Health Services Preferential Access Inquiry

Health Services Preferential Access Inquiry

February 28, 2013 17:48 ET

Health Services Preferential Access Inquiry: Commissioner's Statement

CALGARY, ALBERTA--(Marketwire - Feb. 28, 2013) - And so before we conclude this week's proceedings, I want to make some remarks concerning our procedure as I said. As you just heard, we will receive the submissions of commission counsel and other counsel in Edmonton during the first week of April. After that, barring unforeseen circumstances, I expect to be engaged in the writing of my report.

The purpose of my making this statement this morning is to inform the public and the participants in this inquiry of certain developments with respect to the delivery of that report. When I undertook this commission of inquiry, I stated that this exercise would be conducted in an open and transparent manner. That is why I feel it necessary to relate the following sequence of events.

During our hearings in January, it became apparent that we would require hearings beyond those originally scheduled. The nature of this inquiry was such that commission counsel were constantly receiving new information that had to be investigated. Indeed, as you have just heard from Ms. Hollins, they received information up until last night and, indeed, received further information this morning that they must investigate. An inquiry such as this could go on at length examining individual allegations of questionable conduct. However, there has to come a point where we say that we have enough evidence to draw conclusions and to make a reasoned analysis of the issues as required by our terms of reference. I rely on the advice of Ms. Hollins in that regard. I think that no further substantial evidence needs to be examined.

However, again, as you heard from Ms. Hollins, there is new information that had just come forward that still must be investigated, and may indeed have an impact on our schedule going forward.

Having said all that, I should say that I have, over the course of these proceedings, become increasingly concerned about meeting the April 30 reporting deadline as set out in the Order in Council setting up this commission of inquiry. We encountered various logistical delays in starting up the public hearings and it became apparent, especially during our January hearings, as I said, that our original schedule would have to be extended to allow for further hearings in February. As a result of this, I realized that there would not be sufficient time between the April date for the final submissions and the deadline of April 30 set for the delivery of my report to the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly. I simply did not think it possible to complete a comprehensive and well-reasoned report within a few weeks of receiving all the information necessary to complete the report. I therefore wrote to the Minister of Health on January 22 requesting that cabinet extend the deadline to October 31. That date was chosen since I was confident that it would be ample time and so I would not have to ask for further extensions. On February 19 I received a letter from the Minister informing me that my request had been rejected. No reasons for the rejection were given in that letter.

Anyone familiar with the history of commissions of inquiry in Canada, both federal level and provincial, knows that requests for an extension of time are not unusual. Indeed, I can name half a dozen well-known inquiries in the last few years where extensions were requested and granted. However, to reject such a request is unprecedented.

Not only is such a rejection unprecedented, it borders on an interference with the independence of this commission since it would require me to rush through a report that would not be as complete or thorough as I would want. It also precludes any further hearings if the need, albeit unlikely, should arise.

The decision to reject my extension request left me with two options. One, I could have shut down the inquiry at that point, held no further hearings whatsoever, and tried to put together the report --- a report that would be incomplete and without the benefit of a thorough analysis. Or, I could go ahead as planned and then prepare my report taking the time that I think is reasonably necessary to do justice to the task I was appointed to do. I decided on the latter course of action. To do otherwise would be a disservice to the people of Alberta. They, as well as the participants in the inquiry, deserve a report that is comprehensive, thorough, and carefully reasoned.

However, in a further effort to resolve this, I instructed my executive director to make inquiries about a way to obtain reconsideration of this decision.

Accordingly, my executive director held further discussions with the Minister's staff over the last few days. I again wrote to the Minister on February 27th, yesterday, outlining in greater detail the reasons for the request. Among those was the fact that we have over 3,000 pages of testimony from 68 witnesses, including the six experts we heard from this week, and 158 exhibits. All this evidence must be reviewed and analyzed. To think that all this could be completed in a matter of weeks is unrealistic to say the least. I have informed the Minister that I anticipate having the report ready by August 31st. That, in my opinion, is the time required for writing, review and editing, and production of the report. I informed the Minister as well that while I do not anticipate further evidentiary hearings I cannot rule that possibility out completely, as evidenced by what we've just heard from Ms. Hollins about the new information just received. I also advised him that, even with an extension, all indications were that the commission would remain within the original budget.

I have heard nothing further in response. I hope that at some point before April 30 cabinet will agree to extend the deadline. In the meantime, I will proceed as planned. I will endeavour to prepare my report as expeditiously as possible, but I will take the time that I consider necessary to ensure the report is comprehensive and thorough. The public deserves no less.

Let me conclude by saying that I do not want this unresolved issue of the deadline for my report to detract from the important work of this inquiry. I do, however, feel an obligation to advise all interested parties, and the public, of how I plan to proceed.


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