Former Horizon CEO Dr. John Dornan to seek Liberal nod for Portland-Simonds

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Dr. John Dornan, the former head of Horizon Health Network, will seek the Liberal nomination for the riding of Portland-Simonds, in Saint John’s north end.

Dornan was publicly fired as president and CEO of Horizon by Progressive Conservative Premier Blaine Higgs in 2022 following the death of a patient in the waiting room of the Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital’s emergency department in Fredericton.

He won a record-breaking $2-million arbitration award over his dismissal, a decision upheld by a Court of King’s Bench judge and now being appealed by the province.

Dornan, 65, told CBC News his decision to seek the nomination isn’t personal.

“Well, you know, my goal is not so much to defeat Premier Higgs. It’s to support [Liberal Leader] Susan Holt, who has, I believe, tremendous ideas, good help, seeks and uses advice that she gets — and this is the type of leader that I support,” he said in an interview Thursday.

“I believe that a party that represents many different communities and groups is what New Brunswick wants and needs, and I think that this is a good time to bring that to the front. And I relish supporting such a government.”

The riding has been held for 25 years by Progressive Conservative MLA Trevor Holder, who announced last month he would not seek re-election.

Holder is the 10th PC MLA elected in the 2020 provincial election to either quit or decide not to run in this year’s campaign.

Labour Minister Trevor Holder says the existing labour law is 'outdated and ineffective.'Labour Minister Trevor Holder says the existing labour law is 'outdated and ineffective.'

Labour Minister Trevor Holder says the existing labour law is ‘outdated and ineffective.’

PC Trevor Holder, who held the seat for many years, decided not to run again. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

Dornan said Holt asked him to offer last fall, following a “very cordial” meeting to discuss health care, during which she “took notes, listened a lot, [and] had lots of questions.”

He has held progressively senior leadership roles in health care since he moved to the Saint John area in 1987, serving patients and the community, and he saw it as “an opportunity to continue to do that at an accelerated, or in a different capacity.”

He brings “maturity, management and most of all an ability to to listen” to the table, he said.

“I have rarely had big ideas myself, but have listened to people with very good ideas and I can get my shoulder behind those positive ideas” to implement progressive changes.

“So I think what I bring mostly is how to translate good ideas into functional ideas, workable ideas” — whether they’re from doctors and nurses, builders and tenants, or newcomers in the diverse riding of about 12,000 people that encompasses Crescent Valley, the old North End, Millidgeville, and the area of Simonds between Westmorland Road, Consumers Drive and Loch Lomond Road.

“We’ve seen the top-down approach from the current government fail to get results, and it’s time for a change.”

Dornan has lived in Portland-Simonds for years and also used to operate a medical office there. He said he has spoken to people in the riding and some of the “big issues” include affordable housing and the increased cost of living.

“Many people have apartments, have houses, but the cost of living quickly drains the income that they have.

“Other groups of people don’t have adequate housing. That’s extremely important.”

Health care also ranks high on the list, he said, noting a significant number of people in the riding don’t have a primary care provider and have to rely on emergency departments or after-hour clinics.

Dornan, who specializes in endocrinology, served as head of internal medicine at the Saint John Regional Hospital, became chief of medical staff for Horizon, the largest health authority in the province, and then CEO in 2022.

He was at the helm for only four months of his five-year contract before he was fired as part of a larger shakeup of New Brunswick’s health-care leadership. Higgs also removed Dorothy Shephard as health minister, and revoked the boards of both Horizon and Vitalité.

Dornan said he’s now working full-time for Horizon as an endocrinologist.

The Court of Appeal is scheduled to hear the province’s case against Dornan’s employment compensation award next week.

The Portland-Simonds Liberal Association nominating meeting will be held May 8.

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