Canadian health officials skirt criticisms by playing bureaucratic musical chairs

There’s a managerial revolving door at the Public Health Agency of Canada and it allows senior officials to skirt accountability.

Canadian health officials skirt criticisms by playing bureaucratic musical chairs
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The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) has replaced its president four times over the course of 28 months, despite the position having a multi-year contract, as reported by Blacklock's.

While Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam is the face of the agency, the president influences the operation of the department by overseeing structural and strategic decisions.

The agency has reassigned Heather Jeffrey as the new president, making her the now former associate deputy health minister.

Jeffrey has been a career bureaucrat since 1996 when she first joined the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. “Since that time, she has served at a variety of positions in Ottawa and abroad,” her biography reads, in addition to serving as “Assistant Deputy Minister (Strategy and Integration) within the COVID-19 Task Force at Health Canada.”

Jeffery replaces Veterinarian Doctor Harpreet Kochhar, who was appointed to the position in October 2021.

Kochhar resigned following criticisms from the House of Commons (HoC) public accounts committee for his role in wasting 1 billion dollars worth of COVID-19 vaccines.

The same agency sought contracts for a supplier to produce and deliver 5,000 commemorative COVID-19 coins wrapped in velvet boxes to its employees, under Kochhar’s presidency. The “everlasting expression of gratitude” cost taxpayers $120,000.

Kochhar will now return to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) as president, where he previously served as Associate Vice-President of Operations from 2015-2017, after a public service shuffle by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

This shuffle will see another career bureaucrat and current assistant deputy minister for Health Canada’s health products and food branch, Nancy Hamzawi, become PHAC’s executive vice-president.

The PHAC has seen four presidents since 2020.

President Tina Namiesniowski resigned in September 2020, after being on the job for a mere 18 months, amid criticisms around COVID pandemic response failures.

Namiesniowski now serves as the Senior Associate Deputy Minister at Employment and Social Development Canada.

Iain Stewart was appointed as president of the PHAC shortly after Namiesniowski’s resignation, despite having no background in public health. He resigned from the role after being reprimanded in the HoC for secrecy around the firing of two Chinese scientists from the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg.

Stewart, another career bureaucrat, went back to his previous gig as President of the National Research Council after resigning.

This lack of transparency by the agency responsible for pandemic preparedness and response caused Conservative MP Philip Lawrence to point out the “significant lapses” in public accountability.

“Were there any officials held to account?” he asked. “Was there any type of discipline? Any suspensions, any firings, any discipline of any kind for the individuals who were responsible?”

The short answer is no. Resignations took place, but those responsible played musical chairs and happily transitioned into other senior management bureaucratic positions.

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