Alberta's embattled health superboard has appointed a new chairman, a current board member with a history of donations to the governing Progressive Conservatives and opposition Wildrose Party.
Stephen Lockwood, a Calgary lawyer and businessman, was announced as the new Alberta Health Services chair Tuesday. Health Minister Fred Horne said his "tremendous business experience" makes him the right man to lead the massive, $12-billion agency, which bills itself as the country's fifth-largest employer with about 100,000 workers.
Mr. Lockwood, who has been a member of the board since 2010, said he plans to challenge "conventional thinking" to make health-care quality better and deliver "total Albertan satisfaction."
"I've never been one to back down from a challenge," Mr. Lockwood said.
Mr. Lockwood is head of Mullen Group Ltd., a trucking and logistics company based in the Calgary suburb of Okotoks. His family has been active in provincial politics. He donated $1,500 to last spring's provincial election campaign of former AHS chairman Ken Hughes, who stepped down to run for office in a Calgary riding and is now Alberta's energy minister. Mr. Lockwood's wife, Anne, donated $2,000 to the campaign of Premier Alison Redford.
Mr. Lockwood also donated $1,500 to David Yager's bid to represent the Wildrose Party in Calgary. While Mr. Yager did not win a seat, Wildrose did go on to form the official opposition in Alberta.
"I was a supporter of two parties in the last election of equal amounts and to specific candidates," Mr. Lockwood told reporters, adding that he resides in the riding of neither candidate he supported. "I view myself as somewhat apolitical in that I don't vote for a party, I vote for people."
When asked whether making donations to political campaigns would affect his credibility as head of AHS, Mr. Lockwood said: "Absolutely not."
"Anyone that thinks that, to me, would be directly attacking my integrity," he added.
He takes over the position, which pays $60,000 a year plus additional stipends for attending board and committee meetings, from Catherine Roozen, who has been acting chair since Mr. Hughes resigned.
In 2008, the provincial government announced it would dissolve its regional health authorities and amalgamate them in a single bureaucracy. Since that time, it has absorbed other health-related entities, such as ground ambulance, in a bid to ensure a more streamlined system.
However, opposition parties and health-care workers have criticized the superboard as doing little to improve services and even for making things worse, both in terms of patient care and escalating costs.
Mr. Horne dismissed recent rumours that the AHS was headed for another overhaul. "We're committed to the system we have in place," he said. "There will be no restructuring or reorganization or other disruption of health care in this province."
Mr. Horne also announced the appointment of Tony Fields, a veteran oncologist, as the new chair of the Health Quality Council of Alberta, the province's independent health-care watchdog.
Earlier this year, the council found that emergency room care had unacceptably long waiting times due to both a shortage of beds and long inpatient stays.
Dr. Fields said he hopes the council can be an agent for change despite acting only in an advisory capacity. "We don't actually have any control of health service delivery," he said, "but we can have a substantial impact on how health care is delivered."
NDP Leader Brian Mason said with Mr. Lockwood's appointment, the Tory government appears "committed to the idea of running health care like a private business" and warned of the potential for privatization.
Sandra Azocar, executive director of Friends of Medicare added she hopes Mr. Lockwood doesn't subscribe to the belief that "profit" can cure the system's current woes.