Campaigns to rebuild two Edmonton area hospitals now competing for scarce funds to fix crumbling infrastructure are being run by organizations that include former Tory insiders who sat at the budget table when the decisions were made that led to the two facilities’ current dilapidated condition.
Political jockeying for funding for the Alberta Health Services-run Royal Alexandra Hospital in north-central Edmonton and Covenant Health‘s Misericordia Hospital in southwest Edmonton is intensifying as provincial budget deliberations heat up.
The Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation recently launched a public campaign to lobby the provincial government to provide additional funding for the hospital. The campaign’s message isn’t wrong. As the campaign’s memorable spokes-puppet points out, the Royal Alex has been on “top of the list for infrastructure redevelopment for more than 20 years.”
“New Mis Now” was a campaign slogan used by the New Democratic Party opposition during a 2014 by-election in the Edmonton-Whitemud constituency. NDP candidate Bob Turner criticized then-unelected health minister Stephen Mandel for a lack of funding from the Progressive Conservative government to build a new Misericordia Hospital in booming southwest Edmonton. Covenant Health is continuing to put pressure on the now-NDP government to invest in a new Misericordia Hospital.
They are both right. Both aging facilities are in need of major investment.
But how did we get to this point?
Poor long-term planning and a legacy of political meddling in the administration of the regional health authorities is likely the real reason why two aging Edmonton hospitals are in their current condition.
The blame lies with the old PC government, which sat in power from 1971 until 2015. During some of the province’s biggest economic booms, when resource royalties from oil and natural gas flooded into government coffers, the PCs could have chosen to invest in our aging public infrastructure. But through many of the boom years that took place during their final two decades in power, the PCs were more focused on giving out tax breaks or vanity cheques than investing in public infrastructure or saving for future generations.
There is some irony that three people who were sitting at the table when the lack of long-term planning occurred over the past twenty to twenty-five years are now personally connected with the organizations lobbying the NDP government for hospital funding.
Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation board member Iris Evans served in the PC government from 1997 to 2012, including as minister of health and finance. Sitting on the Covenant Health Board of Directors are Ed Stelmach, a former premier and cabinet minister from 1997 until 2011, and Shirley McClellan, another former minister of health and minister of finance. McClellan served as Minister of Health from 1992 to 1996, when deep funding cuts were made to Alberta’s health care system, and later as Minister of Finance from 2004 to 2006.
So now, Albertans, and an NDP government faced with limited funds and low international oil prices, have to deal with the previous government’s lack of foresight.
As government, the NDP is now responsible for figuring out how to fix the infrastructure problems created by the old PC government while living up to the promises they made while in opposition. Some real long-term planning would be a good place to start.
Photo: NDP MLAs stood behind by-election candidate Bob Turner at a campaign event outside the Misericordia Hospital in Sept. 2014. Left to right: David Eggen, Rachel Notley, Bob Turner, and Brian Mason.