Dr. Verna Yiu in 2016 (Photo: Dave Cournoyer).

Verna Yiu led Alberta Health Services through the darkest hours of the pandemic with grace and a steady hand.

The 20-year-plus veteran of public health care administration is the kind of leader whose name invariably appears in print in close proximity to the word “respected.”

So why wouldn’t the Kenney Government fire her?

After all, she gave citizens confidence in their public health care system, even in the worst of times.

So fire her they did, yesterday morning.

It was the government-appointed Alberta Health Services Board that did the deed, trowelling on honeyed words of praise about Dr. Yiu’s service as CEO and president to deceive the credulous.

But everyone who pays attention to Alberta politics understands that the graduate of the University of Alberta and Harvard University was fired for two related reasons:

Dr. Yiu more recently wearing an undiplomatic “I’m Vaccinated” button, doubtless to the irritation of the Kenney Government (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

First, she had to go because she stood in the way of the United Conservative Party plan to “reform” health care – by which is meant privatizing it to a degree not seen in Canada since the beginning of Canadian public health care in the 1960s.

Second, she had to go now because by dealing effectively with the two-year COVID-19 crisis she had alienated the worst people in the UCP, the crazies still in Mr. Kenney’s caucus who have been demanding her head for months because she refused to mince words about the challenges facing the health care system during the pandemic, and because she insisted all health care workers must be vaccinated against COVID-19 – a clinical decision overruled for political reasons by Health Minister Jason Copping last December.

Just days ago, Mr. Kenney was suggesting some of these same characters were “lunatics,” but now a ritual sacking must be carried out to satisfy their bloodlust and save the leader’s hide.

It is said in the halls of the Legislature that the word came down from on high that Dr. Yiu was to be gone before Mr. Kenney faced his leadership review by UCP members – originally scheduled to take place in a single day on April 9, now spun out to a month of mail-in voting ending May 11.

Anyway, if you don’t trust my analysis, there was this: “CTV News has confirmed Yiu was fired.”

Alberta Health Minister Jason Copping (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

NDP Health Critic David Shepherd addressed Dr. Yiu directly yesterday in a news release: “You have served Albertans well through good times and bad. … You deserve far better than the ugly treatment you got from this failed government.”

Not quite a year ago, on May 4, 2021, the AHS Board extended Dr. Yiu’s contact for an additional two years, to June 2023.

“I am very pleased that Dr. Yiu will continue to serve as the organization’s president and CEO for an additional two years,” the previous AHS board chair, David Weyant, said at the time.

But as so often must be remembered in this province, that was then and this is now.

Now that the government has declared the pandemic to be effectively over – notwithstanding considerable evidence to the contrary – that tune has changed.

“We are very grateful for Dr. Yiu’s tireless leadership through the worst days of the pandemic, and we thank her for her years of dedicated service and commitment to AHS and to Albertans,” AHS Board Chair Gregory Turnbull said yesterday in a news release. “We have been planning for an orderly transition.” (Emphasis added.)

Others in the Kenney government lined up to utter similar hollow praise.

NDP Health Critic David Shepherd (Photo: Mack Male, Creative Commons).

“I want to thank Dr. Yiu for her leadership over the past six years,” said Mr. Copping in the government’s press release, before swiftly pivoting the UCP’s sinister new message. “It’s time to move forward with an ambitious agenda to improve and modernize the health system, and renewed leadership at Alberta Health Services will support delivering those changes.”

Translation: We need someone more cooperative if we’re going to gut public health care.

“The AHS board has been planning for some time to start the recruitment process for a new CEO at the end of Dr. Yiu’s extended term,” Mr. Copping also said. “The agreement with Dr. Yiu that the board announced today will bump up the timeline for the transition and help the system move forward.”

Of course, the board would have had little choice but to agree to a generous deal with Dr. Yiu to get her to go – after all, her conduct in office has been exemplary, and her contract had a year to run. If nothing else, they’ll have to pay a year of her $568,321 annual salary. For nothing.

