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A senior Alberta Health Services executive quit this past spring in protest of political interference by Premier Danielle Smith, according to his newly disclosed resignation letter, in which he accused her of quashing his organization’s plan to hire the former chief medical officer of health to a position tied to Indigenous care.

Braden Manns stepped down as an AHS interim vice-president on June 11. In his resignation letter, which Dr. Manns provided to The Globe and Mail on Saturday, he said Ms. Smith thwarted the health authority’s agreement to hire Deena Hinshaw into its Indigenous Wellness Core (IWC). Dr. Hinshaw had served as Alberta’s CMOH until Ms. Smith fired her in the fall of 2022 over the physician’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Meanwhile, Alberta Ethics Commissioner Marguerite Trussler in August sent a separate letter to Dr. Manns informing him that she was investigating the revocation of Dr. Hinshaw’s appointment this year. Dr. Manns is not the subject of the Conflicts of Interest Act investigation, says the letter, which he provided to The Globe. He confirmed to The Globe that he met with the Ethics Commissioner for an interview on Oct. 4 in Edmonton.

Dr. Manns’s six-page resignation letter outlines how AHS selected Dr. Hinshaw for the IWC job and detailed what he perceived as Ms. Smith’s inappropriate involvement in firing her. The contemporaneous document also confirms that Dr. Manns left AHS because he believed political influence resulted in Dr. Hinshaw’s termination.

Sam Blackett, a spokesperson for Ms. Smith, said in a statement Sunday that, “as we’ve said before, final staffing decisions lie with AHS.” He also directed questions about the ethics investigation to the Office of the Ethics Commissioner.

The Premier’s most vocal supporters raged when news of Dr. Hinshaw’s pending employment surfaced June 1. The United Conservative Party had just survived a bruising election, returning to government benches with a diminished caucus. The Premier’s most right-wing supporters blame Dr. Hinshaw for the vaccine passports, mask mandates and limits on social gatherings that defined the height of COVID. On June 3, AHS on social media said Dr. Hinshaw was not one if its employees.

Dr. Manns addressed his June 11 resignation letter to John Cowell, who Ms. Smith installed as AHS’s administrator after she axed the health authority’s board in November, 2022.

“The decision implemented by you to rescind Dr. Hinshaw’s contract after what I understand to be your personal discussions with the Premier, her Chief of Staff and others in the government of Alberta, will have a long-lasting effect on our ability to have trusting relationships with our Indigenous leaders and communities,” the letter says.

“This type of political interference in hiring should not be permitted.”

This past January, the IWC job posting went up. A seven-person search and selection committee, chaired by Esther Tailfeathers, IWC’s senior medical director, interviewed short-listed candidates and settled on Dr. Hinshaw as the winning prospect, the letter says.

Dr. Manns said he called Dr. Cowell on March 9, according to the letter.

“At that time, you advised me that after careful deliberation and discussion, you approved moving forward with Dr. Hinshaw’s hire, as long as the start date, and any announcements were delayed until after May 29,” the letter says, referencing the date of Alberta’s polarizing election.

Dr. Manns said he then told Dr. Tailfeathers to hire Dr. Hinshaw, with employment commencing no sooner than June 1. Dr. Hinshaw was scheduled to start June 5, the letter says.

On June 1, IWC issued a memo announcing Dr. Hinshaw’s return to AHS. Dr. Manns said “very shortly” afterward, AHS’s chief executive told him Dr. Cowell now “wished to place a hold” on Dr. Hinshaw’s contract.

That same day, Dr. Manns spoke with Dr. Cowell in a hallway at AHS’s Southport offices in Calgary, according to the letter.

“You told me the hiring of Dr Hinshaw is a ‘major problem.’ I reminded you of our discussion on March 9. You responded that you would speak with the Premier.

“While we were talking, the Premier called you directly,” Dr. Manns wrote.

“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. 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.”

The next afternoon, Dr. Manns was told to rescind Dr. Hinshaw’s contract.

“Direct political interference with this search process will further erode the trust that is needed between the Government of Alberta, AHS, and its staff and physicians.” he wrote.

Ms. Smith’s office did not return multiple requests seeking comment on Sunday.

Dr. Cowell declined to comment. The Office of the Ethics Commissioner did not return a message seeking comment Sunday.

Dr. Tailfeathers, the chair of the search committee that selected Dr. Hinshaw, in June told the CBC she resigned from AHS over the way it terminated the IWC’s preferred candidate.

The UCP announced last month it is dismantling AHS into four organizations – acute care, continuing care, primary care, and mental health and addictions – and shifting power over policy and funding toward government. Ms. Smith in November fired six AHS executives and installed a new board to take over from Dr. Cowell.

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