Political scientist Duane Bratt says Alberta’s health minister needs to resign from his position, or be removed from caucus, after it came to light he and his wife went to a doctor’s personal home and angrily confronted them over a meme.
Dr. Mukarram Zaidi, a family physician in Calgary, said he was at home with his family on Saturday evening and his children were playing in the yard. He said one of them came in and said someone was outside wanting to talk to him.
When Zaidi went out, he found Health Minister Tyler Shandro and his wife standing on the sidewalk. His children and wife stayed inside.
“He was angry, crying, high with emotion and effects,” Zaidi said Friday.
Zaidi said the confrontation came after he shared a meme on Facebook showing Shandro sitting at a desk with a thought bubble over his head that reads: “So every Albertan that I can kick off health care is another client we can sign up for Vital Partners! We’re going to be RICH!” The meme also included an emoji of a surprised face.
Vital Partners is the supplementary health-benefits company of which Shandro’s wife is part owner. Despite that being OKed by the ethics commissioner when Shandro became minister, some Albertans still view it as a conflict of interest.
“His wife was with him and he says that he can’t deal with this. ‘We are getting death threats, we have to move now, we have children, we can’t live where we are,'” Zaidi said.
“And this is happening at my neighbourhood, at 7 p.m., everybody’s around.
“And I’m like, OK how do we dissolve it in a civil fashion. And he says, ‘Take the post down.'”
Zaidi said he agreed to take the meme down and went back inside, thinking that considering the emotional state the Shandros were in, they wouldn’t be able to have a rational discussion.
Zaidi said he and Shandro have been acquaintances for many years, having previously served together in a constituency office. He said he believes Shandro was taken over by his emotions when he lashed out.
‘First and foremost a husband’
In an emailed statement on Friday afternoon, Shandro said, “yes, I am a minister of the Government of Alberta – but I am first and foremost a father and husband.”
“Last week my wife was subjected to an online campaign of defamation, which led to her facing harassment and threats at her place of work,” Shandro wrote, adding that at one point his wife believed someone would come to her workplace, threatening her and her staff’s safety.
“Of course the attacks on someone I love and the mother of my children upset me deeply. As any husband would do, I responded passionately to defend my wife,” he wrote.
Shandro said that when he saw a long-time political acquaintance of his was participating in the attacks against his wife, he felt the need to speak to him and “implore him to cease propagating this false information.”
He also said he personally responded to emails from people criticizing his wife because they disagree with his actions as minister of health.
“I fully expected to face attacks when I signed up to run for office – but my wife did not. That is true of any elected official’s family,” Shandro said.
“I fully recognize the enormity of what our province and country is going through right now, and regret that this episode has become a distraction. For that, I am sincerely sorry.”
‘Profound lapse in judgement’
The “shocking” details of the confrontation prompted Opposition Leader Rachel Notley to call for the immediate replacement of Shandro on Friday.
“This is a profound lapse in judgement,” Notley said in a statement.
“This alone raises the question of whether he is suited to provide leadership for Albertans at this historic time. That is not how a minister of the Crown serves the public. That is not how leaders act.”
Notley went on to say that in the midst of the COVID-19 public health crisis, when Albertans are fearful, anxious and many are suddenly facing unemployment, Shandro’s focus shouldn’t have been “going to the home of private citizens at night and publicly threatening them.”
“We are in the middle of a pandemic. People’s lives are at risk,” Notley said.
“Albertans deserve a minister who is laser-focused on keeping them healthy and safe and frontline health care providers deserve a minister who is laser-focused on giving them all the resources they need to keep Albertans healthy and safe.”
Bratt said he was “stunned” by what happened, adding that Shandro’s behaviour, in his opinion, is a fireable offence.
“There’s often confrontations that the politicians may have with angry constituents in public… or even constituents going to politicians’ homes. This was the opposite,” Bratt said.
“This was the minister of health and his wife going to someone’s home, asking for his kids to go inside because they were going to yell at him, and berating him in public in front of his family over a Facebook post.”
Bratt said the fact that it was the minister of health confronting a doctor is also an abuse of power.
“You cannot have ministers of the Crown going over and intimidating citizens,” he said.
“And that’s what this was. What makes it worse is, it was a doctor, this was the minister of health — there was a power differential there. It’s just tough to imagine how he cannot resign for this.”
Speaking to the media as part of the daily government update on the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Premier Jason Kenney said he doesn’t accept calls for Shandro’s resignation.
“I think any Albertan would understand that a husband or wife will get passionate when their spouse is being attacked, and even threatened, and certainly defamed,” Kenney said.
“When Minister Shandro saw that his wife was being defamed by a neighbour who had been an acquaintance of his for many years, he went down to chat with the neighbour to ask that the post be deleted and it was deleted.”
Kenney said Shandro issuing a statement on the matter was the “end of the matter,” adding that he’s told Shandro to stay away from social media and focus on his job.
Zaidi said he and his family haven’t heard from the Shandros again, but said he forgives both of them for their actions.
“We have never faced a pandemic,” Zaidi said.
“He must be in a lot more stress that anybody else being the minister. I know him for a few years, so I think he… his emotions and his anger and his concern for his family took the best of him and he acted out of character.”
He said he never wanted to have the matter dealt with in the public sphere, but rather to handle it privately. However, he said CBC News, which originally broke the story, got a news tip somehow and contacted him for a interview.