Public health agency head who was admonished by MPs leaving: PM
OTTAWA -- There’s a new boss coming in to the Public Health Agency of Canada, as Iain Stewart—the president who was admonished by MPs in June—is out after one year in the job.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau thanked Stewart for his “leadership in successfully implementing the COVID-19 vaccine rollout,” and said he’ll be going back to the position he previously held as president of the National Research Council of Canada.
Replacing him as the new president of PHAC effective Oct. 12 will be Dr. Harpreet S. Kochhar, who is currently an associate deputy minister of health.
The move comes as part of a series of changes to the senior ranks of the federal public service announced Friday afternoon.
Stewart—a long-time senior public servant—came into the role in September 2020 after his predecessor stepped down. Stewart took on the new position just as the country was bracing for the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and oversaw the agency as it led the national vaccine rollout.
Over his 12 months in the position, he was grilled by MPs on multiple occasions when testifying before the House of Commons Health Committee.
His refusal— citing legal and privacy restrictions—to turn over unredacted documents MPs requested related to the firing of two scientists at Canada’s highest security lab saw Stewart receive an extraordinarily rare and contentious public admonishment by the Speaker of the House of Commons on June 21.
Stewart was in charge of PHAC when Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin was removed from his position as the logistical lead on the national COVID-19 vaccine distribution effort in May. The details of his removal continue to trickle out in court, as part of Fortin’s ongoing challenge of his firing.
Asked why he was leaving the role at PHAC, Health Minister Patty Hajdu suggested Stewart’s time with the agency was intended to be “temporary.”
“I'll just say that we were really, really thrilled to have him and that he is a big reason why the vaccine rollout was as smooth as it was,” said Hajdu.