New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health says she has been fired by the provincial government "without cause" and is "considering next steps."
Dr. Eilish Cleary told CBC News Monday afternoon that she was terminated.
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"I can confirm that my employment as Chief Medical Officer has been terminated without cause effective immediately," she said in an email statement.
"Although no cause is now alleged, the Government of New Brunswick has let me know that they have come to the conclusion that my particular skill set does not meet the needs of my employer."
Cleary has been on leave from her job for weeks. She told CBC News last week she was "surprised and upset" that she was placed on leave by the Department of Health.
On Monday, she told CBC News she was first informed of her leave on Nov. 2. Government lawyers informed her lawyer of the termination on Monday, she said.
Cleary was hired for the job in 2008. "In that time I have done my absolute best to live up to my responsibilities — to protect and promote the health of the public and prevent disease and injury," she said in her statement.
"I am saddened by this decision and concerned by how it has unfolded, and am considering next steps."
Cleary also told CBC News during a telephone conversation on Monday that at no point during her employment was she informed of any personnel issue involving her conduct.
The Department of Health responded to CBC News Monday evening, but would not confirm that Cleary had been fired.
"We have an obligation to protect the privacy and personal information of all parties involved," said Bruce Macfarlane, Director of Communications for the Department of Health.
"The human resources process that has been initiated is not politically motivated nor have questions been raised about the medical and scientific work being undertaken by the office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health, which work continues under the acting Chief Medical Officer of Health."
Calls for independent investigation
Former Tory health minister Ted Flemming says the government "has an awful lot of questions to answer."
"This is a government that campaigned on how open and transparent they were going to be," said Flemming.
"In their platform, they specifically referred to their high regard for the chief medical officer — how they would make their decisions in consultation with the chief medical officer. They held this out to the people of New Brunswick a little over a year ago and … now, she's thrown out like yesterday's newspaper.
'There's tremendous questions here to be answered in my judgment.' - Ted Flemming, former health minister
"There's tremendous questions here to be answered in my judgment."
Flemming said he and Cleary didn't always agree during his time as minister of health, but he described their working relationship as being "healthy" and "spirited."
"There were times Dr. Cleary was perceived as being the champion of the anti-shale gas movement and our government had taken a position to move forward, but that's what makes a healthy democracy," he said.
Flemming described Cleary as being "passionate" about her job and someone who "cared deeply" about the people of New Brunswick.
NDP Leader Dominic Cardy is calling for an immediate independent investigation into the matter.
"The Gallant Liberals campaigned on ensuring the independence of the Chief Medical Officer of Health. I don't think anyone thought that meant firing her," Cardy said in a statement.
"The Liberals are silencing New Brunswick's most prominent government scientist. We cannot expect civil servants to do their job when even prominent public officials like Dr. Cleary are muzzled."
Cardy wants an independent investigation to determine why the Department of Health previously referred to Cleary's suspension as being a human resources matter and now, according to Cleary, is saying her skill set does not meet the needs of her employer.
He also wants to known whether Health Minister Victor Boudreau and Premier Brian Gallant authorized Cleary's suspension and subsequent firing.
Rally to support 'strong, independent voice'
A group of protesters gathered outside the Department of Health office in Fredericton on Monday morning, before news of her dismissal, demanding Cleary's reinstatement and clarity on the reasons behind her leave.
The rally was organized by the Council of Canadians over concerns the move to place Cleary on leave may have been a political one.
Last week, the top civil servant in the Department of Health, Deputy Minister Tom Maston, released a statement saying the human resources process involving Dr. Cleary and others was "not politically motivated."
Maston also said there had been no questions raised "about the medical and scientific work" being done by her office.
A member of the Council of Canadians, Anne Pohl, said last week she was worried about "corporate and political pressure" on Cleary, who had been studying the potential public health impact of the herbicide glyphosate.
Maston said in his statement that the "human resources" process was being handled by professional civil servants under the Civil Service Act.
Health Minister Victor Boudreau has previously refused to answer questions about the reasons for Cleary's leave, citing a policy to not disclose information on personnel matters.
Boudreau told reporters last week Cleary's leave "is a personnel matter. It's not something we can comment about. It has nothing to do with the office per se, or the independence of the office. It's an HR issue and I won't comment anymore."