Husband of B.C. premier’s senior adviser loses government contract

VANCOUVER – The head of the Vancouver Island Health Authority says hiring the husband of a key adviser to Premier Christy Clark without advertising the job was “an honest mistake.”

Howard Waldner, VIHA’s president and chief operating officer, said Tuesday that the health authority was cancelling the contract to hire Stewart Muir as acting vice-president of communications and external relations.

Muir – the husband of Athana Mentzelopoulos, who is a senior adviser to Clark – worked previously for the Vancouver Sun, CanWest News Service and The Canadian Press.

According to the health authority’s own policy, it must run an open bidding process when the value of services, supplies or equipment exceeds $75,000.

Waldner said Muir would be paid $141,000 a year plus travel and expenses.

“Honestly, I don’t think we ignored it to be fair,” said Waldner of the health authority’s own Fair Business Policy. “I think we missed the value, I think we made an honest mistake, we missed the value in a competitive situation.

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“My understanding is in B.C. a number of people in the public sector do appoint people … like this on short term consultancies. My team and I didn’t check the fine detail here. And you know what, we are sorry about that, made a mistake and we’re going to go back and rectify that.”

By Tuesday afternoon, though, Muir’s name could still be found on the health authority’s website, but links to his biography were disabled.

Muir was unavailable for comment.

Mike De Jong, minister of health, said he expects health authorities to follow their own rules and is “always bothered” when they don’t.

“We expect every day, every week, every month when the health authorities procure services or products … they do so according to the guidelines that are set out,” he said.

De Jong said while he is still receiving some of the details about Muir’s hiring, he knows the procedures in place that ensure there is a fair competition “weren’t entirely followed.”

Waldner said the health authority hired Muir after board members decided in September to fill the position which had been vacated by an employee who was absent and on leave.

He said the board moved forward on an expedited process, performed a soft search for candidates and narrowed the field down to two.

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“It wasn’t something that just happened overnight,” said Waldner. “It was a thoughtful process.”

According to the health authority’s website, Muir was appointed sometime in November, although an exact date wasn’t given.

Waldner said the health authority will run a formal competitive process and will take its time in choosing the next candidate, but he said he didn’t know when that process would begin.

According to its website, VIHA is responsible for a population of more than 780,000 residents and an annual budget of $1.8 billion.