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Alta. health official sorry for telling reporters 'I'm eating a cookie'

YouTube screen grab of Stephen Duckett walking with Edmonton media.

The president and CEO of Alberta Health Services apologized on Saturday for refusing to answer reporters' questions because he was eating a cookie.

The video of Stephen Duckett waving off reporters by saying he was busy "eating a cookie" was posted on YouTube where it has received thousands of hits.

In a posting on his blog, the senior bureaucrat admitted his response was "poor."

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"I certainly respect the media's right to ask timely questions in the public interest," Mr. Duckett said on his blog.

"We are all striving to do our best, but I know I got it wrong this time. Please accept this apology."

In the video, reporters followed Mr. Duckett after he emerged from a meeting between Alberta health leaders. The talks were held to discuss protocols for reducing wait times in emergency rooms, which has become a hot topic after a member of Premier Ed Stelmach's own caucus criticized the government on the issue.

The reporters told Mr. Duckett that they would wait for him to finish eating the cookie, but Mr. Duckett continued walking, and kept repeating that he was "eating a cookie."

Mr. Duckett said in his blog that a decision had been made that a senior physician would provide comments to the media after Friday's session.

He said he should have stopped to make that clear.

Alberta Health Services administers the province's health system, and provides care every day to 3.7 million Albertans, as well many residents of southwestern Saskatchewan, southeastern British Columbia and the Northwest Territories.

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Mr. Duckett said he regrets that his cookie comment has overshadowed the success of talks with the health leaders.

The province's NDP leader, Brian Mason, said after the incident that Alberta's health system lacks mature leadership.

"Given we're in the middle of a healthcare crisis, to me, it sounded like Mr. Duckett telling Albertans, 'Let them eat cake'," Mr. Mason said in a news release.

"The real issue here is the ongoing disregard shown by the Tory government and health system leadership toward patients and frontline staff."

Last year, then-Health Minister Ron Liepert defended Mr. Duckett's $575,000 annual base salary, with a potential for $144,000 in bonuses.

Mr. Liepert said Mr. Duckett was making half of what the Alberta government paid to each of the CEOs of the previous health authorities in Calgary and Edmonton, which were replaced by Alberta Health Services.

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