No rules broken in Hinshaw firing: Alberta’s ethics commissioner

By Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

Alberta’s ethics commissioner says 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.

Marguerite Trussler says she found that the proper processes were followed when the job offer was revoked earlier this year for Dr. Deena Hinshaw in a new position at the Indigenous Wellness Core of Alberta Health Services.

Trussler announced the findings in a letter, dated Monday, to Health Minister Adriana LaGrange that was released to media Tuesday by Premier Danielle Smith’s office.

The letter comes after two senior Alberta Health executives said they quit in protest over Hinshaw’s termination, alleging high-level political interference, including from Smith and former AHS chief executive Dr. John Cowell.

Trussler, in the letter, said, “Although he had input on the decision, I found no evidence that Dr. Cowell directed the termination of Dr. Hinshaw’s employment.

“The evidence showed that Dr. Hinshaw’s employment was terminated through proper process.”

Trussler added, “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.”

The letter comes a day after Smith faced renewed questions over her involvement in Hinshaw’s dismissal, responding to a Globe and Mail story that quoted a June 11 resignation letter from former AHS senior executive Dr. Braden Manns.

In the resignation letter cited by the newspaper, Manns said he quit his position to protest what he said was Smith’s interference in reversing the decision to hire Hinshaw for the new job.

Asked by reporters in Calgary if she interfered, Smith said, “I talked with (Cowell) on a weekly basis. We talked about staffing decisions a lot, and we have a major restructuring that we’re doing in Alberta Health Services as well.”

But Smith added: “Ultimately, it’s the official administrator — and now the board and the CEO — who will make those decisions and it was the case in this instance, too, that the decisions of AHS were made by AHS.”

RELATED: Over 100 Alberta doctors sign letter calling for investigation into Hinshaw decision

Neither Manns nor Cowell have responded to a request for comment from The Canadian Press.

CBC News reported in June the revocation of Hinshaw’s job also led to the resignation of the group’s medical director, Dr. Esther Tailfeathers.

The Globe reported that in the letter, Manns said Cowell told him Hinshaw’s hiring to the Indigenous wellness job was “a major problem.” Manns wrote that while he and Cowell were talking in the hallway of a Calgary AHS office, the premier called Cowell directly.

“After your call with the premier, you and I participated in a group meeting. In that meeting, you stated that the premier is firm that there can be no hiring of Dr. Hinshaw,” Manns is quoted as saying in the report.

“In response, I expressed my concern that the premier was reaching down four levels into AHS and instructing us to rescind an approved contract after a comprehensive search and selection committee process.”

Cowell’s position ended after Smith installed a new board of directors for AHS last month. The board is to oversee a massive reorganization of health delivery, with the role of AHS reduced to a service delivery arm for acute care.

Cowell was put in the job in November 2022 after Smith fired the previous AHS board.

Smith, who has long aligned herself with those questioning the mainstream science approach to the COVID-19 pandemic, had removed Hinshaw as the province’s top public health doctor soon after she became premier in 2022.

Smith blamed both Hinshaw and the leadership of AHS for failing to deliver the best advice and care for Albertans as the hospital system came close to buckling in successive waves of the pandemic, which the premier said forced the province to impose freedom-busting vaccine mandates and restrictions.

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