Edmonton

Capital Health spent thousands on lavish entertainment

Capital Health spent tens of thousands of dollars of public money on sports and cultural events, lavish meals, expensive gifts, liquor and high-end charity events and a political fundraiser, all of which were effectively hidden from public scrutiny on a secretary’s credit card.

Expenses of CEO and board members found on secretary’s credit card

Capital Health spent tens of thousands of dollars of public money on sports and cultural events, lavish meals, expensive gifts, liquor and high-end charity events and a political fundraiser, all of which were effectively hidden from public scrutiny on a secretary’s credit card.

The expenses are now being revealed after a nearly two-year legal fight through freedom of information by CBC News to obtain the expense records for former Capital Health executive secretary Leila Shwed.

The 553 pages of documents detail the expenses Shwed charged on her corporate credit card between November 2004 and September 2008 on behalf of former Capital Health chief executive officer Sheila Weatherill, board chair Neil Wilkinson, and several former board members.

The expenses include:

“This was money meant for the delivery of public health care and instead, these individuals have set up a slush fund to take their friends and insiders out for lavish meals,” Edmonton New Democrat MLA Dave Eggen said. “It is beyond the pale in all ways."

“I can see why they have been trying so hard to hide this information,” he said. “It is, again, another tsunami of entitlement that washes over this province far too often.”

'Sense of entitlement'

Friends of Medicare executive director Sandra Azocar said every taxpayer should be angered by these expenses.

“I think the sense of entitlement is just so incredible for anyone to imagine,” she said. “It is such a breach of trust to taxpayers in terms of how they decided that they were using our public money. I think we should all be up in arms with this whole situation.”

In an emailed statement, Shwed confirmed the expenses were charged to a Capital Health corporate credit card “assigned to me, for the functions I managed."

“They were authorized and approved business and operating costs within the budget and mandate of my role. They complied with Capital Health policies and were duly processed. None of these expenses were of personal benefit to me," Shwed said.

The Capital Health Authority and other individual health authorities in Alberta were folded into the giant Alberta Health Services through a reorganization in 2009.

Many of the expense claims for meals and gifts provide no documented explanation.

For example, a May 7, 2008 receipt provides no explanation for an $11,798 meal at Murrieta’s in downtown Edmonton. The only word written on the receipt is “Lahey.”

In 2013, it was revealed that Capital Health had reimbursed former executive Michelle Lahey the $7,000 cost of attending the private Mayo Clinic in Minnesota to get a second opinion on whether she had been cured of cancer.

There is also no explanation for the purpose of, or who attended, an Oct. 13, 2007 Edmonton Eskimos football game in a $3,000 luxury suite. The records show catering cost nearly $1,000 in beer, $35 bottles of wine and food, including $10 for each “popcorn basket.”

There is also no explanation for $2,000 each in tickets to the symphony and ballet.

Political fundraiser

The expense records show board member Leonard Blumenthal attended a 2007 Iris Evans spring dinner and auction sponsored by the Sherwood Park Progressive Conservative Association.

Shwed charged the cost of the ticket, but in her statement, she said that charge “was an oversight and was reimbursed."

The records show Wilkinson and other board members attended numerous charities hosted by well-known Conservatives including Ralph Klein, Ed Stelmach, and Gary Mar. They attended no fundraisers associated with other political parties.

“This has been a culture of collusion and entitlement between the PCs and Alberta Health Services and Alberta Health for many, many years,” Eggen said. “It is a culture that breeds poor decision making and incredibly wasteful expenses, as we can see here today. These billings for political fundraisers are out-and-out illegal.”

Alberta Health Services spokesman Kerry Williamson stressed that all the expenses were incurred and approved before the creation of AHS.

"The expenses incurred by Ms. Shwed would be completely unacceptable under current Alberta Health Services’ policies and practices regarding executive expenses," Williamson said in an emailed statement.

In March 2007, Weatherill, Wilkinson and Capital Health executive Kathy Trepanier, accompanied by their spouses, attended a “Patron Hearts Weekend” at the luxury Jasper Park Lodge, a fundraiser for the Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute. Capital Health picked up the $1,250 per person tab.

Health authority expenses became a major public issue in August 2012 after CBC News revealed former Alberta Health Services chief financial officer Allaudin Merali had run up nearly $350,000 in expense claims for meals and wine at high-end restaurants between 2005 and 2008 while employed by the former Capital Health Authority.

Alberta Health fired Merali minutes after CBC published its story. Merali sued, claiming he had been wrongfully fired and defamed. The two sides settled last month, and AHS paid Merali $900,000 in severance.

In April, CBC News obtained Weatherill’s expenses through freedom of information. The records showed Weatherill spent $16,500 on a Parliament Hill cocktail reception for former Conservative cabinet minister Don Mazankowski and thousands of dollars on Oilers and symphony tickets.

It was also Weatherill who approved covering the $7,000 cost of Michelle Lahey’s testing at the Mayo Clinic.

In July, John Vogelzang resigned from the board of the Health Quality Council of Alberta after CBC News revealed he had spend public money on Tory fundraisers while he was CEO of the David Thompson Health Region in central Alberta.  

Former Capital Health board chair Neil Wilkinson, who recently resigned as Alberta’s ethics commissioner, and former Calgary Health CEO Jack Davis are appealing the release of their expenses to CBC News.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story stated that the expenses included $3,600 for 10 leather portfolios. That was an error; the correct figure should be $3,600 for 60 leather portfolios. The story has been edited and the correct number has been added.
    Nov 07, 2014 3:18 PM MT

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