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HomeMiscellanyExclusive: Ballem hired to advise NDP on the New St. Paul’s

Exclusive: Ballem hired to advise NDP on the New St. Paul’s

Bob Mackin

Ballem at her going away party in 2015 with the city’s labour relations manager Kevin Jeske. (Facebook)

Penny Ballem, who was fired as Vancouver’s city manager two years ago, has a new gig, thanks to the B.C. NDP government. 

Health Minister Adrian Dix confirmed Nov. 2 that Ballem was hired in late September on a contract through Jan. 31, 2018 that pays a maximum $24,000. 

Dix said Ballem is providing advice on the $1.2 billion project to build a new hospital on 18.4 acres of False Creek Flats land north of Pacific Central Station by 2024. He said Ballem is “uniquely qualified to take a look at the business case and how to drive the project from here to make sure it meets the needs of the community.”

“The project has been, for a long time, stuck in the mud, has made some progress, but we’re still in the pre-business plan stage,” Dix told theBreaker. “I want to get it out of the mud because it’s obviously a crucial issue for the future of healthcare in Vancouver.”

Ballem, the city’s polarizing former top bureaucrat, did not respond for comment. 

In 2002, while Ballem was B.C.’s deputy health minister, then-BC Liberal Premier Gordon Campbell announced the 1894-founded hospital would be replaced. A decade later, his successor, Christy Clark, did the same. The move was finally confirmed in 2015. In late March, just before the official election campaign period, billionaire Jim Pattison donated $75 million for the Jim Pattison Medical Centre. Pattison’s donation was the largest by a citizen to a public health facility in Canadian history. 

Dix said Ballem is “supremely qualified” for the assignment because she is a practising physician and clinical professor who served under Campbell from 2001 to 2006, and became Vancouver city manager after Gregor Robertson led Vision Vancouver to its 2008 election win. 

Ballem’s tenure at 12th and Cambie was marked by several high-profile firings, resignations and early retirements of senior managers. After her September 2015 firing, for which she received a $556,000 golden parachute, Robertson called her a “force of nature.” Some of Ballem’s ex-colleagues threw a going away party later that year in the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club, where they gave her a custom-made street sign poking fun at her “my way or the highway” reputation. Ballem’s deputy, Sadhu Johnston, was hired as her replacement in 2016. 

Ballem was instrumental in the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics transportation plan. She was one of two Vancouver representatives on the board for the organizing committee. In 2016, she was appointed a member of Tennis Canada’s board of directors. 

In June 2009, the Globe and Mail reported that Ballem was paid $30,000 for just 78 hours work as a consultant on the Ontario government’s eHealth project, without a signed agreement. Ballem told the newspaper that she was going to lead Ontario’s diabetes management plan until her late 2008 hiring at Vancouver city hall.