvious to everyone involved, are terrible.

It’s reasonable to wonder if the minister understood this on some level before his emotional outburst at the home of Dr. Mukarram Zaidi, the Calgary physician who lives down the street from the Sandros, or his warning to a member of the public who wrote a letter of protest to Vital Partners that he would sic the Legislature’s protective services on her if she continued to make “threats.” The citizen’s letter, it should be noted, contained no threats.

On Tuesday, three Calgary political science professors outlined a compelling argument why Mr. Shandro must resign.

Melanee Thomas of the University of Calgary, Duane Bratt of Mount Royal University and Daniel Voth of the U of C wrote that Mr. Shandro’s bullying approach toward members of the public made his resignation or firing a necessity.

Mount Royal University political science professor Duane Bratt (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

His actions undermine the provision of good government in his ministry, they argued, which even in normal times would require his resignation under the parliamentary convention of ministerial responsibility. The global health emergency, they continued, makes the situation worse.

While shying away from the question of conflict of interest, they argued Mr. Shandro’s failure to be “resilient to critical comments from members of the public” adds to his failure “to meet these basic expectations of democracy and good governance in Canada.”

“The minister’s reaction would be problematic under normal circumstances; it is profoundly unacceptable during a global health crisis,” the three professors concluded.

Alas, there’s not much respect any more for the customary belief ministers have any real responsibility for their departments. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney blew off calls for Mr. Shandro to go.

He also misrepresented the nature of the criticism directed at the health minister. “Any Albertan would understand that a husband or wife will get passionate when their spouse is being attacked or even threatened and certainly defamed,” the premier said Tuesday.

The meme Dr. Zaidi reposted may have been harsh, but it was pretty obviously a fair comment. Mr. Kenney’s characterization of Dr. Zaidi? Not so much.

Regardless, whatever the premier says, it’s doubtful this issue will go away as long as Mr. Shandro is minister of health. If Mr. Kenney doesn’t like that, he knows what he has to do.

Why does the UCP continue its fight with the doctors?

Given its change of course on Tuesday in bargaining with the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, it’s surprising the Kenney Government is still fighting with the province’s physicians, just when they’re most needed to deal with the wave of COVID-19 infections now rolling over Alberta.

Alberta Medical Association President Christine Molnar (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

One can only speculate about the reasons for this secretive government’s intransigence with the docs, choosing this moment to implement changes to physicians’ compensation that many say will cost then 30 per cent of their income.

Alberta Medical Association President Christine Molnar called the government’s determination “simply irresponsible and not in the best interests of the health care system and our patients.”

My suspicion is that Alberta Conservatives, shocked and embittered by their unexpected loss to Rachel Notley’s NDP in 2015, expected the province’s unions to work with the Notley government, even if it made them angry. Accordingly, they’re prepared to temper their revenge, or at least delay it, during the health and economic crisis facing the province.

They view physicians, by contrast, as class traitors, worthy of much deeper disrespect and punishment. In other words, they never expected the AMA to deal with the NDP as if it was what it was, a government elected by the people of Alberta.

For that misunderstanding of how the UCP thinks politics ought to work in Alberta, there will be no mercy, at least as long as Mr. Kenney is premier.

A final thought from Janet Davidson, remember her?

Readers of this blog will recall Janet Davidson, named sole administrator of Alberta Health Services by Progressive Conservative health minister Fred Horne in June 2013, during Alison Redford’s chaotic premiership.

Former Alberta Health Services administrator and Alberta deputy minister of health Janet Davidson (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Ms. Davidson, a former RN and longtime health care consultant, was later named as Mr. Horne’s deputy minister.

Recently, she published some thoughts on the COVID-19 pandemic and how it compares to the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome two decades ago, which are worth pondering:

“Following the SARS pandemic, comments were made about the inability of an already maxed out system to cough up more acute and critical care beds during a crisis,” she wrote on the website. “Some 20 years later, I would say the problem is even worse.

“What other industry considers regularly using 100 per cent or more of capacity as being efficient? Most industries actually plan to use less than full capacity, so they are able to respond to unexpected events such as the present COVID-19 situation. Yet, in health care anything other than full occupancy is deemed inefficient. A vacant bed is actually considered bad.

