An Alberta medical officer of health says he has been fired because of his public support of the Kyoto Protocol, a dismissal he and the province's Liberals condemn as political meddling.
David Swann, a public-health officer in southeastern Alberta, was fired on Wednesday by the board of directors of the Palliser Health Region.
"I'm concerned that political influence can interfere with the best public-health system in Alberta," Dr. Swann said in an interview yesterday.
"This is a real threat to the independence of the medical officer to speak on issues of public-health importance. I think everybody should be concerned . . . if we allow non-health professionals to be influencing the decisions that we make."
Dr. Swann, who is president of the Society of Alberta Medical Officers of Health, said the board was upset that he was identified as the public-health officer for Palliser in a local newspaper story in which he voiced support for the health benefits associated with ratifying the accord. The regional health authority, which manages health services in the area, is based in Medicine Hat.
In addition, he said that Len Mitzel, the chairman of the board of the health authority, told him he had received a telephone call from Alberta Environment Minister Lorne Taylor. Mr. Mitzel is also the president of Mr. Taylor's constituency association.
"The board chairman, as he was firing me, said that he had had a call from the minister," Dr. Swann said.
Val Mellesmoen, Mr. Taylor's spokeswoman, confirmed that the minister, who is MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat, telephoned Mr. Mitzel for "clarification" on whether the remarks represented the views of the health region. Mr. Taylor was told they did not. A few days later, Mr. Mitzel phoned Mr. Taylor to inform him that Dr. Swann no longer worked for the authority.
"MLAs talk to the [regional health authorities]all the time, right? But in that particular case because he knows Len, he picked up the phone and said, 'Is this really your position? ' " she said. "And I can't stress enough -- there was absolutely no conversation about letting him go."
Kevin Taft, the Liberals' health critic, said the board, some of whose members, including Mr. Mitzel, are political appointees, should not have interfered in the work of Dr. Swann because medical officers of health require independence to speak out on matters of public health. He called their actions political meddling.
"I think there need to be serious questions raised [about]the relationship between Lorne Taylor and the regional health authority board, especially the chairman, and we have to question whether possibly Lorne Taylor did have some influence on this decision."
Mr. Mitzel did not return phone messages yesterday. However, he told CBC Radio the board was upset that Dr. Swann was identified in the newspaper as a representative of the regional health authority and that he should have given the board a "heads up" before making public comments.
Last week, after Dr. Swann's remarks were published in the Medicine Hat News, the board of the Palliser Health Region voted unanimously to oppose the Kyoto Protocol. Mr. Mitzel said the health of the region would be affected by a loss of jobs.
"Whether it's mental health and stress, how is someone going to feed their own kids? Where are they going to find a job if oil and gas have to pull out? " Mr. Mitzel told the paper.