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NDP grills government over Doherty lobbying

Daily Leg Update: Health Minister Everett Hindley insists he did not meet lobbyist Kevin Doherty about surgeries.
Minister of Health Everett Hindley and Opposition Ethics and Democracy Critic Meara Conway tangled in Question Period Thursday, April 11.

REGINA - It was a heated exchange in the Legislative Assembly to close off the week Thursday, as once again Opposition New Democrats zeroed in on the lobbying efforts of former Sask Party Finance Minister-turned-lobbyist Kevin Doherty.

The Opposition had been hurling questions at the government in recent days over the $6 million sole-source contract for private hip and knee surgeries that was secured by Clearpoint, a private Calgary health care deliverer represented by Doherty’s firm Prairie Sky Strategies. The NDP have been grilling the government on Doherty’s involvement in lobbying the government on that file, and have painted the private clinic as a “Sask Party donor” who received a “sweetheart deal” from the government. 

Health Minister Everett Hindley had denied being lobbied by Doherty on that particular file when he stood in Question Period on Wednesday. But on Thursday, Opposition Leader Carla Beck resumed the Opposition’s attack, firing several questions at Premier Scott Moe on the involvement of Doherty. The exchange was recorded in Hansard.

Ms. Beck:- “Yesterday we learned that a private company, a Sask Party donor, secured a $6 million sole-source contract for private surgeries. This after former Sask Party cabinet minister Kevin Doherty was hired as their lobbyist...

“Mr. Speaker, it makes you wonder. Is this what Saskatchewan people are going to have to do to get a break on the fuel tax? Do they have to hire Kevin Doherty as a lobbyist to get this Premier’s attention?”

Hon. Mr. Moe: — “Clearpoint surgical centres was one that we used to reduce some of that wait time, Mr. Speaker. Yes, they are represented by a former MLA, Mr. Speaker. Associated Radiologists is also a publicly funded, private deliverer that we use to the tune of, I believe, budgeted about $22 million this past year, Mr. Speaker. And they are also represented by a former MLA in this House, former leader of the opposition Cam Broten.”

Ms. Beck: — “Mr. Speaker, they really want the job of opposition, and they’ll get their chance. But right now Saskatchewan has the worst wait times for hip and knee replacement in the country, and that is the record of this tired and out-of-touch government…”

Hon. Mr. Moe: — “Mr. Speaker, there’s a number of entities and individuals, Mr. Speaker, that are on the lobbyist registry discussing — and not only discussing — discussing solutions that they might have with the government. But I would suspect that they’re also discussing some of those opportunities and solutions with the opposition as well, Mr. Speaker.”

“We are looking at innovative ways to reduce our surgical wait time that will include expanding the publicly funded, privately delivered surgeries, Mr. Speaker . . . [inaudible interjection] . . . Well if they don’t want the answer, Mr. Speaker, they should not ask the question…”

“So my question is this: 161,000 publicly funded, privately delivered surgeries have been offered to and received by Saskatchewan residents, many of them by Associated Radiologists, some of them now by Clearpoint surgical centre, Mr. Speaker. Is it the view of the opposition that they would remove all of those 160,000 surgeries in the province?”

Ms. Beck: — “Mr. Speaker, they’re so eager to ask the questions. You’ll get your chance. Don’t worry.

“But yesterday we saw the Minister of Health state in this Assembly that there was no sole-source contract for surgeries. He said there was an RFP [request for proposal] and everything was above board; the NDP is just grasping at straws, Mr. Speaker. Then that minister went out into the rotunda, and what did he say out there? He said he got it all wrong, that there was a sole-source deal with a Sask Party donor. What does the Premier think about this mix-up?”

Hon. Mr. Moe: — “ …Yes, there are lobbyists that are lobbying government and opposition in that publicly funded, private surgical area, Mr. Speaker. But also on the lobbyist registry are entities like CUPE [Canadian Union of Public Employees] and SUN [Saskatchewan Union of Nurses]. And those that are working strictly in the publicly funded, publicly delivered health care scope, Mr. Speaker, some of which are going to be working in the urgent care centre on north Albert Street here as well as we drastically expand the services available to Saskatchewan people.”

Opposition Ethics and Democracy Critic Meara Conway then took her turn to roast Health Minister Hindley. In doing so, she referred to an incident earlier in the week in Question Period in which Speaker Randy Weekes had rebuked Government House Leader Jeremy Harrison for slouching after asking Harrison to withdraw and apologize for remarks made in the House.

Ms. Conway: —  “…Whether it’s slouching in their chairs, muttering blah blah blah when we’re talking about health care closures, or making statements that are completely inconsistent with the facts, they show day in, day out that it’s time for a change in this province, and that this Sask Party government, this tired and out-of-touch government has got to go…

“The Minister of Health signed a sweetheart deal, a sole-source contract with a Sask Party donor, and when pressed for answers made statements that are demonstrably incompatible with the facts. If he can’t keep his facts straight about his friends and donors, what else is he getting wrong on this file?”

Hon. Mr. Hindley: — “Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Speaking of things that are wrong, the Minister of Health does not sign contracts. The Minister of Health, we don’t do that. The ministry officials in the Ministry of Health would engage with organizations like this, but it’s not through the minister. It’s not myself sits down and negotiates contracts. So the member opposite is incorrect in that statement, Mr. Speaker. And that’s why she sits in opposition and will continue to sit in opposition for a long, long time, Mr. Speaker.”

Ms. Conway: — “ …Let’s look at the facts. There is entry after entry after entry in the lobbyists registry of Kevin Doherty lobbying that government on behalf of their Sask Party donor to 'work with the Ministry of Health to assist in the surgical backlog.' This is a great deal for the Sask Party. This is a great deal for their donors. But it’s a terrible deal for the people of Saskatchewan — worst in the nation results — who are left to wait longer and longer, often in pain, and then they’re left to pick up the tab.

“Who should Saskatchewan believe on this matter, Mr. Speaker — the Minister of Health or Kevin Doherty’s own filings with the lobbyists registry?

Hon. Mr. Hindley: — “Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I would hope that the member opposite is prepared to make those allegations outside the Chamber, and I would encourage her to do so, Mr. Speaker.”

In speaking to reporters following Question Period, Minister Hindley again insisted that he did not speak with Doherty or his firm Prairie Sky Strategies about the surgeries issue.

“I have not, as the Minister of Health, I have not met Prairie Sky Strategies to talk specifically about surgeries,” said Hindley. 

He also said he didn’t recall meeting them on that issue as Minister of Rural and Remote Health, either — “going from memory,” he said.

He did say he spoke with Prairie Sky Strategies on other issues, pointing to a conversation a couple of weeks ago regarding Medavie who provide EMS services. “We talked about healthcare and EMS and those sorts of topics.”

In speaking to reporters, Conway accused Minister Hindley of lying.

“The Minister of Health on this matter has now lied twice. He said in there there was an RFP. We now know there wasn’t an RFP, it was a sole-source contract. A sweetheart deal with a Sask Party donor. He also said that Kevin Doherty didn’t lobby on this issue. There’s multiple entries in the lobbyist registry beginning around the time that the Minister of Health said himself he started looking at other options around the time that this contract was signed with this private company out of Calgary. We haven’t heard confirmation that the Premier or Minister (Paul) Merriman who was the minister at the time didn’t meet with Kevin Doherty on this specific contract, and we haven’t gotten details about Mr. Hindley‘s role as Rural and Remote Health Minister at the time — what his conversations with Kevin Doherty amounted to. The people of Saskatchewan, rightly so, have a lot of questions around what went down and it’s incumbent upon the Sask Party government to explain themselves.”