“What does that say about us? I am pretty sure there will be another COVID-19 scenario in the future. Let us hope we do not continue to be victims of the old adage, ‘Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.’”

She’s right.

21 Comments to: Smoke and mirrors aren’t cutting it — Alberta’s health minister still needs to go

  1. Just Me

    April 3rd, 2020

    So….what kind of tally is there so far?

    Even more news popping up concerning Shandro’s really obvious efforts to game the system in his favour. This is all just diving towards third-world like corruption. Even US politicians would blush over this plain naked effort at graft.

    But denying seniors coverage for their prescriptions and pushing them onto a private plan? Didn’t seniors vote for the UCP in droves?

    It’s beginning to look like the UCP may have a death wish with their base. Or maybe there’s something else in the works here?

    Denying seniors their usual and secure health care coverage is one thing, but what if this was bundled in some kind of an exchange?

    End their coverage for, say, an end to reproductive rights?

    Trump is known to believe, by some accounts, that Evangelicals are willing to accept all kinds of indiscretions and insults, so long as they get Supreme Court justices that are willing to overturn Roe v. Wade. Is that the direction Kenney is headed in?

    We’re already seeing the government using the pandemic to turn back all kinds of regulations. At this rate, who knows what kind of indiscretions and insults are on the way?

    And the week’s not even over yet.

    I have already declared Kenney to be a gambler — a gambler with other people’s money and lives, but still a gambler. He clearly feels that good luck has been on his side for this long, so there’s no reason for him to believe that the winning will ever stop.

    Meanwhile, Alberta the abused spouse keeps getting punched, but puts up with the abuse in the hope that it ends.

    Good luck with that.

  2. tom

    April 3rd, 2020

    Barricade your driveway, Dave.

    • David Climenhaga

      April 3rd, 2020

      I haven’t been going to karate. I need some practice. The snow’s been shovelled off the driveway. DJC

  3. !?

    April 3rd, 2020

    Davidson is wrong – It’s not about capacity, it’s utilization.

    BC has cancelled/postponed non essential hospital visits and cut utilization down to 50-60% in anticipation of a C19 surge.

    100% of capacity is what the home toilet paper manufacturers were efficiently running at before demand went up 40% because folks weren’t going at the office.

  4. Bill Malcolm

    April 3rd, 2020

    “COVID-19 beats on and bashes the Alberta economy every single day but the province is fighting back.

    It was prepared like no other Canadian jurisdiction for the onslaught of the virus. Alberta was not allowed to put in proper border controls, that is a federal responsibility. It was badly mishandled, meaning Alberta was inevitably going to be flooded with infected travellers from multiple foreign destinations.”

    The Edmonton Journal opinion by some nitwit, name of Staples. Fatuous pap.

    “Infected travellers from multiple foreign destinations” are Albertans returning from the States and Mexican vacations, more like. But the inference is that murky foreigners were allowed to come into Alberta and taint true pure Alberta stock because Trudeau. What a complete load of nonsense. How many cases of the virus came back to NL and NS from returning Alberta tar sands workers who had been toiling in the north? The description of working conditions there from some of those interviewed was a complete eye-opener – there had been no precautions whatsoever, no chance of being able to properly wash their hands and sleeping in bunk beds stacked like sardines, with workers who came from everywhere on the rotating schedules. I bet those workers are kenney-Approved as he slings away public-servant pension funds on absolute bull crap.

    So, the Edmonton Journal claims Alberta is way ahead of the rest of us slobs in the rest of Canada on this pesky Covid-19 file. Is that really true? When I read that opinion article, I was struck by its parochial outlook. It reads like the rural town newspaper of my youth back in the 1960s reporting on the new ball field. But it puts down other Canadians when we need to pull together, not demonizing the rest of Canada by that xenophobic little hitler you have running the place who is as racist as they come, and with acolytes galore.

    And of course, all blame for allowing Albertans to return home must be affixed to the feds, says Staples. Throwaway junk opinion. My niece attending Dalhousie university fled home to Calgary on March 20, and self-isolated in a room. She gets out tomorrow.

