Warning, make sure you feed those chooks

I nearly posted on this when the event occurred, though before the denouement.  Australian Health Economist and bureaucrat Stephen Duckett was CEO of Alberta Health Services and, in some situation of crisis or at least heightened media interest he was accosted by a media scrum as he walked from one building to another poking microphones and cameras in his face and following him everywhere he went.  I react viscerally to this invasion of personal space. Think about what it is like to have one’s space invaded as one seeks to walk around.  Now of course it’s not illegal to do this, and one might imagine it to be an effective ‘civil disobedience’ tactic if one feels entitled by the gravity of the situation to use it. But a group or people openly stalking someone is a viscerally hostile act.  I can’t imagine myself doing too well under such circumstances. Anyway celebrities often enjoy it and even when it’s hostile public figures react to it with great grace most of the time.

I thought Steven Duckett reacted with some grace and a little humour by telling the scrum that he was eating a cookie – that is he was engaged in a private event (eating his cookie). When the press said ‘we can wait’ till he finished, he pointed out there would be a media briefing in 30 minutes and that they should go there. He went on eating his cookie.

I don’t think I knew until I happened to look up his name today, that he’d been sacked for this ever so slightly flamboyant way of saying ‘no comment’.  He issued a fulsome apology the day after the ‘incident’, which seems pretty unfortunate to me since it’s hard to see what he did wrong, but remarkably enough he was sacked a few days later. This is how Wikipedia covers the story.

On 20 November 2010, Stephen Duckett came under scrutiny by the general public for televised remarks to the media following a high-level meeting about the situation in the province’s emergency rooms. During the aired segment, Duckett refused to answer questions by reporters waiting outside the meeting room, using the excuse he was eating his cookie. Duckett later issued an apology noting that he had not felt comfortable as a non-elected official being asked to respond to the comments of other, elected, officials.. He has subsequently stated that he had been instructed by the office of Alberta Premier Stelmach not to make any comments.. On 24 November 2010, the chairman of the Alberta Health Services Board announced that Duckett’s contract was terminated and that after mutual consultation, he had been released from his contractual obligations. Both parties felt that his ability to continue in his duties had been “compromised.” Based on the terms of his contract, it is believed that he would receive a severance payment of as much as $681,250.

What a thoroughly dismal episode from start to finish.  Still I guess that’s how you get ratings. The youtube video has cracked the 300,000 views mark. I guess you wouldn’t get that by reporting on the performance of the health system that Stephen Duckett was hired to try to improve.  And yes it didn’t hurt that Stephen Duckett could be referred to as the “cookie monster” complete with obligatory mashup.

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derrida derider
derrida derider
10 years ago

I seriously doubt that that was all there was behind his sacking, and if it was then he wouldn’t want to work for such a pissweak organisation anyway.

It is, after all, very common to find some specific but trivial incident to justify the sacking of someone you want to get rid of on other grounds. Which, of course, implies nothing either way about whether those other grounds are good or not.

Jacques Chester
Jacques Chester
10 years ago

I’m with dd. It was the trigger, not the cause, of a sacking that had obviously been on the books for some time.

hc
hc
10 years ago

Agree with above. As someone who knows Duckett a bit I am sure there was more to it than this comment.

ginger
ginger
10 years ago

There are those who like Stephen Duckett and then there are those who have worked with him

conrad
conrad
10 years ago

A more general question that arises from things like this is how much other people are allowed to harass people doing their jobs. I think there is a fair bit of internal inconsistency going on amongst people and political parties on this matter. If I think of, say, Sea Shepherd and whaling, then most people seem to think that what they are doing is reasonable. Alternatively, if I looked at other environmental causes, or indeed other causes (e.g., the anti-vivisection people), then although the protestors are doing essentially the same thing, people think the opposite of them. Even at the individual level, I wonder when shouting at your doctor/teacher/shop-assistant etc. is considered legitimate versus harassment (and not just legally).