Someone fired Dr. Deena Hinshaw a second time in June – but whodunnit? (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

You were wondering about that ethics investigation into the way former Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw was immediately re-fired after she was hired as a member of Alberta Health Services’ Indigenous Wellness Core last June?

Was it Premier Danielle Smith? She says not (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

It turns out no rules were broken. 

So there’s nothing to see here folks. Please move along

On Monday, The Globe and Mail and other media reported that Alberta Ethics Commissioner Marguerite Trussler was looking into the way Dr. Hinshaw was fired before she’d even started her new duties at the AHS Indigenous health program.

That Globe story suggested Dr. Hinshaw was fired because United Conservative Party Premier Danielle Smith, a vocal opponent of public health measures during the pandemic who had fired her as chief medical officer of a few months before, demanded it.

In the story, the Globe quoted the resignation letter of former AHS vice-president Braden Manns to AHS Administrator John Cowell. “The decision implemented by you to rescind Dr. Hinshaw’s contract after what I understand to be your personal discussions with the Premier, her Chief of Staff and others in the government of Alberta,” Dr. Manns told Dr. Cowell, “will have a long-lasting effect on our ability to have trusting relationships with our Indigenous leaders and communities. This type of political interference in hiring should not be permitted.” (Emphasis added.)

Was it former AHS administrator Dr. John Cowell? The ethics commissioner says it wasn’t (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

This interpretation of the events is widely believed, significantly by both supporters and opponents of the UCP, because it is entirely on brand for Ms. Smith, a former right-wing talk radio host known for her advocacy of quack COVID cures and vaccine skepticism on the air before she returned to politics in 2022, not to mention her lack of patience with the rule of law since becoming premier.

Dr. Hinshaw was fired the first time as CMOH in mid-November 2022 about a month after Ms. Smith was sworn in as premier. She was fired the second time at the start of June 2023, hours after word she had been hired became public, throwing the UCP’s anti-vaxx base into a tizzy. .

Yesterday, various news media published a new story stating that Ms. Trussler’s investigation is already over and the ethics commissioner had concluded, in the phrase that really should be the motto on Alberta’s coat of arms, No Rules Were Broken

In a letter to Health Minister Adriana LaGrange dated Monday that was handed out to media yesterday by staff from the Premier’s Office, Ms. Trussler said she had stopped her investigation into the role in the firing played by Dr. Cowell, who had been appointed by Ms. Smith to single-handedly run the agency.

“I am providing you with notice that I have ceased an investigation into an allegation against Dr. John Cowell with respect to his involvement in the decision to revoke an offer of employment to Dr. Deena Hinshaw,” Ms. Trussler wrote in the letter. 

Ethics Commissioner Marguerite Trussler – her answers contain no answers (Photo: Office of the Ethics Commissioner).

“Although he had input into the decision, I found no evidence that Dr. Cowell directed the termination of Dr. Hinshaw’s employment,” the letter said. “The evidence showed that Dr. Hinshaw’s employment was terminated through proper process.” Anyway, Ms. Trussler added, Dr. Cowell is no longer a senior official as defined by the Conflicts of Interest Act.

“I also received complaints against the Premier with respect to the same matter. However, given the evidence in the investigation of Dr. Cowell, I did not pursue an investigation of the Premier.” 

So who did direct the termination of Dr. Hinshaw’s employment? And what was the premier’s role?

If you feel there are still some huge gaps in this story, you’d be right.

But don’t look for any answers to be forthcoming from the government of Alberta. 

“No rules were broken when the former chief medical officer of health was hired for — then promptly fired from — a new job with the province,” Dean Bennett of The Canadian Press summed up the letter in the traditional Alberta phrase. 

Former AHS VP Braden Manns – his resignation letter points the finger at the premier and her chief of staff (Photo: Alberta Health Services).

“Ms. Trussler examined events around the dismissal under the Conflicts of Interest Act, which is designed to prevent elected politicians and senior government officials from taking action that financially benefits them or their family,” the Globe explained. “The act’s narrow focus means Ms. Trussler’s decision not to investigate the premier has failed to quell allegations that AHS ripped up Dr. Hinshaw’s contract after Ms. Smith interfered inappropriately.” 

There is nothing mildly surprising, let alone shocking about this outcome. 

It is the way these things work, and not only in Alberta. 

Legislative ethics rules are written by politicians who, understandably if not ethically (as it were), would prefer to shield themselves from the consequences of actions that most of us severely normal Albertans would consider unethical. 

That is why it can never be said that a legislatively constrained investigation of this sort has vindicated anyone, as the premier’s political staff is certain to try to persuade us the letter means for their boss’s tattered reputation. 