Well, it could be more expensive – and doubtless will be. Readers with long memories will remember that a previous Conservative government created Alberta Health Services in 2009 basically to break the power of Calgary Health Region CEO Jack Davis, who apparently had backed the wrong horse in the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party’s 2006 leadership race.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

Mr. Kenney seems to have had nothing public to say about the matter of Dr. Yiu’s sudden departure, although we can count on it that the word is being circulated in the right circles that the premier was the man wielding the axe.

For her part, Dr. Yiu was graceful as always. “I have had the extraordinary privilege to lead Alberta Health Services for the past six plus years,” she said. “I would like to thank all staff, physicians and volunteers for their steadfast care of Albertans and their ability to put patients and families first, particularly as we have navigated through the past two pandemic years.”

So with a looming general election and the Kenney Government now trying to send all thoughts of the pandemic down the Memory Hole, one has to ask: Will Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw be next?

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26 Comments

  1. With the end of Dr. Yiu’s tenure, it can only be considered that Dr. Hinshaw isn’t too far behind. Though Hinshaw may get the benefit of a negotiated early retirement, because she at least didn’t resist the political influence over the public health directives, too much.

    Now with two of the UCP’s favourite targets gone, the pandemic will be, figuratively, over and the privatization of Alberta’s health care system can begin.

    Hospitals will be closed and services rolled back even further. Purchasing private health insurance will be the norm, as user-pay will become more and more common.

    Getting that gas pump nozzle struck in that pick up truck wasn’t a blooper: it was the messaging of how badly messed up healthcare will get over the next year.

    Don’t get sick.

  2. Yes they may be lunatics in Kenney’s mind, but they are his lunatics and he probably needs the support of at least a few of them to salvage his leadership. Firing Dr. Yiu sends a very strong message, perhaps the strongest dog whistle ever, that Kenney is trying to win back their support. Will it work? Perhaps, but it might take more than such dramatic gestures to regain their trust. Really everything Kenney and crew does over the next month or so is about winning the leadership review.

    A secondary issue was that Dr. Yiu was always a cautious bureaucrat, one who survived very different governments who had very different ideas about health care. She knew enough not to get in the way of their various political agendas and while I doubt any ever really trusted her she was helpful and supportive enough so they let her continue on. However that balancing act can be tricky, especially when a government demands too much loyalty or adherence to ideas that are not mainstream. So, at some point the UCP probably realized she was not going to go out of her way to privatize, or to use their latest euphemism, modernize, everything. She probably realized that after the next election there could be a different government and it would not be wise to go too far out on a limb with the UCP. Well, now they cut the branch off before that anyways.

    It probably is not a wise thing for the UCP to put the healthcare system into more disarray, but like addled monkeys they can’t seem to stop themselves from touching the third rail, again and again, despite repeated nasty shocks. Perhaps after Dr. Yiu has safely cashed a huge severance cheque and found a comfortable position elsewhere she may have more to say. If the UCP doesn’t pay this, I suspect there will be a big lawsuit and a number of embarrassing things will come out they’d rather not be made public. In any event, there will be more disarray with health care leading up to the next election.

    1. Have you seen her updated Twitter profile? “Proud to live in Canada where universal healthcare is a basic human right”. I think that says it all.

      1. Universal healthcare has nothing to do with supply chain decisions, such as choosing providers other than UNA and HSAA. If Yiu believes otherwise, she needed to move on.

    2. Health spending cannot continue to escalate faster than GDP growth. The system needs to innovate to improve efficiency as the status quo is unstainable. Any changes would be small and easily reversable if they don’t deliver as expected. A few hundred million to experiment with outsourced service provision would be a drop in the bucket relative to AHS’s total budget of ~$15B. Perhaps opponents fear that innovation might actually deliver.

