POLITICS

Alberta ignored rules to hand out contracts on everything from yoga to Coca-Cola

04/15/2014 02:39 EDT | Updated 06/15/2014 05:59 EDT
EDMONTON - The Opposition Wildrose party says new documents reveal Alberta Health Services ran roughshod over its own policy to hand out almost a billion dollars in sole-sourced contracts.

The money bought medical products and expertise, food services and snow clearing, but also went toward yoga classes, aquarium maintenance, and Coca-Cola.

Wildrose critic Heather Forsyth notes that the agency's policy manual dictates big contracts —those more than $75,000 — must be put out to tender, except for extraordinary reasons.

"All of this goes to show that AHS is clearly out of control," Forsyth told a news conference called to release the data, which was unearthed with freedom-of-information laws.

"There is little to no regard given to how taxpayer dollars are spent, or what they're spent on."

Wildrose finance critic Rob Anderson says taxpayers will never know how much money could have been saved by having firms compete for the contracts.

"Who knows how much money could have been saved and redirected to the front lines for patients," said Anderson.

Premier Dave Hancock labelled the Wildrose allegations misleading.

During question period, he said many of the contracts went to health products and services that could only come through single providers.

"The reality is that Alberta Health Services, like many health services, sometimes buys equipment and services from suppliers that are the only ones who are supplying (it)," said Hancock.

He said the checks and balances are working.

"The auditor general has the job of making sure that we review our expenses against our policies. (He) has done that, and has found nothing wrong in this case," said Hancock.

Among the expenses were $63,000 for aquarium maintenance, $93,000 for document shredding, $175,000 for taxi rides, $54,000 for marriage counselling, $34,000 for a studying on chewing tobacco in rodeos, close to $800,000 in executive coaching contracts, and a $2 million for Coca-Cola and related products.

There was also $18,000 for therapeutic yoga for patients with chronic pain.

The Wildrose has been rolling out revelations for more than a week on spending in Alberta Health Services.

Last week, it revealed that $250 million was spent on outside consultants over an 18-month period ending last fall.

The Health Department said much of that spending went to computer consulting as the government collapsed multiple health regions into one superboard in 2008.

Alberta Health Services carries out the frontline care of patients and reports to Health Minister Fred Horne's department.

Liberal Leader Raj Sherman said the time has come for a sweeping review.

"Overall health spending is up from $12 billion in 2007 to $18.3 billion today ... and still wait times are far too long," Sherman told the house.

He asked Hancock: "Will you agree to conduct and make public a full forensic financial audit of AHS?"

That's the auditor general's job, Hancock replied.

"There are processes in place for audits to happen," he said.