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HomeBusinessCOVID Exclusive: Health board chair gets $22,000-a-month to run B.C. vaccine rollout

COVID Exclusive: Health board chair gets $22,000-a-month to run B.C. vaccine rollout


Bob Mackin

The NDP government is paying the head of British Columbia’s troubled coronavirus vaccine rollout $22,000 a month. has learned that Vancouver Coastal Health chair Penny Ballem received the $220,000, no-bid contract on Jan. 13 to be executive lead of the Immunize BC program through October.

Penny Ballem (left) and Premier John Horgan (BC Gov)

The existence of Ballem’s contract was confirmed the same week the program was thrust into chaos again, when Fraser Health Authority hosted pop-up vaccination clinics in Surrey and Coquitlam. Prompted by social media, people from outside the hotspot areas flocked to the lineups — some even camped out overnight. But many went home disappointed.

Ballem’s contract is more lucrative than what a retired general got from the Ontario government in late November. Rick Hillier was paid $20,000-a-month, plus expenses, through March 31 to begin the rollout in Canada’s most-populous province.

Ballem was contracted the same day that she appeared with Health Minister Adrian Dix on a hastily organized teleconference to announce she had taken over the job from Ross Brown, the VCH director of pandemic response. Premier John Horgan introduced Brown as the province’s vaccine czar on Dec. 9.

Clockwise from upper left: Terry Wright, Marnie McGregor, Dena Coward and Mary Conibear

On Jan. 17, four days after the shakeup, former Vancouver city manager Ballem hired her former city hall assistant communications director, Marnie McGregor, and three ex-Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics executives: executive vice-president of transportation Terry Wright, managing director of Games operations Mary Conibear and Paralympics director Dena Coward. Ballem joined the VANOC board when she was hired as city manager in 2008.

The four contracts are each worth $56,000 and run through April 30.

Wright’s responsibilities with VANOC included procuring a fleet of motor coaches for Vancouver 2010. After the Games, VANOC reported a $40 million cost overrun for chartering buses and drivers from as far away as Florida.

Dix appointed Ballem chair of VCH at the end of 2018. Ballem, who received $43,000 plus $4,605 expenses in 2020, replaced Brown just two weeks after a key meeting was called to organize the Immunize B.C. operations centre command team.

“The purpose of this committee is to establish oversight and governance for the planning, implementation, and administration of mass COVID-19 vaccination to ensure the province is fully prepared to immunize key populations in B.C. by Jan. 1, 2021,” said the Zoom meeting notice, obtained under the freedom of information law.

Dr. Ross Brown (right) and Dr. Bonnie Henry (BC Gov)

Pfizer/BioNTech announced their vaccine candidate Nov. 9. Health Canada approved its use in Canada on Dec. 9. Six days later, on Dec. 15, Vancouver General Hospital care aide Nisha Yunus became the first British Columbian jabbed.

On March 9, the first day seniors were eligible to book appointments, the Telus phone system crashed. The company apologized.

As of April 29, almost 1.66 million British Columbians had received their first vaccine dose, but only 90,296 are fully immunized. Washington state, by comparison, has delivered 5.2 million jabs.

Meanwhile, a former labour leader scored a $50,000 no bid contract just before Christmas.

Jim Sinclair, the Dix-appointed chair of Fraser Health in September 2017, was given the contact Dec. 20 to chair a COVID-19 workplace safety working group. Sinclair spent 15 years as chair of the B.C. Federation of Labour, which donated $1.4 million to the NDP between 2005 and 2017.

Sinclair was paid $33,239 by Fraser Health for the year ended March 31, 2020.

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