      1. Doug, though i’m not opposed to innovation on the health care front – Canada/the Provinces seem to be allergic to checking out and adopting any policies from countries with perhaps better, more effective public health care systems – there is absolutely, unequivocally no doubt in my mind that anything that the Kenny Klown show comes up with will have any value whatsoever except for the the beneficiaries of Kenny’s largesse.
        Business owners and shareholders of the companies providing those services and/or some whack job religious group shoving their repugnant beliefs down our throats while making a bundle like Covenant Health

        Certainly not the average citizen or the common good.
        puh-lease !

  3. I remember what Ralph Klein did to healthcare in Alberta very well. He made so much cuts to it, which was an excuse to try and get it privatized. This ended up putting people’s lives in danger, and it also cost other people their lives. Nurses also had to relocate to elsewhere. The UCP are definitely out to complete Ralph Klein’s iteniary. Dr. Verna Yiu clearly didn’t agree with the UCP, and was a target. Dr. Deena Hinshaw has been basically turned into a puppet dangling by some strings, and the UCP are in total control over her. If she does not tow the UCP line, she will be ditched by the UCP. Whomever replaces Dr. Verna Yiu, and Dr. Deena Hinshaw will do whatever the UCP wants, and things won’t get better. We will see another very serious wave of Covid-19 returning to Alberta, and the UCP will not be doing anything to make things better. They simply did not learn from what Alberta was experiencing before with Covid-19. I can’t understand why it is so hard for people to comprehend that the UCP are no good at all. What other damage will the UCP unfortunately inflict upon Alberta, before Albertans wake up?

    1. Klein almost killed my father with his health care cuts. You can bet this all about forcing us into a privatized system like reformers are so famous for wanting to do. Danielle Smith would be thrilled.

      What they will try to do is ignore the Canada Health Act and will once again waste taxpayers money on legal costs.

      I wonder if bumbles ever got the diesel nozzle out of his gas powered truck?

    2. How can anyone be so sure that Albertans don’t know the UCP is “no good at all” when there is only one conclusive measure of the party’s worth: its election in 2019?

      A central tenet of democracy is a citizen’s right to vote for whomever candidate chi wants (the secret ballot eliminates coercion)—that is, the voter is free to regret or applaud cher choice in light of the candidate’s subsequent performance.

      It also means the voter may vote for an alternative candidate if chi disapproves of that performance because the Constitution limits governing terms to five years, maximum (the fixed, four-year term implemented in most sovereign Canadian jurisdictions is statutory and, in any case, has been breached by loss of parliamentary confidence or snap elections many more times than any government ever much exceeded four years in office).

      Fixed terms were adopted by right-wing governing parties sore about Chrétien calling a early election on the hapless leader of the opposition, Stockwell Day, thinking it unfair that Chrétien ‘took advantage’ of the Reform-a-CRAP-a-Con Alliance just because its leader was completely incompetent—the idea of a fixed election date (every four years) being that never again would governing parties of the left “play politics” with a right-wing party just because it’s led by an incompetent, and, ostensibly, to let the loyal opposition get prepared for an election well in advance. One of the many flaws in this reactionary policy is that, aside from being trumped by the Constitution and Westminster parliamentary procedure, the loyal opposition is required to be ready to assume government at all times, not only at election time.

      Voters are allowed to make an election mistake in a democracy, but are afforded a way to make up for it in the next election (how long terms should be limited to is debatable, but the principle is that any government needs a minimum amount of time to implement its policies, bureaucracy being like a supertanker: it can’t turn on a dime. Conversely, voters need a minimum amount of time to assess the worth of a government in order to approve or disapprove of it at the next election).

      Let’s assume Albertans made a mistake by electing the UCP. Electing the NDP four years before was so unusual we might also assume voters felt that risking it was preferable to re-electing the PCs.

      But did turning the NDP out after a single term mean they made a mistake—even though the NDP did a fairly good job in trying circumstances? Well, first, voters more likely wanted to punish the long-ruling PCs and electing their supposed partisan opposite put a fine point on the skewer; second, the substantial UCP victory suggests that’s all many voters wanted to do, reckoning, I suppose, that the new party—supposedly half composed of the defunct PC—had learned its lesson, out behind the woodshed. Having served this purpose, voters retired the NDP, despite its demonstrated competence.

