Photo Credit: Image Source: Dr. Penny Ballem gives an update on B.C.’s immunization plan in 2021. (B.C. Government Image)

Meet Advisors Tasked with Helping the Premier Solve Our Thorniest Problems: Penny Ballem

The former deputy health minister is known for blunt talk

The former vaccine czar has a history of leaving jobs in a controversial fashion

Premier David Eby recently appointed three high-profile advisors. They have some huge issues to advise on, so we want you to know who they are.

We’ve already told you a bit about Doug White, advisor on Indigenous Reconciliation. The other two are Penny Ballem (Healthcare) and former Victoria mayor Lisa Helps (Housing). Here’s a little bit about the person Eby tapped to steer us out of this healthcare crisis.

Penny Ballem, Healthcare

Eby appointed Dr. Ballem to be the Premier’s Health Advocate, “putting her at the centre of government to help move priorities forward, and solve and address crises in our healthcare system.”

Dr. Ballem is known as a blunt advocate who is not afraid to speak truth to power. She has a reputation for telling politicians hard truths even if they don’t want to hear them. She has also been involved in several controversies over the payments she’s received for previous appointments

Most recently, Ballem was the province’s “vaccine czar.” She was hired in 2021 to oversee the government’s COVID vaccine rollout.

Her work was largely successful considering the need to rapidly roll out such a complicated project. But Ballemdid does not come cheap. She was paid more than $400,000 for 10 months of work — and we never did learn the total amount.

Ballem worked in healthcare, notably years ago as a doctor in the Downtown Eastside. Not surprisingly, she has strong opinions about the opioid drug crisis. The new Health Advocate is a well-known supporter of harm reduction and universal healthcare.

From 2001 to 2006, Ballem served as a deputy health minister in the BC Liberal government. She quit in high-profile fashion after a dispute with then-premier Gordon Campbell. She publicly accused Campbell’s government of making health “policy on the run”

After that, she was hired as a healthcare consultant for eHealth Ontario to lead a new strategy for treating diabetes. Ballem was involved in compensation controversy in that position as well. She was paid $30,000 for 10 days of work in that position — or $385 per hour. Not bad!

“I don’t apologize for my rate,” she told CBC. “The market felt that my work was worthwhile and, you know, I think I give good value for money.”

From 2008 to 2015, she was Vancouver’s City Manager under Mayor Gregor Robertson. There she was involved in the controversy surrounding the city’s efforts to clear unhoused folks from the streets before the 2010 Olympics. City Council passed several laws that infringed on civil rights before the winter spectacle.

She was more or less fired from that position in 2015, costing the city $556,000 in severance pay.

She was also on the VANOC board of directors.

There’s no doubt that Ballem has the cred to handle this advisory role. But should we be concerned about the controversial ways she has left her previous jobs?

Hopefully, she’ll be Eby’s truth-teller on healthcare at this crucial time. there certainly are big problems that no one wants to talk about.