A Health Quality Council of Alberta board member has resigned just hours after CBC News revealed his involvement in illegal political donations to the provincial Progressive Conservative party.
The council issued a release late Thursday afternoon saying John Vogelzang resigned effective immediately.
“We take very seriously the potential impact on our organization of the findings published today,” board chair Dr. Tony Fields said in the statement. “The HQCA’s credibility with our partners, stakeholders and the public are critical to our efforts to improve the quality and safety of health services for Albertans.”
All three opposition parties had called for Vogelzang’s resignation Thursday.
As CBC News first reported, Vogelzang repaid Alberta Health Services $2,875 in November 2012, two months after CBC News filed a freedom of information request for his expense claims for when he was chief executive officer of the David Thompson Health Region in central Alberta. It took Alberta Health Services nearly two years to process the request because Vogelzang appealed the release of the documents.
The documents show Vogelzang bought tickets to four Tory fundraisers — entire tables in some cases — and expensed the cost. The health region’s board chair, Jean Graham, personally approved some of the expense claims.
Under Alberta law, it is illegal to use public money for political purposes. Elections Alberta online disclosure records show the donations by the health region were not disclosed by the Tory party.
New Democrat health critic David Eggen said Vogelzang can’t continue to serve on the Health Quality Council of Alberta (HQCA), the independent board tasked with monitoring the province’s health-care system.
“The board needs to be cleaned,” Eggen said. “I rely on the information that comes from this board. I am very surprised to see just where this person has been and what he has done.
“And I think Albertans should take a long hard look at it too,” Eggen said.
Sandra Azocar of the Friends of Medicare said Vogelzang must be removed from the HQCA board to ensure its integrity.
“When we have insiders being able to get the jobs that are supposed to be overseeing the quality of health-care services that Albertans expect to get, then we know there is not going to be any type of significant improvement,” she said.
Health Minister Fred Horne appointed Vogelzang to the HQCA through order in council on Dec. 18, 2013. Vogelzang received a severance payout of nearly $894,000 when the David Thompson Health Region, and all other health regions in the province, were eliminated by the government in 2008. He was being paid about $400,000 a year in salary at the time.
Several calls to Vogelzang’s Lacombe residence over the past two days were not returned.
The internal health authority documents show Vogelzang expensed $900 to buy a table at a Ralph Klein fundraising dinner hosted by the Red Deer North Progressive Conservative Association.
In a letter thanking Vogelzang for the “donation,” the association’s treasurer, Donald Oszli, states that “this transaction was processed through Heywood Holmes & Partners LLP’s credit card machine and will show on your statement as such.”
Oszli is a partner in Heywood Holmes, a Red Deer accounting firm. Oszli initially promised to respond to several interview requests but reneged.
Big restaurant tabs
In 2007, Vogelzang expensed $575 for a table of eight at a premier’s breakfast featuring Ed Stelmach. Attached to the ticket is the business card of Kevin Pizzey, the local political engagement officer for the Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA).
Pizzey refused to respond to interview requests from CBC News. An ATA spokesman confirmed Pizzey was a volunteer with the Tory riding association, but said Pizzey was not acting on behalf of the ATA.
In 2011, CBC News first revealed the widespread and long-standing practice of illegal political donations by publicly funded institutions almost exclusively to the Tory party. Alberta’s chief electoral officer is conducting an ongoing investigation and has so far verified dozens of cases.
The Conservative government, under former premier Alison Redford, changed the law so that Elections Alberta could only publicly reveal cases of illegal donations dating back three years.
CBC News sought Vogelzang’s expense claims as part of an ongoing investigation into expense claims by health executives.
In 2012, Alberta Health Services fired Allaudin Merali, its chief financial officer, after documents obtained by CBC News through freedom of information revealed hundreds of thousands of dollars in questionable expenses, including large bills at high-end restaurants.
Vogelzang also racked up some large restaurant tabs, including $1,192 at Hardware Grill, a high-end Edmonton restaurant, another $2,019 for “board supper” at Lux Steakhouse in Edmonton, and another “board expense” of $1,377 at the now-defunct Renoir’s Tables in downtown Edmonton.
The documents show that, generally, Vogelzang expensed several lunches and dinners every month. In total, he expensed more than $21,000 between August 2005 and July 2008 for meals.
Vogelzang also expensed golf games and meals at golf clubs, including $484 at the Riverbend Golf Course just outside Red Deer. He spent $356 for a round of golf for four people at Wolf Creek near Ponoka, one of Alberta’s premier courses. The reason provided by Vogelzang for the golf was simply, “Corp. PR,” or public relations.