Alberta health minister under fire for tobacco lobby ties

Stephen Mandel’s rivals in the Edmonton-Whitemud byelection race are blasting the Tory Health Minister for his ties to tobacco lobbyists.

NDP candidate Dr. Bob Turner alleged Friday that Mandel is “dragging his feet” on proclaiming Bill 206 to ban flavoured tobacco because of his relationship with Hal Danchilla, the founder of the Canadian Strategy Group lobbyist group.

Danchilla registered as a lobbyist for Rothmans, Benson and Hedges Inc. shortly after the bill was introduced in 2013. He worked on Mandel’s mayoral campaign and currently serves on the PC Party’s finance committee.

“It’s dirty politics,” Turner said. “It’s dirty, dirty, dirty.”

Danchilla has a long history with the PC Party going back to the Ralph Klein era, and Turner suspects his involvement might also be partly responsible for the Tories not following through on former premier Alison Redford’s promise to sue tobacco companies for health care costs.

Turner said banning flavoured tobacco, including menthol, as soon as possible is an important preventative step to discourage youth from smoking and related diseases.

“It’s going to save lives, it’s going to save millions of dollars if we get rid of these pernicious products that Rothmans is making the equivalent of billions of dollars around the world on. It is a no-brainer,” Turner said.

“We’re always trying to promote prevention rather than treatment. Well, this is the cheapest way that we can do it. And who’s going to be harmed? Only the business friends of Mr. Prentice and Mr. Mandel.”

Edmonton-Whitemud Liberal candidate Dr. Donna Wilson also demanded answers from Mandel for his connections to Danchilla.

Mandel has said menthol cigarettes could potentially be exempted from the flavoured smoke ban, but his campaign manager Steve Buick said Friday that Mandel simply wants to consider the views of smokers.

Buick said Mandel has never discussed menthol cigarettes with Danchilla or anyone at the Canadian Strategy Group, and that the suggestion Danchilla has influenced him “doesn’t make sense.”

Meanwhile, dozens Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) members gathered outside Mandel’s campaign office Friday afternoon to protest the continued privatization of Alberta’s laboratory services.

Australian company Sonic Healthcare Ltd. was recently awarded a contract to take over lab services in central and northern Alberta from AHS, Covenant Health and Edmonton-based company DynaLife in 2016.

The 15-year contact is expected to be worth $200 million annually.

“The minister of health has the ability to overturn a bad decision and stand up for Albertans and stand up for quality public health care in this province,” said AUPE President Guy Smith.

“When profits are your only motivation, what kind of caring services are you going to provide? None. When those profits are going offshore to an Australian company, what kind of investment is that in Alberta?”

Mandel was not present during the protest.


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