Premier Alison Redford renewed vows for a public inquiry in the wake of a damning health report, just as critics blasted her with charges she’s “waffling” from earlier promises.
Redford said she’ll make good on her pledge for a public, judicial inquiry into allegations of political interference in the health system by granting additional powers to Health Quality Council of Alberta, which revealed a culture of fear among Alberta doctors.
Redford said she wanted all along to have a judge-led inquiry into further issues, such as accusations of MLAs jumping health wait lists.
While she wants to wait for the HQCA’s final findings, she said new legislation will be introduced in the fall session to make the council independent with more power.
“We’re going to create legislation to allow the Health Quality Council to call that inquiry with full powers of a public inquiry, a judicial inquiry, the ability to have a judge-led inquiry to compel witnesses and that’s really what a judicial inquiry is about so that becomes the next step,” she said Saturday.
It will be up to whomever heads the inquiry how much of it will be public but it must be independent, she added.
But Alberta Liberal leader Raj Sherman, whose claim that 250 lung cancer patients on a list of 1,200 died while waiting for surgery was part of the HQCA investigation, said the issues need to be addressed in an open court.
“There has to be some accountability, this is a closed-door process, behind the scenes,” he said.
“So the premier is waffling and backtracking — they don’t want this out in the public.”
He said the HQCA should report independently to the legislative assembly about other matters for quality assurance, but with respect to the cancer issue, it doesn’t need special powers.
“We have something called the Public Inquiries Act, I see no reason why they are trying to do new legislation to address the cancer issue,” he said.
“We have a Public Inquiries Act, call a public inquiry.”
Sherman said HQCA head Dr. John Cowell wasn’t able to find evidence of the cancer patient claims because some doctors with the information will not testify unless they are legally protected.
“They are ready to testify but want to do it in an open manner — they don’t trust the HQCA process because of relationships that they have with AHS,” he said.
David Eggen, executive director of Friends of Medicare, said Redford’s plan to give the HQCA new powers is not keeping her promise.
“She promised an independent judicial inquiry, she is going to try to create some made up version of that,” he said.
“She is a lawyer, she knows what a public inquiry should be — you can’t just cobble it together from some council she has already.”
On Twitter: @SUNkschneider