    What we have discovered here in NS is that those snowbirds who rushed back home after partying in Florida seem to be the biggest egos who haven’t responded properly to the requirement they self-isolate for 14 days. Far too precious in their own minds.

    Just like this Staples fellow who penned the EJ article seems to be, coming at it from the other direction. Overall, Alberta lives in a bubble. I trust the doctors will triumph over kenney in the end.

    I suppose, but cannot bear to read any more horse manure, that the major newspapers are as responsible about doctors and their “overbilling” as they are in the rah rah propaganda above.

    Execrable cheap rubbish.

    • Just Me

      April 3rd, 2020

      I was wondering when David Staples was going to chime with his special brand of nonsense.

      Having followed Staples’ *journalistic* career for almost twenty years, he is without a doubt the biggest loudspeaker for all that is moronic. I recall the column he filed a couple of decades ago where he provided an exhaustive account of his experience as a nude model. While I’m sure that this experience was revelatory for Staples about the life of a nude model, the lengthy expose seemed to serve more as a piece about Staples himself. He even included the artist’s sketch of his…ahem…bodice, au naturale. His piece provided overwhelming evidence that Staples is without a doubt the stupidest man alive.

      • tom in ontario

        April 3rd, 2020

        “He even included the artist’s sketch of his…ahem…bodice, au naturale.”
        In addition to his creativity, did he encourage readers to belt out show tunes Hey Look Me Over and Is That All There Is?

      • Bob Raynard

        April 4th, 2020

        What you say is true, Just Me, but you have to admit Mr. Staples showed amazingly clear hindsight when he wrote about how Canada should have used the same draconian measures Taiwan used when responding to Covid-19. Boy, if only our political leaders had the same clear hindsight David Staples has.

  5. Public Servant

    April 3rd, 2020

    I’m old enough to remember when politicians were in it to serve their communities and took their responsibilities seriously. UCP cabinet ministers seem to be interested in one thing and one thing only: how to use their positions to fill their pockets as quickly as possible.

    Shandro should have resigned at once for any of these three reasons: his behavior, the blatant conflict of interest with his private business, his incompetence. Taken together, and especially during a pandemic, it is stunning that he is still around. If Kenney had any ethics whatsoever he should have canned him, but these grifters only care about their rich cronies. Every day their actions show contempt for Albertans.

    The next election might be too late to stop these disaster capitalists from destroying Alberta.

    • Murphy

      April 4th, 2020

      For somebody who is twelve thousand years old, you seem to have been fortunate in the degree to which your faculties have been preserved.

  6. Albertan

    April 3rd, 2020

    Would the Ethics Commissioner be considering reviewing a possible conflict of interest again, now that the new details revealed by Press Progress have been made known? Have the AB NDP called for another ethics review?
    Premier Kenney, would perhaps, have known everything about the Shandro’s involvement in a private medical insurance company which would offer coverage for the services that were cut by the Ministry, and by his nonaction on Shandro, would, perhaps, indicate that he is aok with it with regard to the march toward private-for-profit health care.
    Kenney even appears to ignore what should be required by a Minister of the Crown in our democracy, as explained in the op-ed by the three political scientists mentioned above.
    What it appears to indicate, is that the Kenney UCP, et al, feel they can do, say, act….whichever way they want, with outrageous impunity. It should not be tolerated. The question remains: How long are Albertans going to put up with this skullduggery? It could take a while. Remember the 40+ years of AB right wing financial mismanagement and ‘it’ kept getting votes. Mindbogglingly unreal……

  7. Murphy

    April 3rd, 2020

    There is nothing new under the sun. The old friendly fascist Kons were no less ethically unorthodox than today’s surlier grifter-yokels.

    The Kons made a yokel, with no externally perceptible qualifications, Sol-gen and then cleared her when she directly intervened when her son turned lil’ OJ (or li’l Ralph, if you like).

