It's unacceptable for senior Covenant Health executives to routinely order expensive wine at taxpayers' expense, says Alberta Health Minister Fred Horne.
"I would share the view of most people that that's not appropriate," he said Wednesday. "It might have been considered appropriate at some time in the past, but it's certainly not today."
Horne said he expects all agencies with contracts with the Alberta government to fall in line with the province's policy.
"The day after we released the policy, I wrote them all a letter and expect them to adopt the new government standards around travel and expense claims."
A CBC News investigation obtained expense receipts under Freedom of Information for three senior executives over a period from 2008 to mid-2012.
In one example Dr. Jeffery M. Robinson, senior vice-president and chief medical officer for Covenant Health, ordered a $110 bottle of 2001 Il Piggione when he treated the Alberta College of Physicians and Surgeons registrar to dinner at Edmonton's Characters restaurant in 2008.
"Here we have a religious organization — good people, God's people — spending money on alcohol," said Alberta Liberal leader and emergency room doctor Raj Sherman.
"What's happening in all those other agencies with taxpayer dollars? Where's the accountability?"
Catholic-based Covenant Health runs 18 hospital and long-term care facilities around the province, including two of Edmonton's largest hospitals.
Executive regularly expensed wine
Covenant Health senior vice-president of human resources Karen Galenzoski regularly expensed alcohol during work hours and while meeting colleagues after work.
The senior executive ordered three glasses of wine at a "Strategic Planning & Care of the Deceased" meeting held at the Suede Lounge in Edmonton in March 2008 and expensed a bottle of Road 13 wine along side a plate of yam fries and mini burgers while meeting a co-worker at the West Edmonton Mall Cactus Club in October 2011.
Sherman questioned whether employees should be allowed to consume alcohol on the job.
"You tell me, which employer will allow their employees to start drinking on the job and ask the employer to pay for it? I only find this in government. It's ridiculous and ludicrous."
Covenant Health is not covered by Alberta Health Services guidelines which now prohibits liquor expenses on meal tabs, unless it's part of a hospitality function and only if food is also served.
Last summer Allaudin Merali, a senior executive at Alberta Health Services, was fired after CBC News learned he spent tens of thousands of dollars on lavish meals at high-end restaurants, bottles of wine, even a phone for his Mercedes Benz car.
Receipts not required to be itemized
Unlike Alberta Health Services, Covenant Health does not require receipts to be itemized with a rundown of what was consumed, nor does its policy prohibit expensing liquor.
Many of the Covenant Health expense receipts submitted by executives were not itemized, while others were missing altogether.
Covenant Health Chief Executive Officer Patrick Dumelie personally approved a receipt of $573.90 for a dinner he attended with Galenzoski and Chief Financial Officer Rosa Rudelich at one of Toronto's top restaurants on June 6, 2011.
The receipt for dinner at Nota Bene — named as Canada's best new restaurant by Toronto Life magazine and Air Canada's Enroute magazine — was approved even though there was no list of what was ordered or whether the bill included liquor.
Dr. Robinson was the only one of the three executives to subtract the cost of liquor from his more recent expense claims, even though he is not required to do so under Covenant Health policy.
Covenant Health board chairman John Brennan refused to be interviewed, but he issued a statement to CBC News saying Covenant Health "has a clear and transparent expense policy that all executive members are expected to follow."
He added that Covenant Health will adopt new policies at its board meeting in December that are in line with new objectives set out by the provincial government.
Under those policies, executive expenses and travel costs will be made available to the public, he said.
Covenant Health has 15,000 employees and a service agreement with Alberta Health Services worth more than $700 million.