Australian Stephen Duckett of Australia, the Australian president and CEO of Alberta Health Services, hails from Australia, home of the Australians.
Sorry about that. That was small of me. But, boy, did it ever feel good!
Mr. Duckett was whinging in a recent edition of his blog about how people – the media especially, and bloggers especially especially – just won’t leave him alone for being an Australian. (Whinging, by the way, is an Australianism that means moaning and complaining.)
“I am constantly surprised,” Mr. Duckett grizzled, “at the number of comments made in the media (especially by bloggers) about the fact that I am an Australian and that a Canadian should fill this job.” (Grizzled: another Australianism that apparently also means moaning and complaining.)
Mr. Duckett even went so far as to accuse us Albertans of “continuing xenophobia associated with my appointment.”
Mr. Duckett tries to make it seem as if the quite proper concern his appointment has provoked in many corners of Alberta is a reflection of some kind of anti-Australian animus.
This accusation is plainly a furphy (which Mr. Duckett defined in his blog as “another Australianism, meaning an erroneous or improvable story”) designed to divert attention from the quite proper concern by Albertans at the appointment of a non-Canadian with little stake in our province or country to a post where he can do great damage to a popular and valuable institution.
Next thing you know, Mr. Duckett will be accusing us of anti-English prejudice as well. We can expect something like this as soon as word gets around about his latest appointment – one Alison Tonge of Britain’s heavily “marketised” National Health System – as “Executive Vice-President, Strategy and Performance.” (“Marketized is a Briticism meaning, as far as any Canadian can tell, “privatized.”)
More such announcements of Mr. Duckett’s handpicked team of executives from abroad and at home will no doubt be forthcoming shortly.
Ms. Tonge, Mr. Duckett explained in a memorandum to AHS staff last week, “will bring a wealth of knowledge, expertise and public sector experience from a different health care system. … Her extensive knowledge and experience in England will mean that she can challenge us from a totally different perspective and bring a fresh set of eyes and ideas to help us improve the access, quality and sustainability of our health system.”
What can we expect from this “totally different perspective”? Well, here’s what’s going in England, as Allyson Pollock of the Centre for International Public Health Policy at the University of Edinburgh described it last spring in the Guardian: “The government has marketised the NHS, replacing an integrated public service with a market run by ‘purchasers’ and commercially oriented providers under the same ‘light touch’ regulatory system we have become familiar with in the banking sector.”
For Ms. Tonge’s part, according to Mr. Duckett’s memo, she is “really looking forward to joining AHS and working with key leaders in driving forward this exciting agenda.” What exiting agenda would that be? The “opportunity to shape world class care for Alberta.”
This will come as news to those in the former Capital Health Region who thought they had already built a world-class system based on world-class institutions such as Alberta Hospital Edmonton.
Of course, given the ideology and modus operandi of Premier Ed Stelmach’s government, many Albertans naturally could be forgiven if they thought, “world-class privatization, more like!” It would be fair to say that many suspect Mr. Duckett has been brought here with the job of dismantling our health care system, the better to pave the way for wide-open privatization.
Mr. Duckett’s actions since his arrival from the antipodes have done little to comfort those who entertain such fears. So far, indeed, he seems to be sticking pretty close the international privatization playbook – starting with the engineered funding “crisis” that is traditionally followed by deep cuts to which “there is no alternative.”
Getting rid of local health executives experienced in the public system and replacing them with foreign “experts” imported from heavily privatized jurisdictions fits nicely into this pattern.
Indeed, who better to engage in an unpopular crusade to dismantle our public health care for the benefit of a privileged few than a person with a foreign passport and a comfortable homeland to return to once his or her pockets are filled with bonus money from Ed Stelmach’s grateful government?
Mr. Duckett certainly added to this concern by spending a significant portion the Sept. 7 blog cited above going on about “an obsession in the media with my salary, the nature of my contract, and the nature of my potential performance bonus.”
Of course, this issue is no mere obsession – an interpretation that trivializes what Albertans are really concerned about.
Knowledge of the bonus package paid to the CEO of Alberta Health Services and hence the behaviour it rewards helps us figure out what Mr. Duckett has really been brought here from abroad to do. Now that we have seen some the details of Mr. Duckett’s package, with its rewards for eliminating jobs and cutting costs willy-nilly, we cannot feel particularly reassured.
Where Mr. Duckett bought his ticket to Alberta, of course, is not relevant because Mr. Duckett hails from Australia – although stating that fact is a convenient and accurate shorthand for commentators wishing to make his status as an outsider clear.
It is relevant because he is not from here. As someone from away, he can do what he wishes and not have to live with the consequences.
For that reason, and with sincere respect to his undoubted qualifications, he was not an appropriate choice for his job.
If Mr. Duckett would like us Albertans to be “very open and welcoming to migrants,” as indeed we are, he could start by becoming one!
The process begins with an application for Canadian citizenship.
When we have some evidence he intends to stick around, perhaps we can have some more confidence in his intentions.