Confusion about the closure of the Little Bow Continuing Care Centre in the tiny southern Alberta village of Carmangay has triggered a backlash by local residents against the Progressive Conservative government.
The closure of the facility, which houses local residents and is the main employer in the community, has also united politicians from across the political spectrum.
At a rally in front of Premier Alison Redford‘s constituency office in Calgary-Elbow, Edmonton-Calder NDP MLA David Eggen, Little Bow Wildrose MLA Ian Donovan, Innisfail-Sylvan Lake Wildrose MLA Kerry Towle, and Calgary-Shaw Wildrose MLA Jeff Wilson stood with more than 80 people in opposition to the facility’s closure. At a previous rally, Highwood MLA and Wildrose leader Danielle Smith and Alberta Union of Provincial Employees president Guy Smith stood with local mayor Kym Nichols, who works at the facility.
While the decision to close the Little Bow facility would have made by Alberta Health Services, the final approval for the closure must be made by Health Minister Fred Horne. This is because, as an Approved Hospital, Section 28 of the Operation of Approved Hospitals Regulation states:
28 Every hospital shall require prior approval of the Minister for
(a) any proposed major change or termination of an existing service provided by the hospital, or
(b) the introduction of a new service.
Since the Wildrose Party swept rural southern and central Alberta, electing 17 MLA’s across the province in the May 2012 election, the long-governing Progressive Conservatives have faced the first rural MLA dominated official opposition since the early 1970s. Minister Horne has visited the community and apologized for the confusion, but the apology appears to have only confirmed the feelings held by some people that the big city Tories do not understand the needs of small rural communities.
The confusion around the closure of the facility has led more than a few members of the community wonder if a recent change in their voting patterns have affected their political influence on this issue. In the recent election, residents of the community voted overwhelmingly for Wildrose candidate and now-MLA Mr. Donovan over PC candidate John Kolk. Previous to that election, Carmangay had been a reliably Tory voting area.
If the Tories are trying to win back the hearts and minds of voters in the rural south, their grand strategy is beginning with a rough start.