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Doug Ford’s ‘Director Of Pandemic Response’ Was a Private Health Lobbyist For Shoppers Drug Mart

Posted: March 17, 2021

(March 16, 2021)

By: PressProgress

The Ford’s government’s “Director of Pandemic Response” is a former private health lobbyist with a firm representing Shoppers Drug Mart and other companies seeking COVID-19 related contracts.

Emily Beduz became the Ministry of Health’s “Director of Pandemic Response” in October 2020 after working as a senior policy advisor for the Ministry,  starting in September 2018.

According to her LinkedIn, Beduz’s policy analyst gig followed her time working for the Progressive Conservative Party and producing for the defunct right-wing news channel Sun TV.

Prior to her job in the Ministry of Health, Beduz served as a lobbyist at Santis Health, one of Canada’s largest health care lobby firms.

Santis Health made headlines in 2017 when then federal health minister Jane Philpott’s parliamentary affairs director joined its lobby roster after leaving government. iPolitics reported Santis Health had lobbied the director personally on behalf of Shoppers over “e-health policy.”

Santis Health’s website describes itself as key to leveraging “partnerships” in government:

“Working at the intersection of health care, policy, politics and innovation across Canada, we help clients navigate the system, overcome obstacles, develop partnerships, and accelerate success …. Our federal and provincial government relations experts know what it takes to get government on your side.”

Beduz began at Santis Health April 6, 2018. The company listed her “productive relationships with stakeholders and members of provincial parliament” among her key assets in a 2018 press release:

For more than three years, Emily was the policy advisor on health to the PC leader, working closely with the critic’s office and advising caucus on health policy matters. Prior to Queen’s Park, she also spent time working in live TV production at Sun Media and for the Mayor of the City of Toronto. Emily brings to Santis her effective research skills, a strong understanding of municipal and provincial politics, and strong, productive relationships with stakeholders and Members of Provincial Parliament across party lines. Santis Health is a Toronto- and Ottawa-based public affairs, strategic advisory, public policy, marketing and communication consultancy that is dedicated to providing first-class counsel and support for clients exclusively in the health care and life sciences sectors.

As a lobbyist, Beduz met with cabinet representatives on behalf of a number of clients — including Shoppers Drug Mart.

Shoppers Drug Mart reported in its filing with Ontario’s integrity commissioner, it was “seeking policy changes that will allow Shoppers Drug Mart to improve Ontario’s health care system.”

Office of the Integrity Commissioner of Ontario

Shoppers Drug Mart has continued to lobby the Ford government since that time.

Back in August, the Ford government entered into talks with Shoppers’ parent company Loblaws to offer COVID-19 tests at its pharmacies across the province. A month later, Shoppers was listed as one of the companies tapped by the province to provide COVID-19 testing.

Ontario Health Coalition executive director Natalie Mehra said pharmacies like Shoppers Drug Mart have been actively lobbying for COVID-19 contracts.

“Under the cover of the pandemic, there had been a lot of privatization. And it really does seem that whoever makes a proposal to Doug Ford’s government gets a contract,” Mehra told PressProgress.

“That includes pharmacies for testing, we have assessment centres all over Ontario the government could have added staff to do COVID-19 testing, instead they gave contracts to Shoppers Drug Mart and Rexall,” Mehra noted. “They had to pass a regulation to allow them to do it rather than add capacity to the public system.”

Beduz also led a reported talk at a July 2018 Santis Health post-election conference.

A related Santis Health tweet reads, “Santis Consultant Emily Beduz breaks down the political lay of the land at this morning’s workshop.”

The slide behind Beduz states that “Ford’s campaign health advisor has been appointed to a new role,” referring to Dr. Rueben Devlin, the Premier’s “improving healthcare and ending hallway medicine” council chair. He was the past CEO of Humber River hospital from 1999-2016 and Tory party president from 1998-2000.

Devlin’s consultations were linked to Minister Elliott’s leaked plans to potentially replace existing LINHs with a superagency, able to more-freely privatize sectors of Ontario’s healthcare system.

Asked about Beduz’s past with the lobby firm, Santis Health Principal Patrick Nelson told PressProgress:

“Emily Beduz worked for Santis Health. She then went on to work for the government of Ontario. At Santis, Emily provided strategic advice to several clients and regularly gave presentations to groups of organizations. We are always pleased when our employees go on to take on other important work, but we were sad to see her leave. Santis Health is regularly in contact with officials in the provincial government. When members of the Santis team lobby on behalf of clients in Ontario, they register with Ontario’s Integrity Commissioner as is required.”

Neither Beduz nor Ontario’s Ministry of Health responded to multiple requests for comment about its head of pandemic response’s past lobbying activities.

Santis Health’s current registered clients in Ontario include Lifelabs, QHR Technologies Inc., Shoppers, Allergan Inc. and others.

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