Smith fires AHS board, appoints same person to run it the last time conservatives did this

Our publication schedule for the Progress Report newsletter got nuked by my medical problems last month, so we’ve got a lot to catch up on. Let’s get right to it with the big news from Thursday afternoon: Danielle Smith has fired the entire board of directors of Alberta Health Services.

Dr. John Cowell has been appointed as the new AHS administrator and will take the place of the board for an as-of-yet undetermined amount of time. Cowell was in a similar position nearly a decade ago, having served as administrator under Alison Redford the last time the conservatives who run Alberta fired the entire AHS board. 

I’m not in the business of defending richly-compensated political appointees—there were some unpleasant folks on that board, like the odious right-wing economist John Mintz—but it’s not entirely clear why the board had to go, or how turfing them will make anything better. Smith’s justification seems to shift depending on the audience. The messaging to her supporters has orbited around vague implications that the AHS board is responsible for ‘tyrannical’ COVID measures, but to the general public today the pitch was that the board would get in the way of reforming the system.

Smith says she’s directed Cowell to focus on reducing surgical waitlists, reducing ER wait times, and improving EMS coverage. These are good goals, but they’re also the ones a person would pick if their plan is to contract more and more out to the private sector, something Cowell seems very comfortable doing. In fact a sizable chunk of the Q&A with journalists was devoted to talking about a pilot in Red Deer where inter-facility transfers were (maybe) being handled by a private operator

Dr. John Cowell is essentially the czar of health care in this province for the next six months. Hopefully he doesn’t break too many things.

Dr. John Cowell (left), Health Minister Jason Copping (middle), Premier Danielle Smith (right) at the press conference where the announced the firing of the AHS board and the appointment of Cowell as AHS administrator. 


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