Readers can believe whatever they wish, but the known facts – Ms. Trussler’s uninformative letter notwithstanding – strongly suggest it was Ms. Smith who gave Dr. Hinshaw the shove. 

Far out! Alberta won’t let red tape harsh your mellow, man!

Groovy! Rules for cannabis retailers are changing! Red tape’s such a bummer, says The Man, but everything’s gonna be cool starting next month. So don’t harsh your mellow! Tune in, turn on, and make sure your dealer has a licence. 

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  1. Hmmmm…an ethics commissioner rules in favour of the government’s unethical conduct because they like their job.

    Must be Alberta.

    1. JM: I don’t think this is fair. She knows her term is coming to an end a year from now. Having found the premier behaved unethically in an earlier investigation, her employment in her current role is done for. Moreover, she is truly constrained by the legislation – that is by design, of course, but not her design. She is a former judge and is not under financial pressure. That said, I personally have to think it would be an error in judgment for anyone to take that job given the constraints that come with it. DJC

      1. Hello David, you are right, her term is coming to an end. That being said, she had nothing to lose to continue the investigation into role Danielle Smith played in firing Dr. Hinshaw, constrains or no constrains, I am thinking….

  2. Well Albertans know who hired Dr Deena. In spite of all the denials, Albertans also have a pretty good idea who fired her. What a shitshow. Can’t make this Alberta BS up.

  3. The headline really should be that the ethics commissioner is not looking into whether rules were broken. I suppose headline writers sometimes prefer being concise over accurate and have concluded no rules were broken. However that leads to a somewhat philosophical question: If you don’t look for something does that mean it is not there? Of course, no.

    Ms. Trusler has been burned politically already with Smith, so I suppose it is not surprising she is reluctant to be so again. She now knows who the boss is and likely will be for the rest of her future employment. So she has reverted to the caution that seems to be a requirement of her job.

    I’m not sure that caution serves Albertans well, but perhaps it should not be unexpected in a province where one party often has stayed in power for many decades. So perhaps this is a big reason for it. Contrast this with the more vigorous Federal ethics officers who seem to have no problem investigating almost anything. Of course parties in power Federally change fairly regularly.

    If you are in a government position in Alberta and want a future in Alberta, you have be careful not to upset those in power. Hinshaw probably now realises this from sad experience and Trusler surely knows this too

  4. This is very concerning. It should be to anyone who cares about democracy and good governance in Alberta. Basically, anyone who goes against the UCP’s mantra, gets bullied into submission, or fired. Ralph Klein would be so proud of Danielle Smith and the UCP, because they are acting like he did. Meanwhile, infection rates from Covid-19, respiratory conditions and the flu in Alberta are not going down, causing hospitals in the province to be stressed out, and the UCP are doing nothing about it, while encouraging their backwards libertarian thinking. Dr. Deena Hinshaw got thrown under the bus by the UCP, which was predicted to happen. Preston Manning, who also helped Danielle Smith get dumped by voters for his behind the scenes advisement of the floor crossing stunt in 2015, was rewarded $253,000, and a $2 million expense account from the UCP to come up with a report to see how the provincial government took care of the Covid-19 pandemic in Alberta. It was a very pathetic report, which didn’t hold the UCP responsible. Most likely, it was completed in advance. Take Back Alberta is definitely involved with this mess too. I really wonder if people who voted for the UCP knew what they were getting Alberta into. Do they have any remorse, or regrets?

    1. I think this entire affair is yet another illustration of modern conservatism’s approach to democracy, which is quite distinct from that of more traditional conservatism.

      Essentially, they believe that winning an election is more than sufficient for them to do anything they want, without the usual constraints on power that Americans call “checks and balances” intended to protect the rights of the minority and the rule of law. It’s why they rail on about “unelected judges” making “judge-made law” — which, however, suits them just fine when courts overturn more progressive legislation such as federal laws aimed at climate change and environmental sustainability, or (south of the “Medicine Line”) gun control.

      They don’t believe there should be any limits on what they can do with a majority government. Traditional conservatives believed in the rule of law — these people see an election win as an elected dictatorship.

  5. On what basis was she fired again. Oh because Smith’s base would oppose it. Right now we have a large amount of people dying. We don’t get reports of the viruses. Most definitely it is political interference. It’s not rocket science. How can someone get hired and fired before she starts the job. Did she get a ROI. As shown Kenny tore up doctors contracts. The corruption within the UCP is surmountable. But again who fired Hinshaw. Why is Cowell not in his position any longer ??

  6. So DS and Dr C interfere with AHS hiring policy and procedure, but because they didn’t directly get $ to do so, it doesn’t violate the Ethics legislation.

