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Opposition calls for clarity on vendor-sponsored travel after eHealth firings

Saskatchewan NDP Leader Ryan Meili.
Saskatchewan NDP Leader Ryan Meili. File / Global News

Earlier this year, two eHealth employees were fired for taking a vendor-sponsored trip. A third employee on that trip left eHealth shortly before the other two were fired.

This has Opposition Leader Ryan Meili and the NDP caucus questioning the government on the nature of vendor-sponsored trips in the civil service.

“You’ve got people flying all over going to the PGA, going to the Indy 500. This is a practice that’s clearly a conflict of interest, but we also saw that in the health authority that practice does not seem to be a conflict of interest, so that’s been going on and not criticized,” Meili said.

The PGA trip for the eHealth and Saskatoon Health Region employees was sponsored by Lexmark. That company received $2.6 million in contracts since 2015 from eHealth.

Under the old Saskatoon Health Region, there was no conflict found under code of conduct rules in the 2017 PGA trip that cost the eHealth employees their jobs.

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Both Health Minister Jim Reiter and Premier Scott Moe said that’s why many rules are being centralized under the Saskatchewan Health Authority, to remove these discrepancies in the code of conduct for public employees.

“[Reiter]’s asked for the expedition of those policies to come together under a single health region. I think he referenced something like 14,000 policies across 12 health regions,” Moe said.

“For that all to come together will give us opportunities to review those polices and ensure that they are the very best polices on behalf of the people of the province.”

In that review, Meili wants to see a full record of vendor-sponsored travel made public.

“Where else is this going on? How widespread is this? I connect it back, this is a government that’s given out millions of dollars in contracts to corporate donors,” Meili said. “How much does that culture of rewarding gifts with public dollar contracts pervade the public service?”

Moe said they will look into what can and can’t be released publicly in the health authority review.

The premier added the Public Service Commission has strict conflict of interest rules. In the eHealth situation, the employees that broke the rules were fired.

“In the case of eHealth it’s important to note there’s policy in place, the policy was followed, and these people lost their careers,” Moe said.

According to a provincial government spokesperson, eHealth has reported this situation to the provincial auditor and she is reviewing the matter.

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The agency also sought outside legal review of past procurement and contracts involving the fired eHealth employees. The review found process irregularities were the fault of the now fired employees, but eHealth received fair market value for contracts.

READ MORE: RCMP finds no evidence to support criminal charges GTH land deal

Meili linked this situation to the land deal controversy at the Global Transportation Hub (GTH), and the government’s assertion there was no criminal wrongdoing.

On Wednesday, Reiter said nothing criminal happened in the eHealth situation and it is a human resources issue.

Meili said there should be a greater standard of accountability when it comes to government work than something not being criminal.

Moe dismissed the premise of the criticism, saying the GTH has been thoroughly looked at by the provincial auditor, RCMP, and Manitoba public prosecutions.