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The New Normal for Public Service Vacations

In my thirty plus years of working inside and outside of government, vacations were never considered a major point of contention for anyone. But in early 2021, the destination for a normal break from work can end or greatly impact highly successful careers.

In the first week of January, a senior Ontario cabinet minister and the President and Chief Executive Officer of a large health care provider that includes St. Mary’s General Hospital in Kitchener departed when non-business travel outside Canada, where residents are being highly advised to just stay home, became public. Finance Minister Rod Phillips exited a plane, spoke briefly with assembled media at Pearson International Airport, met with Premier Ford, and exited from cabinet. A quick separation from his office was necessary to terminate a highly explosive political predicament.

St. Joseph’s Health System President and CEO Dr. Tom Stewart travelled to the Dominican Republic, which reports indicate was part of an “approved” vacation. After a day of intense media scrutiny and public outrage, Stewart was no longer in his position.

Interestingly, another executive that worked under Stewart’s supervision claimed he had a choice since everyone else stayed home to, in some manner, keep the healthcare system operational. A union official cited a serious morale issue that could not be addressed if Stewart did not depart.

Perhaps the most contentious vacation for the provincial health care system revolved around Dr. Paul Woods, President and CEO of the London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC), who travelled to the United States five times since the start of the pandemic including the recent holiday break. On January 11, after a week of highly charged and emotional debate accompanying intense public scrutiny, the LHSC board reversed their original position and terminated Dr. Woods stating that while the time off was approved it was not extended to his international travel. Furthermore, there is no process for a public hospital board to make decisions on a CEO’s personal itinerary.

In the final analysis, Ontario voters and taxpayers demand accountability and officials who cannot follow their own rules and guidelines lose credibility, and in a growing number of cases, their jobs.  It is a simple but difficult decision framework, but it is reality.



Written by Art Sinclair

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