The Public Health Agency of Canada cited for early pandemic mismanagement, and cover-up of documents now has its third president in thirteen months. Dr. Harpreet Kochhar, the former associate deputy health minister, Tuesday took over the $321,000 post after his predecessor was convicted for contempt of Parlia ment.
Stewart is returning to his previous job as president of the National Research Council (NRC), resuming his work there Tuesday and replacing the interim president in charge of the council. As he returns to that job, Kochhar, currently associate deputy minister of health, will take over as president of PHAC.
"After taking a leave of absence for his temporary role at [PHAC], Iain Stewart is returning to the NRC. We thank him for his contributions to the fight against COVID, including his important work in coordinating Canada's world-leading vaccine rollout," said the PMO's Press Secretary Alex Wellstead in a statement Sunday.
"Thousands of Agency employees have been working around the clock, seven days a week, doing their absolute best," Health Minister Patricia Hajdu earlier testified at the Commons health committee. One Liberal MP told an April 18 hearing there was no point in questioning the Agency's competence.
"I see no value in armchair critics who have no medical credentials second-guess what has been done and can't be changed," said MP Tony Van Bynen. "The real value for Canadians is to provide constructive suggestions for consideration of people who are professionals."
Iain Stewart, the censured president, was assigned by cabinet to his previous position as president of the National Research Council with no loss of his $321,000 pay. The Commons last June 17 voted 176-150 to censure Stewart for defying three orders for documents detailing an RCMP raid at the Health Agency's National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg, reported Blacklocks.
The Lab gave top security clearance to Chinese researchers who were subsequently fired, including a People's Liberation Army scientist. Stewart refused to release the records. He was to be reprimanded for his repeated refusal to disclose documents to the Canada-China relations committee to fire two high-clearance scientists.
Speaker Anthony Rota openly challenged the federal government's court application against him that usurped the House of Commons' ability to procure any documents they requested.
President Stewart was the first federal employee since 1891 to be summoned to the floor of the Commons for public shaming on the grounds of "obstruction" and "interference" with House orders. The last was a Superintendent of the Government Printing Bureau called to the bar of the House for pocketing kickbacks from federal contractors.
A previous Public Health Agency president, Kristina Namiesniowski, abruptly resigned on September 18, 2020, after emailing staff, "I need a break." Her resignation came twelve days before auditors completed a report that cited her and other managers for "confusion" and "limited public health expertise."
"The Agency lacked everything," Senator Eric Forest told a March 5 hearing of the Senate national finance committee. "There was mention of a lack of capacity and many shortcomings, lack of expertise, lack of management experience."
Namiesniowski, in memos to cabinet, had boasted the $675 million-a-year Agency was so prepared for a pandemic it could fill rush orders for masks and other personal protective equipment within hours. Only after the COVID outbreak did she write an urgent April 1, 2020 memo pleading for help from the military, stating the Agency was so short of supplies that lives were at risk. "Time is of the essence," she wrote.
Subsequent disclosures indicated Namiesniowski spent $18,902 on an executive washroom at her Public Health Agency office and failed to submit filings required under the Conflict Of Interest Act promptly. Cabinet reassigned her as $273,700-a year associate deputy minister at the Department of Employment.