The departure of Fraser Health’s old CEO wasn’t necessarily the family-driven affair suggested by the health authority when Dr. Murray left in 2014.
At a meeting on May 29, 2014, Dr. Nigel Murray was told Fraser Health had “substantive leadership issues,” and that he was being fired. He could stick around for another 18 months as “provincial senior executive lead,” but his employment would be over as of November 2015. Murray, who was making $444,000 as the health authority’s top administrator, instead told the Fraser Health board chair Wynne Powell that he was quitting. Soon thereafter, written confirmation arrived.
Instead of publicizing the Murray’s firing, the Fraser Health board issued a release that said Murray had resigned for family reasons and would be returning to New Zealand, where he was in the running for another job.
But a New Zealand report into Murray’s actions in that subsequent job pulls the curtains behind the tumultuous departure of Fraser Health’s old boss, and suggests the details of his exit were kept not only from the public that paid his salary in B.C., but also from his new employers in his homeland. Revelations of Murray’s extravagant spending and travel in New Zealand has led to resignations and recriminations. Having billed his employer for more than $200,000 on travel and more than $70,000 in what has been found to be personal expenditures, Murray now faces investigation by New Zealand’s Serious Fraud Office.
Meanwhile, documents have emerged about an inquiry into spending by executives during Murray’s time at Fraser Health.
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Some three weeks after the meeting at which Murray both quit and was fired, a call was made from New Zealand to the province’s deputy health minister. Murray was in the running to head the Waikato District Health Board (DHB), and the Kiwis wanted to discuss Murray’s performance. The deputy minister had commissioned a widespread review of Fraser Health, which had been unable to meet its budget for several years, and which was also failing in a number of health performance measures.
But if the deputy minister knew about Murray’s departure, the man leading the Waikato hiring process says no mention was apparently made.
“We asked would you employ him or keep him in employment?” Bob Simcock, the then-chair of Waikato DHB told Radio New Zealand, that country’s version of the CBC, this week. “He said, absolutely, if he was not choosing to leave Canada now, we have a job for him in the Ministry of Health.”
Simcock said the deputy minister said the review didn’t blame Murray for any of Fraser Health’s failings. Instead, he said funding hadn’t kept up.
“Is this Canada thinking, ‘Woohoo! He’s off to New Zealand?’ ” Radio New Zealand host John Campbell asked.
“Maybe,” Simcock replied. But, he added that they had also talked to multiple other people in Canada who spoke of Murray in glowing terms. That included the former chair of Fraser Health, who didn’t raise any alarm bells.
The Kiwis never called Wynne Powell, the new chair who had fired Murray. Simcock said they didn’t deem that necessary, given Powell had only been in the position for a short time.
Simcock, a former New Zealand MP, has been among the officials who have taken the brunt of the blame for the scandal. Although the British Columbians were positive about Murray, Simcock had been warned not to hire him by several people who remembered him from his time heading another New Zealand health board. Simcock has since resigned from his role.
He blasted British Columbia officials in a statement to the media Wednesday.
“It is now clear [that] crucial information was withheld by people who were interviewed as part of the reference checks on Dr. Nigel Murray … It is inconceivable to believe that they didn’t know Dr. Murray had been dismissed, yet this information was never passed on.”
Murray went on leave from his New Zealand job last July after questions arose about his spending. Like three years prior in Canada, Murray resigned in October before he could be publicly fired. It would later be revealed by the New Zealand Herald that Murray travelled on the public dime for half of his final year in the job. The investigation was critical of the Waikato DHB for allowing Murray to resign, rather than firing him.
According to Simcock, Murray lived a “double life in the most extreme fashion,” with “multiple relationships, in multiple countries with multiple mobile phones.”
But it was only in recent weeks, when staff went to clear out Murray’s desk, that they learned their former boss had been fired from his last job.
“He put that in a desk at Waikato DHB and when he left, he didn’t take it with him,” Simcock told Radio New Zealand. “Why on earth he would do either of those things, I don’t know.”
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In an interview after this story went to press, Powell, the newly appointed Fraser Health chair who told Murray was fired, said their meeting at the time wasn’t confrontational. He said Murray said at the time that a family member’s illness already had him considering returning to New Zealand.
Powell said that if the New Zealand inquiry is accurate, “I find it tragic what’s happening. It’s just such a sad thing.”
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Murray has stayed mostly silent on the allegations, but his lawyer sent a lawyer calling the investigation into him “unfair” and lacking proper disclosures. His lawyer also said Murray wished to apologize for not filing some expenses properly, and that he would repay around $20,000 still in dispute.
Asked about the deputy minister of health’s phone call with the New Zealand hiring group, a spokesperson said the Ministry of Health could not comment on personnel matters.