Friday, October 09, 2009

George Smitherman, Not For Toronto

“I’ve got one of these incontinence products — albeit a new one, not the ones that tend to appear at committee — on my desk and I’m really giving this matter very serious contemplation,” [Ontario Health Minister] Smitherman told a group of wide-eyed reporters. (The Toronto Star, 27 Feb 2008)
So serious is he about the welfare of seniors, one of Ontario’s most outspoken cabinet ministers said today that he’s prepared to don an adult diaper — and use it — to satisfy himself that elderly residents of the province’s nursing homes are getting appropriate care...[he said] in response to critics who say the standard of care in Ontario nursing homes is so bad, residents are spending hours on end wallowing in soiled diapers. (The Toronto Star, 27 Feb 2008)
Because, you know, it's hard to imagine what it would be like to sit in a dirty diaper all day. Such is the man who wishes to become the Mayor of Toronto. And ever since the garbage strike, when he came out to sweep dirty streets side by side with fed-up Torontonians, it looked like George Smitherman might be a shoo-in to replace Mayor David Miller, who was quickly slipping out of favour and would soon declare his intention not to run. When Miller finally did make that announcement only a short time ago, Smitherman's mayoralty fortunes rose. While his closest competitor John Tory retired to an afternoon gig on talk radio to increase his profile, Smitherman continued to shine his political star next to his champion Premier Dalton McGuinty in the daily papers. His rise to Toronto leadership seemed to be all but certain.

And then came the other shoe.

October 2003: Liberals win the election and Smitherman is named as Minister of Health and Deputy Premier.
2004: Ministry's eHealth program Branch created to establish and maintain an eHealth strategy and oversee its delivery, including the development of EHR applications and databases (From 7 Oct 2009 AG Special Report on Ontario's Electronic Health Records Initiative)

November 2006: Deloitte consulting completes critical operational review of SSHA, commissioned by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care and SSHA’s board of directors (From 7 Oct 2009 AG Special Report on Ontario's Electronic Health Records Initiative)

August 2007: Office of Auditor General of Ontario reviews SSHA’s efforts to address certain of Deloitte’s key recommendations and notes progress made in some areas while more work required in others (From 7 Oct 2009 AG Special Report on Ontario's Electronic Health Records Initiative)

August 2007: Auditor General’s review identifies lack of an overall government eHealth strategy and Ontario’s slow progress in overall Electronic Health Records achievements as continuing issues (From 7 Oct 2009 AG Special Report on Ontario's Electronic Health Records Initiative)

June 2008: SSHA strikes a client experience task force to improve services to and relationships with clients, which identifies SSHA’s poor understanding of its customers and poor performance issues as key problems (From 7 Oct 2009 AG Special Report on Ontario's Electronic Health Records Initiative)

19 June 2008: McGuinty, Smitherman's champion, moves Smitherman out of the increasingly explosive goings-on at the Ministry of Health into the safer energy and infrastructure portfolios.
Late summer 2008: AG advises Deputy Minister of Health of a value-for-money audit focusing on EHR (electronic health records). By this time a new Minister of Health, David Caplan, is esconced and Smitherman is safely out of the way. (From 7 Oct 2009 AG Special Report on Ontario's Electronic Health Records Initiative)
Smitherman led the Ministry of Health from 2003 to 2008, when concerns about poor understanding of clients came up, sort of like Smitherman's poor understanding of what wearing a dirty diaper is like, when concerns arose of Ontario's poor progress, when it became apparent that the government, in which Smitherman played a significant part, had no strategy when it came to eHealth, when the AG pointed out that poor performance continued despite earlier audits, meaning Smitherman pretty much ignored sound advice. It all came to a head this week when Auditor General Jim McCarter released a special report on eHealth and how $1 billion was thrown out the window, and Smitherman's timely replacement took the fall because that's what gentlemen do for rascals.

This is the kind of guy some Torontonians look forward to leading them. In a city plagued by financial problems, ones so big we now pay for garbage pickup that is half or one-quarter as frequent as it once was, we drive on more potholed roads, we have a messier city, we have bursting water mains, we have cat police peeking in windows in an attempt to scare up dollars, we have slapped more taxes on car owners and house buyers, we have an inadequate transit system that has not grown with the population and have no new subways on the offing while comparable cities keep on expanding their networks -- in a city up to its eyeballs in money trouble that has a multi-billion dollar budget, some want a man who has proven he cannot manage even $1 billion. Some want Smitherman.

In a city that needs to find its way again, that needs a leader who can think strategically to get both the province and Canada onside to actually put dollars back into transit, waterfront, and housing, some want a man who couldn't even wrap his mind around an electronic health records strategy that everyone was in favour of, never mind how it feels to wear a diaper. If he found that beyond his ken, how can he possibly manage a large, complex city, one that most have a hate-on for, like Toronto?

In a city that has a diverse population with suburbs married to the downtown unwillingly, we need a leader who can bring harmony in itself so as to prosper and nourish its most poor, most vulnerable, as well as regrow its middle class. Yet some want a man for Mayor who oversaw a Health Ministry program with such poor relations with its clients that the AG noted it, a man who has so little empathy for the most vulnerable of seniors that he could not immediately change nursing home diaper policy but had to try it on first.

George Smitherman does not deserve to lead Toronto. We do not need his piss-poor kind of empathy, strategic thinking, and money management skills. Even the Toronto Star which in its initial reports downplayed Smitherman's role, had to write about the possiblity Smitherman will bow out of the Mayoralty race. We once again face an opportunity to find the kind of person -- female or male -- who will bring harmony to the Council Chamber -- Smitherman's combative personality ain't it, fer sure -- so as to be able to bring empathy, prosperity, and pride back to Toronto. Hopefully, the eHealth scandal will bring Smitherman's history into Toronto consciousness and cause him to follow Miller, right out the Mayoralty race door.

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