Premier's office emailed information to Alanna Koch campaign about topic just before debate

CBC News has learned that it was an email chain involving the premier’s chief of operations and communications that sparked a complaint from Saskatchewan Party leadership hopefuls about an alleged leak of information.

Koch campaign says it asked for information about nurse practitioners, denies knowing topic would be raised

Saskatchewan Party leadership candidate Alanna Koch has denied getting any debate topics beforehand. (Brandon Harder/CBC)

CBC News has learned that it was an email chain involving the premier's chief of operations and communications that sparked a complaint from Saskatchewan Party leadership hopefuls about an alleged leak of information.

On Nov. 29, Kathy Young sent a question to the Minister of Health's chief of staff, looking for information about nurse practitioners.

"Nurse Practitioners – we increased their scope, right? Using them in areas of the prov to fill-in for doctors where possible, etc?" Young wrote in the email.

The following night, a question about nurse practitioners was posed to the candidates at the Saskatchewan Party leadership debate in Weyburn.

Days later, three of the candidates for leader, Scott Moe, Gord Wyant and Tina Beaudry-Mellor, signed a letter of complaint to the Saskatchewan Party, alleging a candidate received questions or answers to questions prior to the Weyburn debate.

A source with one of those campaigns confirmed to CBC that this email from Young to the Ministry of Health is one of the emails that caused concern.

Premier's office explains its role

CBC asked Young about her involvement in this email chain. She explained that part of the role of her office is to help any of the campaigns get the information they need.

"I asked for information from the minister's office after a request from a worker from a leadership campaign asked for it," Young said in an email to CBC.

Young did not specify which campaign made the request or why they wanted the information on nurse practitioners.

"I can also advise that I have been asked and provided information on issues that were not raised in any candidate debate."

Young explained that from the outset of the campaign the rules around information sharing with campaigns have been clear.

"If any of the campaigns asked for information about any government policy, government position, record, etc. in any area, it would be provided to that campaign – as we would do for MLAs, individuals, members of the media, every day."

CBC asked Young if the premier's office knew the questions for the Weyburn debate ahead of time, and if those questions were shared with any of the campaigns.

"There's a review underway right now, so it wouldn't be appropriate to share much more information. But I can tell you that at no time were any debate questions shared with any leadership campaign prior to any of the debates."

There are six candidates running to be the next leader of the Saskatchewan Party. (Adam Hunter/CBC)

Koch campaign requested information

The three candidates who complained to the party have not named the candidate they feel benefited from what they described as a leak.

But Alanna Koch issued a statement on Monday denying that she was given questions.

In a statement to CBC, Kelly Gallagher with the Koch campaign said they requested the information about nurse practitioners from the premier's office.

"That was one of many subjects that we discussed for debate prep. We have a former health minister as part of our campaign who was part of increasing the scope of nurse practitioners and had a member of our team who's family member was dealing with an issue related to healthcare in Weyburn that touched on that issue. Our request was made with no advanced knowledge of any debate question."

Koch was also asked about receiving leaked information earlier Tuesday in an interview with CBC's Jill Morgan.

"I was not aware of what any of the questions were at any of the debates, not Weyburn or otherwise," Koch said.

"I have been a senior public service advising the premier and ministers for the last 10 years. It was my job to be well prepared. Travelling around the province, we all could fully expect what those questions were going to be in the debates. All I did was make sure I was as prepared as possible for any of the questions that were going to come up, including the debate in Weyburn."

Morgan asked: "So there were no briefing notes or anything that should be concerning to the other candidates?"

Koch responded: "Any information I had was available to all the candidates so I didn't get any different information than anybody else didn't have. I've said all of those allegations are false and I absolutely had no inside information with the questions."

Sask. Party investigating

The Saskatchewan Party's six- member Leadership Election Organizing Committee is investigating the complaint.

"I have no further comment until the investigation concludes," said Saskatchewan Party Executive Director and Saskatchewan Party Electoral Officer Patrick Bundrock in a statement.

Koch's answer at Weyburn debate

On Nov. 30 at the leadership debate in Weyburn, debate moderator Ken Krawetz asked a question about nurse practitioners. It was the sixth question.

"This question is from a nurse practitioner. As a nurse practitioner in Saskatchewan, I see large numbers of foreign trained physicians recruited to Saskatchewan to perform roles that can be as effectively, safely and more economically performed by nurse practitioners.

"What is your platform regarding recruitment and retention of nurse practitioners to Saskatchewan? Also, what is your platform regarding incentives to the current pool of Saskatchewan nurses to train as nurse practitioners, including removal of bureaucratic barriers to securing employment once trained?"
On Nov. 30 at a leadership debate in Weyburn, Sask., moderator Ken Krawetz asked a question about nurse practitioners. Three other candidates have accused Koch of receiving a question list ahead of time due to her answer. 1:04

Koch was the final candidate to answer. Here is her response:

"We know this over 200 nurse practitioners right now in Saskatchewan, 75 per cent of them working in remote areas particularly in the North. This is an important improvement that we've seen and I would look to improving it even further.

"So we know they already fill gaps where doctors aren't present or where doctors only come once or twice a week. It is an important first point of contact for injuries and to stabilize patients. Often practitioners live and stay in their communities so they know their local needs better than anyone and can deal with senior care, diabetes — things like that.

"We need to ensure that we clear the path, whether it's from a regulatory or standards perspective. We need to make sure they can practice their full scope of profession. I believe this is really a great option as well to see expanded home care.

"We need to look at programs and incentives to help nurses who want to transition into nurse practitioner and then ensure that they have job placements at the end of that training and make sure that we consult with them to see what other things it's going to take to incentivize nurses to take this training and then ensure the training spaces are available."

About the Author

Adam Hunter

Journalist

Adam Hunter is the Provincial Affairs reporter at CBC Saskatchewan, based in Regina. Follow him on Twitter @AHiddyCBC. Contact him: adam.hunter@cbc.ca

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