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UCP votes against the independent role of chief health officer


An NDP move to make Alberta chief health officer more independent was defeated Wednesday by the ULA UCP on a committee reviewing changes to the public health act.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief health officer, currently operates in a cabinet advisory role.

The public never hears what its original recommendations are, making it impossible to assess how much of Hinshaw’s advice was accepted by the government.

Edmonton City Center MLA David Shepherd, NDP health critic, filed a motion to make the chief health officer an independent legislative assembly official, meaning she would report to all MLAs regardless of affiliation their political, not just health ministers.

“We have learned a lot during this pandemic,” Shepherd said. “The public is demanding unlimited access. They want to hear the real advice of our health professionals.

“In something as important as a public health emergency, I think the public deserves to listen to public health advice without worrying about the possibility of political filtering.”

The special committee for the selection of the public health act has seven MLAs of the UCP and four members of the NDP opposition.

Miranda Rosin, UCP MLA for Banff-Kananaskis, was the only member of government to speak out about the Shepherd movement. The others remained silent, though they joined Ross in defeating the motion in a 7-4 vote.

In her testimony to the commission on Aug. 27, Hinshaw said there were advantages and disadvantages to the various ways a top health official could perform their role.

“I would feel comfortable to be able to work within whatever framework the government decided to define,” she said. “This particular framework: I was comfortable working inside it.”

Rossin referred to those comments when justifying her decision to vote against Shepherd’s motion, saying Hinshaw was happy with the current reporting deal.

“The irony here is to laugh,” Rosin said. “We have been sitting here for almost eight hours and we have heard members of the opposition tell us how we should listen to Dr. Deena Hinshaw more. And we did not give her enough opportunity to speak or share her opinion.

“However, when she shares her opinion, apparently they have absolutely no desire to hear it or take that advice.”

NDP Edmonton South MLA Thomas Dang said it is not surprising that Hinshaw said it was good to report to the health minister.

In a presentation to the commission, the health minister said there was no need for an independent officer. Hinshaw’s response reflected that position, Dang said, because she could not publicly agree without having to submit her resignation.

“We will never know what goes on behind closed doors,” Dang said.

Hinshaw’s profile has grown over the past seven months thanks to her frequent public announcements about the COVID-19 pandemic.

The school reopening plan presented by the government raised suspicions that the UCP cabinet was not following all of its recommendations as requests for classroom divisions contradicted advice to people in public spaces such as grocery stores and restaurants.

“The chief medical officer does not control the education budget, he does not control the health budget,” said Edmonton Glenora MLA Sarah Hoffman, NDP education critic.

“But if the officer were to have independence, as we see in the ombudsman, we could see the kind of advocacy that can build greater trust in the public and in our understanding of what is being done simply from a health perspective.”

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