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Alberta Health Minister Fred Horne. (Sandor Fizli for The Globe and Mail)
Alberta Health Minister Fred Horne. (Sandor Fizli for The Globe and Mail)

Alberta opposition calls for Health Minister to quit over expenses scandal Add to ...

With the Alberta government under fire over a health spending scandal, its chief rival has turned to an age-old opposition tactic – calling for the minister’s resignation.

Official Opposition Leader Danielle Smith on Wednesday called for Premier Alison Redford to turf her Health Minister, Fred Horne, after revelations that lavish expenses were paid to a former health executive, Allaudin Merali.

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It’s the latest in a series of controversies to plague Alberta Health Services, Ms. Smith said. “This Health Minister has to go,” she said.

There was no sign he would.

Mr. Horne wasn’t health minister during the three years that the $346,208 in expenses was paid – although he was one of Mr. Merali’s dinner guests before he entered politics – and wasn’t firing back at Ms. Smith.

“The minister won’t be dignifying this with a response,” Mr. Horne’s press secretary, Bart Johnson, said on Wednesday.

When the scandal broke last week, Mr. Horne held a press conference in which he expressed outrage but gave few answers.

Mr. Merali’s departure was announced, and a board member resigned.

The department ordered an external audit, although the report will go to Mr. Horne rather than being made public immediately.

The government said Mr. Merali would receive severance, then later said he wouldn’t, but refused to explain why, or if it had struck a deal with him.

(Mr. Merali hasn’t responded to messages seeking comment.)

Mr. Horne has said he did not recall his dinner with Mr. Merali, who submitted the $220 receipt for reimbursement, and that he didn’t know about Mr. Merali’s involvement in Ontario’s eHealth scandal.

“Very hard to believe,” Ms. Smith said, given Mr. Horne’s former career as a health consultant.

“The number one thing you expect out of a minister is integrity and truthfulness, and we’ve seen neither out of Horne,” she said.

Opposition parties regularly call for resignations, to no effect, said Duane Bratt, the chair of policy studies at Calgary’s Mount Royal University.

“It’s in the playbook. I just wish they would stop doing it, because it’s like the kid who cries ‘wolf,’ ” he said.

Wildrose’s resignation demand came the same day the Alberta government announced a review of how cabinet ministers and government executives (but not backbenchers) report their expenses.

It will also hire an external human resources firm – albeit with no timeline or cost estimate – to review its hiring practices.

Mr. Merali was cleared to become the province’s controller – a top financial position – before he opted for a job at AHS, which didn’t review his past expenses, which came to light through a CBC access-to-information request.

Mr. Horne is facing several other explosive files.

The province is clashing with its doctors after a tent-ative labour deal fell through, and is closing a continuing care centre over Wildrose’s objections.

But Wildrose‘s demand is strictly politics, Prof. Bratt said. “Do I think this is a firing case? No. Are there lots of unanswered questions? Yes, like how was this guy hired in the first place,” he said.

 

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