Breaking News: I’ve just learned that Stelmach has kicked Dr. Raj Sherman out of caucus. The PC Caucus is even more arrogant than I thought. In my post below, I stated I didn’t think they would turf Dr. Sherman because he has been cast as a bit of a hero. But, apparently, comments calling former Health and Wellness Minister Ron Liepert “rude” may have enraged the “old boys” in the inner circle who expect absolute servitude from all MLAs, no matter what tomfoolery they are up to. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
Albertans tuned in to YouTube by the thousands this week to watch a video, but it wasn’t cats flying through the air or an irate air traveller complaining about security guards touching his “junk” that caught their attention. It was a video of reporters in Edmonton pursuing Alberta Health Services (AHS) CEO Stephen Duckett after an emergency meeting of high ranking government officials to discuss the crisis unfolding in Alberta’s troubled health care system. The reporters were trying to get timely answers to questions that dominated Question Period the previous day, reaching a crescendo when an emotional email was leaked from Edmonton MLA and top doc Raj Sherman to the Premier claimed that Stelmach had “broken his promises.”
So what was Dr. Duckett’s response to reporters?
“I’m eating my cookie,” he smirks and says to reporters seven times during the two-minute video. At one point, he pushes his cookie into the face of one of the reporters. The surprised journalists respond that they are willing to wait a few moments for him to finish his cookie, but Dr. Duckett is unapologetic and seems surprised that his response wasn’t sufficient to stop the reporters from following him. In fact, he turns to one reporter and asks her “what did I just say?” as if to imply that she is a buffoon for not being satisfied with his answer. At this point, let me just say that my sympathies go out to the AHC communications staff, who are likely wishing they were publicists for Snookie from Jersey Shores instead of advising the good Dr. Duckett on how to recover from this debacle.
The pursuit continues and in fact, the reporters themselves try to warn Dr. Duckett that he is looking pretty foolish. One journalist asks him if this is the “image he wants to portray,” but Dr. Duckett continues to stubbornly insist that munching on his cookie takes priority over answering questions about Dr. Sherman’s statement that “I can no longer support the health care decisions made by AHS as well as some of those made by our government.” Dr. Sherman’s position as Parliamentary Assistant for Alberta Health and Wellness makes it that much more alarming.
Then, another reporter in the back of the pack speaks up and says, “don’t you think it’s rather ridiculous that…” and Dr. Duckett stops in his tracks, perhaps finally shocked back to reality from his cookie-induced madness and addresses the reporters. He responds that he thinks it is ridiculous that the reporters can’t wait another 30 minutes for the scheduled media availability to get answers to their questions. But the reporters want answers now and the AHS leadership is so used to tightly orchestrating its media releases that they can’t comprehend that in the real world, the media are under deadline and will do whatever it takes to get the story first. Catching Dr. Duckett like this is what journalism is all about.
The whole “cookie exchange” as it has been dubbed, took about two minutes and effectively wiped out any hope that progress made in the meeting receives widespread coverage. Instead, Dr. Duckett and the government will have to endure the pain of this embarrassing and unprofessional performance as the video goes viral on YouTube in the coming weeks. It’s an inexcusable lapse in judgment and I’m sure all of the people who are working hard to fix the terrible health care mess the government has created, wanted to “lose their cookies” when they saw it.
To the public, Dr. Duckett has always come across as an uncaring, slash and burn health care administrator who has flip-flopped, flummoxed and flubbed his way through his term as head of AHS, yet still received a significant bonus on top of his regular and generous salary. There is some serious dough in his pocket from your tax dollars, and not the kind with chocolate chips. This video seems to demonstrate for all to see, his flippant attitude towards accountability. As a senior official, selected by the government of Alberta to run the system of health care delivery in this province, he has failed yet again to inspire the public’s confidence.
There is very little Dr. Duckett can do to regain credibility at this point. His communications advisors are likely scrambling right now to come up with ideas. The question is, how much energy and time should be spent trying to restore confidence in Duckett when there are so many other pressing issues? I think not.
I believe Dr. Duckett’s days are numbered. He’ll be lucky to last a “baker’s dozen” days as head of AHS. The Alberta government is under tremendous pressure and public scrutiny for its handling of health care. In light of Dr. Sherman’s high profile criticism (albeit, a somewhat retracted criticism now that he has apologized) there will be an attitude that someone must pay. With Dr. Sherman being cast somewhat as a hero and now, Dr. Duckett merrily assuming the role of the bad guy, the choice seems obvious, although sinister efforts may already be underway to discredit Dr. Sherman as well–we will see what happens in the coming days.
Health and Wellness Minister Gene Zwozdesky, although at the centre of the storm, has managed to come off looking fairly respectable by extending a hand to Dr. Sherman in solidarity and successfully distancing himself from Dr. Duckett. He is extremely skilled at ducking responsibility for problems that certainly started long before his reign, but let’s face it, he has done very little to correct.
Now, Dr. Duckett has since apologized for his actions, but even his apology was half-baked. He says he’s sorry because he should have stopped to explain that he doesn’t comment on things said by elected officials (referring to Dr. Sherman). And that would have made everyone feel so much better? As a top-ranked government bureaucrat paid by the taxpayers, he makes it his practice is NOT to publicly answer to criticisms from those who have been elected to represent those taxpayers? Clearly, the AHS head is about to become the scapegoat for the government’s health care blunders and he seems to be approaching the end of his term with great gusto. The question is, will voters be satisfied with just Dr. Duckett’s head? Or will they finally hold the government to account for what emergency room doctors in the province have called the “catastrophic collapse” on the front lines of our health care system.