Documents raise questions over former Capital Health CEO's expenses
Expensed legal fees, $16,500 cocktail party, Oilers tickets
Former Capital Health Authority chief executive officer Sheila Weatherill expensed a $16,500 Parliament Hill cocktail reception, and thousands of dollars worth of Edmonton Oilers and symphony tickets.
Documents obtained by CBC News show Weatherill also spent thousands on flower bouquets, including one sent to a Capital Health vice president while she was a patient - at Capital Health expense - at a private, for-profit American hospital.
The documents also show Alberta Health Services (AHS) inexplicably paid nearly $17,000 of Weatherill's legal fees after her contract was terminated when Capital Health was amalgamated into AHS.
Wildrose health critic Heather Forsyth said the expenses are shocking.
"You look at expenses that Capital Health has put through under Sheila, and it truly isn't something that Albertans would accept,” Forsyth said. “It is, you know, what I call in politics one of those 'shake your head' moments. Why, why, why?"
The expenses are contained in nearly 1,300 pages of documents obtained through freedom of information by CBC News.
The documents were released Monday, but only after Weatherill abruptly abandoned her 18-month fight to keep them secret.
Weatherill said she issued the statement, and the accountant’s report, “to inform and assure the public that all of these CEO Office expenses were incurred to conduct the assigned and mandated business of Capital Health.
“They were approved by the Capital Health Board, were within the approved annual budget and they complied with the mandate of the CEO Office,” the statement said.
“None of these public expenditures were of personal benefit to me. Decisions made, during these years, were made solely for the purpose of continually improving the organization.”
But the statement provides no detailed explanation for how public money spent on the ritzy Mazankowski cocktail party or her personal legal fees, or Oilers tickets, or thousands of dollars of other unexplained expenses served Capital Health or taxpayers.
Weatherill did not immediately respond to interview requests on Monday.
Ottawa cocktail party
Documents show Weatherillexpensedmore than $16,500 for a May 10, 2005 cocktail party for 350 guests in the Railroad Room in the Centre Block of Parliament Hill. The party honoured former federal finance minister Don Mazankowski, for whom the heart institute at the University of Alberta is named.
In her statement issued last week, Weatherill said her office “incurred certain one-time costs associated with the naming of and fundraising for the multi-million dollar Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute.”
Forsyth said this expense shows a lack of respect for taxpayers’ money.
"If you asked an Albertan what they thought of a $16,000 tab for a cocktail party, they would be a little taken aback,” she said. “It goes back to what we have tried to point out with this government for some time. They just truly need a reality check on how to spend taxpayers' money."
In 2006, Weatherill and her husband attended a Mazankowski institute fundraiser and expensed the $2,500 cost.
There is no specific explanation in the documents for why Capital Health agreed to pay nearly $17,000 for Weatherill’s legal fees, half the $33,830.21 total cost.
Again in her statement, Weatherill said the payment was part of the severance agreement she negotiated when she left Capital Health after it was amalgamated into Alberta Health Services.
Weatherill expensed thousands of dollars for Oilers tickets, a Blue Rodeo concert, and golf. In 2005, Weatherill spent more than $2,600 to purchase 54 tickets to an Edmonton Symphony Christmas concert.
“Edmonton Oilers tickets and other event tickets were provided, from time to time, to potential recruits, physicians, visitors and others,” Weatherill said.
The documents, however, do not detail who was given the Oilers, symphony or other tickets.
The documents show Weatherill often sent flowers to staff, including a bouquet of four dozen roses at a cost of nearly $400.
In January 2007, Weatherill sent a $60 bouquet to then Capital Health executive Michele Lahey while she was at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
Lahey went to the clinic to seek a second opinion about whether her cancer had been eradicated.
The trip caused a firestorm of controversy when it was revealed in 2013 that Lahey had expensed the $7,000 cost of the trip. Weatherill, who approved the expense, subsequently repaid it.
Weatherill also recently repaid the $200 cost of attending a fundraising speech by former Conservative minister Jim Prentice on behalf of local Tory MP Laurie Hawn. She said it was a public policy speech on health.
Alberta Health Services was inundated with freedom of information requests for executive expenses, including those of Weatherill, beginning in August 2012 after a CBC News story resulted in the firing of AHS chief financial officer Allaudin Merali.
The story revealed Merali spent tens of thousands of dollars on lavish meals at high-end restaurants, bottles of wine, even a phone for his Mercedes Benz car.
Weatherill is not the only former health executive who fought to keep her expenses secret. Former Calgary Health CEO Jack Davis is also opposing the release of his expenses, as is former Capital Health board chair Neil Wilkinson who is now Alberta’s ethics commissioner.