Alberta’s Opposition NDP is calling for the province’s Health Minister Tyler Shandro to step down after allegations he abused the power of his office and contacted a doctor on his personal phone after hours.
The allegations stem from a February funding announcement in Red Deer, where Shandro briefly met and spoke with local family physician Dr. John Julyan-Gudgeon.
Julyan-Gudgeon said he was trying to speak with Shandro about his concerns with changes to the provincial health-care system, but was unable to have the conversation due to security.
According to Julyan-Gudgeon, it was later the following night that he received a call from Shandro on his personal cell phone.
“It was fairly surprising, this occurrence,” Julyan-Gudgeon said in a phone interview with Global News on Saturday. “I immediately recognized his voice and nonetheless, since I was a bit taken aback, my first instinct was to ask who it was and he identified himself as the health minister.”
Julyan-Gudgeon said he and Shandro spoke collaboratively and constructively about cuts to health care and expenditures before Shandro gave him contact information in case he had any concerns in the future.
According to Julyan-Gudgeon, Shandro told him he got his private contact information through Alberta Health Services.
“This was at my home, this was on my personal cell number,” Julyan-Gudgeon said. “I felt that the real message that was being relayed to me is that I could be gotten ahold of, I could be found.”
Julyan-Gudgeon has submitted a complaint to Alberta’s Privacy Commissioner regarding the call.
However, Julyan-Gudgeon said he would withdraw that complaint if he could speak with Shandro and if the ministry worked to rebuild the relationship between the government and doctors in the province.
“What we have then is what would possibly look like a slow progression of a set of behaviours that doesn’t seem to respect barriers, so in that light I felt that I now had to come forward,” he said.
Alberta Health Ministry press secretary Steve Buick said in a statement to Global News: “Dr. John Julyan-Gudgeon attempted to speak to the minister at an event. The minister unfortunately couldn’t speak at that time, but still wished to follow up by phone. The minister asked officials for Dr. Julyan-Gudgeon’s contact information so he could follow up.”
“He later called Dr. Julyan-Gudgeon, and they had a very civil conversation. During that call, at no point did Dr. Julyan-Gudgeon indicate that he in any way objected to being contacted,” the statement continued.
“In fact, they exchanged text messages several times after that phone call about various policy suggestions. Since then, Dr. Julyan-Gudgeon has continued to try to contact the minister in various ways but his tone became harassing and the minister was advised to stop communicating with him.”
The latest developments come on the heels of accusations that Shandro and his wife went to a doctor’s personal home and angrily confronted them over a meme that was being shared online.
Dr. Mukarram Zaidi, the family physician in Calgary that was confronted by Shandro, confirmed the exchange to Global News.
Zaidi said he and Shandro have been acquaintances for many years and agreed to take down the post.
Shandro has since apologized and stated he was defending his wife from unsolicited attacks online.
But Alberta’s Opposition health critic David Shepard argued that Shandro should step down from his position due to his behaviour.
“He clearly does not have the temperament, or the judgment, or even the slightest understanding of the integrity and the responsibility that is expected of a minister of the Crown,” Shepard said on Friday.
“It’s utterly unacceptable behavior, and it’s clear that the minister needs to step down or Premier Kenney needs to remove him from that post.”
Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt agreed that Shandro should step down, despite the minister’s intentions behind the call.
“It’s not the nature of the conversation, it’s hunting down private information and I think that’s where the problem lies,” Bratt said.
“I would hope that he would be having some conversations with Shandro talking about this sort of behavior but I don’t think Kenney is going to ask for his resignation because it would acknowledge that he’s made a mistake.”
Julyan-Gudgeon wouldn’t comment on whether he thinks Shandro should step down from his post, instead saying he wants the best option for the preservation of Alberta’s health-care system.
“His behavior towards me is not as important to me as my patients are,” he said.