Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer Defends Elected Officials’ Right to Make Final Decision on Pandemic Response

Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer Defends Elected Officials’ Right to Make Final Decision on Pandemic Response
Alberta's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw updates media on the COVID-19 situation in Edmonton on March 20, 2020. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)
Andrew Chen

Alberta’s chief medical health officer says elected officials have the right to make the final decision on the province’s COVID-19 response, amid rumors of discord with bureaucrats on public health policy.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw said recent reports of leaked audio recordings of her internal meetings with other bureaucrats represent a “personal betrayal,” and the person responsible for the leaks has violated the public service oath and code of conduct.

The story, first published by CBC News, questioned whether Hinshaw’s pandemic response advice is being heeded.

“The comments as reported are taken out of context, separated from the many other discussions that would have occurred in days before and after, as part of ongoing discussions to ensure that my advice to the premier and to the minister of health is grounded in evidence and considers every facet of potential discussions with elected leaders,” Hinshaw said at a routine COVID-19 update on Nov. 26.

Hinshaw reiterated that her role as chief medical officer is to provide a range of policy alternatives to elected officials, and her team would then execute the policy direction that the government ultimately chose for curbing the spread of COVID-19.

“I was not elected by Albertans. The final decisions are up to elected officials who were chosen by Albertans. This is how democracy works,” she said.

“I have always felt that my ideas are respectfully considered. I have always had respectful discussions between public servants and with elected officials. I do not dictate every detail of each policy decision and I should not.”

The CBC quoted Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley as saying that Alberta Primer Jason Kenney “is not following [Hinshaw’s] advice on a number of occasions, and Albertans are suffering as a result.”

In the current so-called second wave, Kenney had avoided measures leading to lockdowns, which he believes to be an intrusion on people’s lives and livelihoods.

“What you describes as a lockdown, first constitutes a massive invasion of the exercise of people’s fundamental rights and a massive impact on their, not only their personal liberties, but their ability to put food on the table, to sustain themselves financially that has huge downstream effects,” he said in a Nov. 6 briefing.

But the pressure on the government to undertake stronger measures has been building as the number of COVID-19 infections grows. As of Nov. 25, Alberta had recorded 510 deaths and 14,052 active cases, the highest among Canadian jurisdictions.

Alberta announced a set of enhanced public health policy that took effect on Nov. 24 and will remain in place for at least three weeks. The mandatory measures include the cancellation of school classes and various restrictions on businesses. Masks for indoor workplaces are mandatory in the Calgary and Edmonton areas.

“I know that there are many views about how we should proceed. However, we are becoming divided when we most need to engage in respectful dialogue. We need to do this together for the health of all Albertans, we must listen to and consider the thoughts of others who do not agree with us,” Hinshaw said.

“All of us want the same thing—to protect the health of Albertans, to protect our health system, and to minimize the impact this pandemic is having on everyone’s lives.”