      But “many voters” did not account for all of them: it was (is) doubtlessly discomforting for the UCP that a considerable proportion of voters must have presumed that electing the new party was riskier than staying with the NDP (for a host of reasons, JK not the least): the Dippers hung on to 24 seats to become the loyal opposition.

      How this pans after test-driving the UCP for a single term is the question. With a good foot-hold to return to power and a singularly unpopular premier—or, conversely, with polled popularity much higher than the UCP—the NDP is counting on Albertans being intelligent enough to recognize the UCP was a mistake, and that its leader’s grovelling to the extreme right with a shit-list of retrogressive polices is as mistaken.

      The problem is that some voters—hard to say exactly what proportion—would presume the UCP preferable to the NDP if Kenney were turfed as leader. Then it would be somewhat more obscure as to whether the UCP is “no good at all.” And that might be all some voters would need to know to vote UCP again, presumably the most hidebound, chauvinistic right-wingers.

      But rest assured that many voters—let’s just say, a significant amount—will take other factors into account before marking their ballots. And that might include how corrupt the UCP leadership review appears, let alone what shakes out of the party’s shit-hawk perch the morning after.

  4. One of the most egregious wastes of public dollars has to be the existence of AHS’ governing board. Health care is both the most political, and the most intensely politicized, service the provincial government operates, and so it is inevitable that the board has to take its marching orders from the Minister.

    In my view, the board should be abolished, and the CEO of AHS should be a Deputy Minister within Alberta Health, reporting directly to the Minister. At least that would honestly reflect the true nature of the organization’s governance structure.

    As for Dr Yiu’s departure, while I’ve never been her biggest fan, I join other commenters out there in #abpoli-land in being quite shocked at this development.

  5. Apparently, if you work for the UCP government, you can get fired without cause (we know the firing was without cause because Dr. Yiu’s contract stipulated that she would be paid a year’s salary in such an event) for being competent and effective at your job. At the same time, no amount of incompetence, day drinking, lying, corruption, abusing and bullying staff, or yelling at voters can get you fired from the UCP, especially if you are male and show loyalty to the premier. In fact, if you are also a trespasser and poacher, these qualities might even recommend you for a prominent position within government.

    There are other, related trends that should give us pause. For example, consider that the hamlet of La Crete is promised a $46 maternity center, run by Covenant Health (you know, the same religious outfit that doesn’t believe in women’s choice or physician assisted dying), for a total spend of $79 million. La Crete is also getting a $200 million dollar bridge. That is some major cash for population of 2,300. Readers might recall that La Crete is in the riding of UCP MLA, Dan Williams, a notorious “natural immunity” crank and opponent of AHS: https://albertapolitics.ca/2021/12/pay-attention-to-mla-dan-williams-attacks-on-alberta-health-services-hes-likely-saying-exactly-what-jason-kenney-thinks/.

    The hamlet of La Crete is also notorious for not following Covid-related AHS orders, vandalizing AHS vehicles and harassing AHS staff when AHS staff were in town to update computer systems (not vaccinate people as was widely believed). The town also sent a busload of protesters to the Freedumb clownvoy in Ottawa. The UCP loves to reward looney-tunes-conspiracy-fueled bad behaviour that puts lives at risk.
    Trying to save lives and make the province a better place will obviously put your job and possibly your community at risk.

  6. This UCP government has to go if we want to save public health care. There is no other way. UCP out in 2023. Public health or UCP: that is the reality. You don’t get both. Choose wisely.

  7. Imagine for a moment that Dr. Yiu had decided to resign voluntarily. Were that to be the case the government’s press release would have surely mentioned something about regret at her departure.

    Sadly, I expect Dr. Yiu’s severance package will include a non-disclosure clause.