  8. Dave

    April 3rd, 2020

    The first problem is Mr. Shandro, and perhaps Mr. Kenney as well, doth protest too much. The weakness of their arguments seems to have only made them talk more loudly and more aggressively, in hopes that they can out shout, or intimidate those raising questions or concerns into silence. Their strategy does not seem to be working well and attempts to characterize sharp questioning or comments as threats only further undermines their credibility.

    The second problem is while they may have some success silencing neighbours, or some on social media, this issue has already gone far beyond that and much of the larger public has come to the fairly obvious conclusion that Mr. Shandro is conflicted.

    The third and greatest problem for Mr. Shandro (and perhaps also Mr. Kenney) is that even people who might support some of the UCP approach to health care are troubled or offended by this moral quagmire. The Wildrose Party spent years scrutinizing and exposing the PC’s moral lapses, which ultimately eroded its support. Many people who supported the Wildrose Party were former PC supporters who could not stomach the moral stench any more. The PC’s did not seem inclined to change much, so the voters did.

    Mr. Kenney can stubbornly hang on to his discredited cabinet minister, who isn’t that talented or worth it anyways, but if he refuses to get rid of the bad apples now, people will come to the conclusion that UCP is no more moral than its PC predecessor. Yes, they might make some people afraid to post on on social media, but the comments will go around in a more whispered way, one that the UCP and Kenney will be even less able to control or monitor and which could be even more corrosive to its support.

  9. Abs

    April 3rd, 2020

    Who knew that Albertans were so keen to embrace Quebec’s Duplessis years last April? And yet here we are. Jason “Maurice” Kenney, the duplicate Duplessis. What is it about these bachelor bros? Waiting for the Quiet Revolution…

  10. Abs

    April 3rd, 2020

    The bright light on the horizon?

    Seniors who are UCP supporters might be feeling shafted, not only by the cutoff of dependent drug coverage and changes to health coverage for snowbirds, but the rise in utility fees and insurance rates, and the redirection of some of their pension funds to oil-favoring AIMCo, and then the stock market whammy. Then they find themselves at greatest risk of falling seriously ill and dying ftom Covid-19, while the doctors to treat them are being punished by the UCP.

    The only bright spot on the horizon is that some of these folks might see the need in the community to donate directly to food banks, and be very judicious in how they spend their ever-more limited incomes. Political donations to the UCP might just seem frivolous and wasteful with all this going on. We can hope.

    In response to another reader’s comment, it should be pointed out that when “the pill” was legalized in Canada in 1969, this generation was the first to use it. I don’t think support for a reversal of reproductive rights is along generational lines.

    • Kang

      April 3rd, 2020

      It is no show dude. Rural people have long been abused and exploited by the impunity of the oil industry enabled by the government, so of course they vote for anyone that promises to cut government. Which is why big Jason got elected. The Notley NDP put that abusive impunity on steroids.
      In many ways it is too bad the Ab NDP did such a good job building up public health care. Little Jason is currently living in a fool’s paradise by being a parasitic on that system. As the resources run out and people start to die for no good reason, the unhappiness will just get deeper.

      If you want to see the real face of rural health care and the many decent people who not only provide it, but benefit from it, take a look at this:

  11. Just Me

    April 3rd, 2020

    Here’s a brainstorm…

    What if Kenney intends to keep Shandro around as a distraction from the wrecking ball he’s taking to whatever is left of civilization in Alberta?

    Everyone keeps harping about Shandro…we know, we know…he’s on the take and he’s rigged everything in his favor. He’s a barely successful lawyer, so he’s gamed the system for his own benefit. (If he’s still a member of the Law Society of Alberta, the ethics violations should come in fast and furious.)

    So, Kenney keeps Shandro around so everyone is distracted enough so he can wreck mayhem elsewhere.

    And of course, judging my David Staples idiotic and parochial missive that only Alberta (If he writes for Postmedia, he means the UCP.) can defeat the Coronavirus, regardless of the cuts to health care, because doctors are lazy and not worth the effort to keep them around. Besides, Babylon has provided an app that replaces doctors, so you’re welcome, Alberta.

  12. Margaret

    April 4th, 2020

    Excuse me. Trying to flood social media.
    Dear Alberta Government. The time for consumers to bail out governments is in the past. Capitalism does not work when no one has a job.


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