One day after the premier held an event at the Chinook Regional Hospital, questions are being raised about whether the event violated Alberta Health Services rules about political activity — with some saying it resembled a political campaign.
Rachel Notley addressed the media and hospital staff inside a common area within the Lethbridge hospital, taking aim at recent comments made by UCP leader Jason Kenney about exploring privately delivered health care options.
An AHS policy, however, prevents political events within AHS facilities.
According to Section 2.1 of policy #1148 Political Activity: “AHS facilities shall not be used for any political activity, including, but not limited to use for the purposes of canvassing, campaigning, making political announcements, touring and other activities.
“During an election campaign, political parties are not permitted to use AHS facilities as a backdrop or host location for an campaign event or activity.”
WATCH: Online criticism ahead of Premier Notley’s Lethbridge visit
The policy goes on to state: “Elected officials may access AHS facilities for the purpose of carrying out their duties to the election office provided they do not engage in any political activity and comply with applicable AHS policies and all standard access requirements in place at the facility.”
In a statement to Global News, Cheryl Oates, a spokesperson for the premier, said: “Not a single tax dollar went to this announcement. The nurses who came to speak out about the dangers of Jason Kenney’s plan to privatize health care, came on their own time because this issue is important to them.
The event was done in a public area of the hospital, but we understand the concern and will ensure future campaign events are not done at AHS facilities.”
Kenney took to Twitter Saturday, raising concerns about the premier’s conference in the hospital.
The premier’s spokesperson responded, igniting a war of words on social media Sunday morning.
In a press release Sunday morning, the UCP’s Jason Nixon called for the province’s ethics commissioner to investigate whether or not Notley violated AHS policy.
“Saturday’s NDP campaign event was not just a clear violation of AHS policy, but it also seems probable that the Premier and her staff broke Government of Alberta rules that prohibit them from using their influence to host a partisan event in a public hospital,” Nixon said.
“I have written to Alberta’s Ethics Commissioner to ask for an immediate investigation into this event and I’m calling on Alberta Health Services and the Premier’s office to explain this clear violation of AHS policy for the benefit of the Notley NDP.”
Chaldeans Mensah, a political scientist with MacEwan University, said Saturday’s event was clearly partisan.
“The signage is clearly NDP signage – Rachel Notley, Fighting for You. It’s clearly a partisan announcement,” he said. “There’s no seal of the premier as backdrop to say this is an announcement from the Office of the Premier. What is also telling, this is being done at a public institution, and public organizations and institutions get their funding from the government. They should be non-partisan.”
Mensah said the fault lies with both AHS and the premier’s office.
“AHS should scrupulously follow its policies on non-partisanship. Their policy is very clear,” he said.
“Likewise the premier, noting the election writ, hasn’t been issued, should avoid all appearances of using a specific setting of a public institution, which depends on government for funding.”
However, Mensah said the practice of the ruling government conducting campaign events before the writ is dropped has been done by the PC government provincially as well as by parties on the federal level.
“Notley is obviously not breaking what clearly, has been, a practice that politicians engage in in Canada but it’s not a fair practice,” he said. “The government shouldn’t jump the gun and take advantage of its position to exploit issues like this for partisanship.”
A spokesperson for AHS would not answer any questions regarding the NDP event and directed Global News to its policy but did say it was not organized by AHS and participants were not representing AHS.
While an election has not yet been called in Alberta, legislation requires one be held between March 1 and May 31 of this year, preceded by a 28-day campaign period.