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Duckett done after cookie showdown with reporters

Red Deer’s Gord Bontje quits board over decision

Gord Bontje, former member of the Alberta Health Services board, resigned Wednesday in the wake of ousted CEO Stephen Duckett’s cookie debacle.

Bontje, one of three board members to quit, didn’t agree with the decision of the board to let Duckett go.

“I don’t think Albertans are served well with Dr. Duckett being fired at this time,” said Bontje. “It’s the job of the board of directors to stay above the noise and to make rational decisions based on facts. The fact is the health needs of Albertans are best served by Dr. Duckett staying in his position.”

Bontje added he believes Duckett made positive headway with the health needs of the province.

“I do recognize Dr. Duckett behaved very badly to a number of reporters,” he said. “He has communication issues and that’s partly the fault of the organization and the government chose to be a spokesperson on many occasions.”

Duckett is heading back to Australia after being removed over the recent face-off with Edmonton reporters while munching a cookie.

A statement from AHS on Wednesday said Duckett and the board “jointly agreed that now is the time to move on. The decision is effective immediately.”

The cookie debacle took place Nov. 19 when Duckett kept refusing to answer reporters’ questions about health concerns because he said he was eating his cookie.

Video of his exchange with reporters has been watched almost 200,000 times on YouTube.

“I personally found the comments inappropriate and they began to stand in the way of our need to move forward with the things Albertans really want to know,” said Gene Zwozdesky, minister of health.

Duckett was hired by the province in 2009. Dr. Chris Eagle, executive vice president of Quality and Service Improvement, has been named acting CEO.

Premier Ed Stelmach said the board’s decision regarding Duckett reflected Albertans’ views, “especially the many I’ve heard from.”

Stelmach had said earlier this week in the legislature that he had found the comments “offensive.”

David Swann, Alberta Liberal leader, says Duckett needed to go but that his failings were a symptom of the Stelmach administration’s mismanagement of public health care.

“Stephen Duckett’s actions on Friday were inexcusable, but let’s not let a viral video distract us from the real problem,” he said. “Ed Stelmach, Ron Liepert, Gene Zwozdesky – these men are truly responsible for the emergency room crisis.”

Swann offered support to Eagle, but cautioned Albertans the system is “broken” and replacing one man can’t address the causes of the emergency room crisis.

“I hope Dr. Eagle can make some good interim decisions, but we need a far more comprehensive overhaul of the way health care is handled.”

Danielle Smith, leader of the Wildrose Alliance, said Duckett was being used as a scapegoat to cover up the failings of the Alberta Health Services board.

“This government will soon find out you can’t replace one central planner with another central planner and expect the situation to improve. Health care delivery must be decentralized for Albertans to get the care they need,” she said.

“Decisions about health care delivery must be made on the ground in local hospitals by professionals, not by a single health czar at the top of a bureaucratic chain of command.”

Brian Mason, Alberta NDP leader, said Duckett’s cookie comments sounded like he was telling Albertans to ‘Let them eat cake’.

“The real issue here is the ongoing disregard shown by the Tory government and health system leadership toward patients and frontline staff,” he said. “We need mature leadership of our health system. The Tories have failed to keep Albertans in the loop, failed to listen to ER doctors’ pleas for years. It’s time they change their ways.”

mweber@reddeerexpress.com

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