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Wife of ex-health minister Tyler Shandro gives tearful testimony

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“This is a person with credibility in the community, he’s wearing his stethoscope, he’s on Twitter telling members of the public they’re going to get kicked off healthcare”

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The wife of former UCP cabinet minister Tyler Shandro testified through tears as she described an alleged campaign of harassment she and her company faced following a series of contentious decisions her husband made as health minister.

Andrea Shandro gave evidence Tuesday at her husband’s Law Society of Alberta tribunal hearing. The former minister of justice and health — a non-practicing lawyer — is accused of breaching professional standards in his interactions with three doctors and one member of the public in February and March 2020.

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Shandro testified at length about the tense conversation her husband had with Dr. Mukarram Zaidi outside Zaidi’s Calgary home. 

Zaidi posted a meme on March 21, 2020, suggesting Tyler Shandro wanted to kick people off public health care in order to benefit his wife’s company, Vital Partners. The company — a third-party health-care benefits brokerage which Andrea Shandro founded with her sister in 2015 — became the focus of public debate and, in some cases, scorn, after the UCP terminated its master agreement with the Alberta Medical Association in February 2020.

Shandro remembered calling her husband into her home office and showing him the meme. “(Tyler) said, ‘That’s our neighbour, I’m going to be back in a minute,’” she testified.

She followed a short time later and found her husband at the foot of Zaidi’s driveway.

“(Tyler) kept saying ‘Andrea helps employers pay for their employees’ glasses,’” she said. “I said, ‘No, no, don’t talk to (Zaidi)’ and pushed (Tyler) uphill toward our house.”

Shandro described Zaidi as an “internet troll … blasting out misinformation” that was leading to threats and harassment against her family.

“This is a person with credibility in the community, he’s wearing his stethoscope, he’s on Twitter telling members of the public they’re going to get kicked off health care,” she said of Zaidi.

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“That is despicable.” 

Tyler Shandro lost his seat in last month’s provincial election by 25 votes.

‘Pretty terrifying’

The discord between Tyler Shandro and the Alberta Medical Association coincided with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Three days after the province declared a state of public health emergency, AMA president Dr. Christine Molnar issued a statement urging members not to engage in “cyberbullying” over the contract dispute.

Andrea Shandro said her husband was working 18-hour days in Edmonton responding to the pandemic, leaving her and their kids, eight and 10, alone in Calgary. She said she didn’t want to trouble him with the harassment because of the threat posed by COVID.

The confrontation with Zaidi came on one of Tyler Shandro’s rare days at home, his wife said. She seconded his claims that he was having a measured conversation with Zaidi about how “misinformation” was fuelling the harassment and threats.

Zaidi, on the other hand, claimed Shandro demanded he take down the post, and was so emotional Andrea Shandro had to restrain him.

Shandro insisted her husband was neither yelling nor crying. However, she said being “face to face with an internet troll that’s trying to take out my family” brought her to tears.

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Andrea Shandro
A 2012 file photo of Andrea Shandro. Photo by File /Postmedia

Shandro read into the record a series of messages — unconnected to Zaidi — that she and her company received in response to rumours she was involved with a Telus telemedicine app which some believed was a harbinger of private health care.

“Things like, ‘Die die die, you f—ing b—h.’ Just terrible things. ‘I hope you and your family get COVID and you die.’”

The Shandros filed a police report after one anonymous sender told Shandro to watch her back.

“It was pretty terrifying,” she said.

Shandro claimed doctors like Zaidi were creating “conspiracy theories” to target her husband because he was trying to “make the health care system better.”

“They wanted to discredit Tyler, they wanted to discredit the government, they were willing to do anything they could.”

Lawyers for the law society, on the other hand, say Tyler Shandro lashed out at members of the public critical of government policy.

In concluding Andrea Shandro’s cross-examination, lead law society counsel Ken McEwan said that while the Shandros were receiving “vile” threats, the Zaidi incident stemmed from the reposting of a political cartoon.

Ethics commissioner: no ‘red flags’

Tuesday’s hearing also heard evidence from Marguerite Trussler, Alberta’s ethics commissioner.

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Trussler had a series of meetings with Tyler Shandro after his election in Calgary-Acadia in April 2019. She said all members of the legislature are required to meet with her to ensure compliance with the Conflicts of Interest Act.

At the time of the 2019 election, Andrea and Tyler Shandro were 50/50 shareholders in Shandro Holdings, which held half the shares in Vital Partners. Trussler directed Shandro to resign as a director of the holding company. When it appeared he would become health minister, she told him to place his shares in trust.

The issue of Andrea Shandro’s involvement in Vital Partners lay dormant until March 2020 when the UCP government made changes to Alberta Blue Cross coverage for seniors with spouses under the age of 65. In one weekend, Trussler’s office received 35 emails asking whether the change would benefit the Shandros personally.

Trussler reviewed the situation but concluded there was no conflict because Vital Partners only sold group benefits packages for services including physiotherapy, vision and dental, which are not covered by government.

“I really felt there was nothing to investigate at this stage,” Trussler said.

Shandro’s hearing concludes Wednesday with closing arguments. Lawyers found guilty of misconduct can face penalties including fines, suspensions and, in the most serious cases, disbarment.

[email protected]

twitter.com/jonnywakefield 

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