    So salary isn’t direct enough?
    We ignore how Dr C’s gets to keep his job as long as he follows DS’s dictates and DS gets to keep hers as long as she follows TBA’s)

    1. “Ms. Trussler examined events around the dismissal under the Conflicts of Interest Act, which is designed to prevent elected politicians and senior government officials from taking action that financially benefits them or their family,”

      Odd, given we had a health minister whose wife ran a health insurance company.

  7. Based on the Act, if the Premier didn’t gain financially from these actions, she didn’t break the rules. The bigger issue is the ridiculous level of political interference in the day-to- day operations of Alberta Health. Firing someone just because of a political vendetta shows the kind of banana republic that Alberta has become under Smith.

  8. We’ve hashed this over in DJC’s previous post, and now this one. It’s as I said; the only way we’ll ever learn who really decided to fire Dr. Hinshaw is through a judicial investigation—or a lawsuit.

    At this point, I’m convinced this province NEEDS that investigation. I’m convinced that either Danielle Smith, or Rob Anderson, acted on personal animus against Deena Hinshaw to get her fired from AHS. (I think they did it twice.) If they can do it to someone as high-profile as Hinshaw—who’s safe?

    The next step is Hinshaw’s to take. If she does decide to sue, we may eventually learn what really happened. Given her experience with Jason Kenney’s UCP, and Danielle Smith’s TBA, however, I wouldn’t blame Hinshaw for simply leaving Oilberduh—and never coming back.

    1. Given the way this government will throw money at their pet projects, I am sure they have offered Dr. Hinshaw a generous incentive not to sue.

    2. Well Mike we hashed this over but I don’t think AB needs an inquiry. It’s virtually indisputable that DS intervened and had Dr. Hinshaw fired, and more than that she is being preventing from ever working in the AB civil service again. Think about that.

      The TBA knows this, the UCP knows this, the NDP opposition and everyone in the AHS knows this, and I imagine any Albertans who are paying attention know this. WTH is an investigation going to tell us that we don’t already know?

      1. Mickey, you’re missing the big point. “Everybody knows” = “it’s a rumour.” “Proven in court” means “there are consequences.”

        Right now, somebody—either Smith or Anderson, IMO—canned Hinshaw and inflicted personal and professional harm on her. Right now, they’re getting away with it. “Everybody knows” won’t change that. They can try it again, and again, and again. Ask yourself what that will do to morale in the government. Imagine the damage they can do to Alberta.

        Unless Hinshaw chooses to sue for damages, Smith et al will have no reason to back down. They’ll be free to indulge their whims and personal animosity. Even if a hypothetical court ruled against Hinshaw, the sheer tedium of court proceedings, lawyers’ meetings etc. would put a brake on Smith’s impulsiveness.

        Daneille Smith believes that laws don’t apply to her. Getting dragged into court might—MIGHT—teach her she’s wrong. At the least, it’d make her more cautious in the future. It’d prove to Smith, Anderson and all their fellow-travellers that the laws really do apply to everyone. That’s why we need to see this mess dragged into court.

  9. It will be interesting to see who the UCP install as the next Ethics Commissioner after the incumbent’s tenure ends.
    Contortionists across the province will be pricking up their ears.

  10. Despite the denials it certainly appears that dismissing Dr. Hinshaw was an act of political revenge (twice).

    This makes it alarming to think of the future, when public health policy will not be determined by the Chief Public Health Officer, or AHS (or whatever is left of it) or any medical person at all, unless they serve on the Cabinet.

  11. Dr. Hinshaw has been the victim since the advent of Covid. Her failure to stand up for the office she held when politics abrogated the legislated power of the office she held? That mistake is on her. The fact that she was loyal to a fault? And then the clowns of the party she was loyal to, literally black listed her from the province? That’s a matter she needs to address by stepping up legally. If not for herself? Then call it civic duty!

  12. So basically the UCP/DS has a blacklist and you will not be employed in this province if they don’t like you. Seems DS is way ahead of Trump on a retribution list.

  13. Perhaps we can get further details, once the wrongful dismissal action is underway. It’s a shame the UCP is always playing with House money, whether it be pipelines to nowhere, performative court challenges, or violations in contract/employment law.

  14. Pogo gets it half right about Hinshaw – she does need step up legally in regard to her latest “termination”. What he is not right about is that she was a victim of government over-reach in the first instance. The fact is she not only failed to stand up to Kenney and his band of luddites but gave credence to the self-serving rationale provided by the government (if you don’t believe this, go back and read her statements at the time). And if that is not convincing enough, you have only to consider that the only real push-back she made was in relation to her severance, which could not uncharitably be viewed as a payoff for her capitulation. This is not a commentary on Hinshaw’s competence, but rather her moral failing that led a relaxation of public health measures in Alberta’s “best summer ever” that not only contributed to unnecessary death and suffering for many Albertans but made Alberta into a national laughingstock.

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