The former director of pharmaceutical services with the Department of Health was booted from the job in late February as part of a sweeping shake-up in government management, CBC News has learned, and replaced less than three months later with a Liberal party power broker without any competition.
Government won't say why the former director was ousted, citing privacy laws.
But Health Minister John Haggie is continuing to defend the hiring, saying Jamie O'Dea is highly qualified, and there was no time to hold a competition for the job because of time-sensitive matters around the prescription drug program and important drug-related discussions with Ottawa.
CBC News confirmed Thursday that Keith Sheppard had held the position for five years, and had been involved with the provincial drug prescription program for about a decade.
But on Feb. 22 he was unceremoniously told his services were no longer needed.
His termination came on the same day that Premier Dwight Ball and Finance Minister Cathy Bennett announced a major restructuring in government, including the slashing of 287 management positions.
Eleven of those were in the Department of Health and Community Services. CBC News has requested a detailed breakdown of the positions that were abolished.
Sheppard was contacted Thursday, but declined to comment.
Former director fired without cause
The restructuring was sold by the premier as a way to save tax dollars and reduce the size of government in an effort to grapple with huge deficits and an acknowledged spending problem.
Sources says Sheppard was fired "without cause" and received full severance, including salary continuance.
But if the services of a director was so badly needed, why was Sheppard let go, and why was O'Dea hired less than three months later without any competition?
Haggie would not comment on Sheppard's termination, but said the department needed someone with O'Dea's experience in clinical drug trials, oncology and management. She has been seconded from her position with Eastern Health until at least next spring, with a salary of just under $89,000, according to an information provided by the department.
"The issue is one around timing," Haggie said when pressed about the lack of competition.
Haggie dismissed the allegation that government was rewarding a top party strategist with a senior position in the civil service.
O'Dea recently resigned as the vice-president of the provincial Liberal party, and co-chaired the party's successful 2015 election campaign. She also worked on the premier's transition team.
"I think it's unfortunate that people want to make a story out of it, really. We have a lady with an extremely good set of skills. She has a very good resume with masters level education. I think it's unfortunate that she's got caught up in what could be regarded as political mud-slinging," said Haggie.
O'Dea spoke briefly with CBC News on Wednesday, but would not do an interview.