    1. Most severance packages include non-disclosure and non-disparage clauses. Nothing unusual here.

      The fact that she was paid out confirms this wasn’t resignation. The principle behind severance is to compensate the individual for dismissal without cause.

  8. “Did he jump or was he pushed?” That’s the big question when someone abruptly leaves a high-profile job. I guess the big clue is this quote from the CTV article:

    “AHS confirmed that Yiu will receive a one year severance package, which equated to her annual salary of $573,841. This is only a stipulation in her contract that occurs if she is fired ‘without just cause.'”

    I don’t bother to follow main-stream, legacy news. But if Dr. Yiu hasn’t yet made a public statement announcing her resignation, that’s another clue it was NOT voluntary.

    I’ve been wondering if the private medical insurance I pay for was worth the cost. Frankly, it is not. I’m spending more on “in case of emergency” care than I pay for regular health spending–prescriptions, dental and eye care combined. I was seriously considering dropping private insurance and self-insuring (a.k.a. “paying my own way”).

    Now I’m not sure it’s a good idea. We’ll see just how badly the UCP can damage Alberta Health Services and health care in general, in 13 months.

    The truce is over. The War on Doctors has entered a new phase of active campaigning.

  9. It seems quite clear to me that this entire covid business and covid mandates are down to her.

    Not only that, Kenney et al had nothing to do with these on again off again mandates. All down to her.

    And the ‘best summer yet’? Well, that was clearly her fault as well.

    This proves to all voters what a decisive leader Jason Kenney is. Oops, spelling error. That should be read divisive.

  10. I sincerely hope this unconstitutional push to privatize health care results in a general strike and all these idiots losing their jobs. I sincerely doubt that will happen but one can hope.

  11. Personally, I’ve never been opposed to ever-rising body counts. More often than not, that’s the only way to get any attention.

    If the next waves of COVID infections don’t wipe out sufficient numbers of UCP voters (Anti-vaxxers, FreeDUMB Convoy adherents) the usual maladies for this bunch, such as diabetes, hypertension, or a myriad of injuries related to or caused by their always reliable stupidity, will thin their numbers considerably.

    See. A good cull is never a bad thing.

    1. Just Me, the part of me that wants to mutter, “Serves you right!” is inclined to agree with your argument. But I can’t help thinking that culling the herd won’t solve this problem.

      If only the dumb ones died off, I’d be cheering on the anti-vaxxers—having got my booster in December, as soon as the guvmint said I could. The first problem is, if Covid-19 kills as much as 2%, the remaining 98% will be noisier than ever. Second, the virus isn’t limited to anti-vaxxers. Third, the virus is evolving fast, thanks to large numbers around the world who can’t get the jab (plus the usual yahoos who don’t want it).

      Yes, vaccination greatly reduces your risk of severe outcomes or death–so far. But even one innocent victim of selfish stupidity is one too many.

  12. I’m not convinced Kenney sacked Dr Verna Yiu solely as a sop to the farther-right elements of his far-right party. Even if they approve, they can still see K-Boy only did it because his own arse is in the bight.

    But, in any case and whoever is UCP leader between the party-review’s teetering Maypole goalpost and the other one—the general election, whenever it is—has to take the possibility of yet another Covid wave into account. That risk is minimized in the psephological sense if the election is called early enough to presume the peridemic virus won’t rear it’s Totenkopf or require political commitment before the big day. I’m not sure K-Boy’s cleverness is all that impressive at this point, and of course the goalposts will be moving around the electoral rink as if it has skates on, no matter what time is allowed until then, but it behooves Mr SKlick not to have potentially contradictory health officials as part of the magic show.

    What happens if Kenney is turfed? Would his successor be as inclined to call a snap election soon enough after cher party leadership victory to ride that campaign’s momentum, or would chi prefer to take some time to consolidate cher party and government leadership—to show how much better cher leadership is than K-Boy’s?

    Whatever happens, Alberta politics cannot be but fascinating for at least the next year or so.

    If this be farce, though, hopefully —through the 18th of fog—tragedy is behind us.

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