Mandryk: Wilson's SHA appointment adds to political meddling suspicions

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Mandryk: Wilson's SHA appointment adds to political meddling suspicions
© Provided by Leader Post Accusations that SHA decisions during this pandemic are being made by political appointees are unsettling.

If former Saskatchewan Party candidate Raynelle Wilson’s appointment as a Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) vice-president was just a simple matter of political patronage, it would be less worrisome.

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After all, we’ve grown used to that in this province.

In the waning days of the Allan Blakeney government 40 years ago, the then Progressive Conservative opposition loved to point out how many friends and family of New Democrats had government jobs, noting how many Koskies related to a former cabinet minister, the late Murray Koskie, there were in the government directory.

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While vowing to do better, the Grant Devine PC government soon faced similar accusations of placing friends and family in both high- and low-patronage places. By the end of that government’s tenure, stories were emerging of PC MLAs sending out letters to their donors asking for names of sons and daughters for hiring to cushy summer jobs in the early 1990s.

Naturally, the then NDP opposition was appalled by this and also vowed to do better. But the end of its tenure in government in the mid-2000s, the Sask. Party was rightly indignant over the appointment of “commissars” to the Crown corporations — dyed-in-the-wool political partisans who had worked directly either for executive council or as ministerial aides seconded for reasons that seemed largely about reporting back to their political masters.

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Fast-forward to more than 14 years into this Sask. Party government and we are again hearing the term “commissar” — this time, in regard to Wilson’s newly created appointment as vice-president of Enterprise Initiatives Support in the SHA to “provide executive leadership” that will strengthen collaboration and report “on priority enterprise initiatives.”

Report to whom and why? And what special qualifications does Wilson have for this specially created position? And why are the skills of a political operative now so coveted in a senior health administration position in the middle of a pandemic?

It is about here where concern about her appointment moves beyond the usual patronage accusations into something more.

New Democrats were quick to note, after the StarPhoenix’s Zak Vescera broke the news of Wilson’s appointment, her role as chief of staff to then-Crown Investment Corp. Minister Donna Harpauer to help a questionable land acquisition proposal at the Global Transportation Hub (GTH) move forward as a cabinet decision item. In an email obtained by the CBC, Wilson called it a “bit of goat” show.

No doubt, this required some skill on Wilson’s part, but maybe not exactly the skills the SHA now needs when it’s facing today’s record case numbers and looking down the barrel of contending with year-long waiting lists for postponed surgeries.

Arguably worse, Saskatchewan’s health system is already in a bit of a crisis with questions about whether this government is actually listening to individuals from support staff to nurses and doctors, existing administrators or medical health officers. Given Wilson’s political history, does anyone really think she’s there to promote a freer dialogue and exchange of ideas?

Her arrival with the SHA comes at a time when there is already excessive mistrust and speculation stemming from the sudden and still-unexplained November departure of former SHA chief executive Scott Livingstone.

We still don’t know why someone of Livingstone’s experience, talent and tireless commitment just suddenly steps down in the middle of a pandemic. We do know, however, his puzzling resignation came after the government arbitrarily decided to hand over much of the SHA’s administrative function during this pandemic to the Provincial Emergency Operations Centre and as government is pushing for more private surgeries.

And now we see Wilson, who does not have a background in health-care administration, placed in a newly created vice-president’s position few can explain or justify. Instead, we got the usual nebulous government excuses that always accompany questionable patronage appointments.

However, the difference is this patronage job is about people’s health and well-being.

The premier and the minister of health owe us full disclosure we are not getting.

Mandryk is the political columnist for the Regina Leader-Post and the Saskatoon StarPhoenix.

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