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Premier defends government against Health P.E.I. ex-CEO's accusations of political interference

Premier Dennis King says former Health P.E.I. CEO Dr. Michael Gardam was never pressured to be less critical of government decisions, namely the construction of a new medical school at UPEI.   (CBC - image credit)
Premier Dennis King says former Health P.E.I. CEO Dr. Michael Gardam was never pressured to be less critical of government decisions, namely the construction of a new medical school at UPEI. (CBC - image credit)

Prince Edward Island Premier Dennis King defended himself and his government in an interview Thursday, a day after the former CEO of Health P.E.I. said King's office interfered in his work with the province's health agency.

Dr. Michael Gardam was asked during a legislative health committee meeting on Wednesday whether the premier's office had ever asked him to fall in line with provincial decisions. Gardam replied that it had, predominantly with regard to a new medical school planned for UPEI.

He also said his concern about how the school would affect the Island's struggling health-care system was part of the reason he had tendered his resignation as CEO, effective Dec. 31, 2023.

In an interview with CBC News: Compass host Louise Martin on Thursday, King said Health P.E.I. operates at arm's length from the provincial government, but the agency is still accountable to P.E.I. taxpayers.

"I would suggest that [Gardam] would be reminded from time to time by the chief of staff or the clerk of executive council that this is government policy that we're moving forward with, and part of his duties as the CEO of Health [P.E.I.] is to implement the policies of the executive branch of government," King said.

Dr. Michael Gardam
Dr. Michael Gardam

Dr. Michael Gardam announced in July that he would resign as Health P.E.I.'s CEO, in part because of his concerns about the effects he felt a new medical school at UPEI would have on the Island’s health-care system. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

"I don't think that [Gardam] was stifled at all, or he was told to be quiet about it," the premier said.

"I think what he referenced yesterday … from my understanding, he's not opposed to a medical school, he has pointed out some of the challenges that we know exist.

"We've taken all of those points to heart, and we're asking Health P.E.I. to help deliver and get the system ready for the first tranche of students who will require residency from the UPEI Medical School in 2029."

Questions from and about Myers 

Wednesday's meeting also included a tense exchange between Gardam and Steven Myers, who is a PC MLA but not a member of the health committee.

Myers accused Gardam of being inconsistent in how he talks about various topics with different groups of people, pointing to public statements the former CEO had made saying the intensive care unit at Prince County Hospital in Summerside should stay open.

Myers, who is P.E.I.'s environment minister, said Gardam had said the opposite in a meeting with cabinet ministers, saying he agreed the ICU should be shut down.

Steven Myers, who's the minister of Environment, Energy and Climate Action as well as the MLA from Georgetown-Pownal, accused Dr. Michael Gardam of saying different things to different groups of people about health care on the Island.
Steven Myers, who's the minister of Environment, Energy and Climate Action as well as the MLA from Georgetown-Pownal, accused Dr. Michael Gardam of saying different things to different groups of people about health care on the Island.

Steven Myers, who's the minister of Environment, Energy and Climate Action as well as the MLA from Georgetown-Pownal, accused Dr. Michael Gardam of saying different things to different groups of people about health care on the Island. (P.E.I. Legislative Assembly feed)

"Show me the minutes. It's your word against mine," Gardam told Myers.

"I said the challenge is that we cannot maintain the model as it is now because we can't recruit people there. I have never changed that, so perhaps you misheard me."

"I don't think I did," Myers replied, saying pointedly that he himself had "never once lied to the public."

'Nobody tells Steven Myers what to do' 

It's unusual for a cabinet minister to attend a committee meeting involving someone else's department. On Thursday, the premier said he did not direct Myers to attend this one.

"Nobody tells Steven Myers what to do, including me," King said. "He expressed an interest to go because health care has been a tremendous frustration for him personally and for the members that he represents down in the eastern end of the province.

"I think he wanted the opportunity to ask some questions, and good for him for going."

P.E.I.'s health committee wants to scrutinize the plans and decision making that led to development of a medical school at UPEI, which is slated to open in 2025.
P.E.I.'s health committee wants to scrutinize the plans and decision making that led to development of a medical school at UPEI, which is slated to open in 2025.

After announcing he would be leaving, Dr. Michael Gardam continued to raise concerns about the medical school, which is slated to accept its first students in September 2025. (Ken Linton/CBC)

When it comes to Gardam's concerns about the UPEI medical school, King reiterated that it was the former CEO's job to implement the government's policies and to help find solutions to challenges those policies might present.

"There's a difference between political direction and political interference," he said. "I think every Prince Edward Islander would want their premier to make sure these decisions are being made for the right reasons.

"I would say the same thing to the next CEO that I said to the last CEO: Tell me what you need, let me know how we can work together to deliver better health care for P.E.I., but don't forget that you're accountable to the taxpayers of P.E.I."