I joined hundreds of fellow Edmontonians today for an afternoon rally for public healthcare at the Alberta Legislative Assembly building. Speakers included MLA Raj Sherman and his lawyer, Brian Beresh, who announced that he was starting an investigation into the whisper campaign to discredit Dr. Sherman.
I sure picked an interesting time to leave the province for a few days. After a short absence, it has been exhausting catching up on all the political games and intrigue that happened over the weekend and earlier this week.
Leaked Private Health Care Agenda
The Liberals released an internal government document (pdf) showing a drive towards increased privatization of health care in Alberta through private insurance. The document was presented to the Minister’s Advisory Committee on Health and also reported that the months-long province-wide consultation spearheaded by Edmonton-Rutherford PC MLA Fred Horne encountered a “high level of skepticism.” This skepticism was widely reported in the media and was not reflected in the committee’s final report released in September 2010.
I was surprised to read Liberal leader David Swann‘s quote that this was the first time he had seen any evidence that the government was even considering a more private approach to health care, especially since he spoke at a rally in front of the now bankrupt private-for-profit Health Resource Centre only a few months ago (HRC sits across the street from his constituency office in Calgary-Mountain View).I am willing to believe that Dr. Swann may have been misquoted, but if not he should have a chat with his caucus colleague Kevin Taft, who co-authored the book “Clear Answers: The Economics and Politics of For-Profit Medicine” in 2000.
Earlier this year, former Premier Ralph Klein admitted that he had tried and failed to privatize Alberta’s health care system:
“I tried it twice — the Third Way and the Mazankowski report — and I failed.”
– Former Premier Ralph Klein (Source: “Klein urges two-tired health system,” Edmonton Journal, January 26, 2010)
Emergency Room wait-times amendment fails
Now Independent Edmonton-Meadowlark MLA Dr. Raj Sherman‘s amendment to enshrine emergency room wait times in Bill 17: The Alberta Health Act has failed. After a long debate that started last Wednesday, continued overnight until Thursday, and resumed this week Dr. Sherman, members of the three opposition parties, Independent MLA Dave Taylor, and St. Albert PC MLA Ken Allred voted in favor of the amendment (it failed). I understand the intention of Dr. Sherman’s motion and his good intentions in general, but I have to agree with the Tories that enshrining wait-times may create more problems than solutions (or more lawsuits).
After the amendment failed, the Alberta Health Act quickly passed third reading by the PC MLA majority in the Assembly. This new law concentrates a concerning amount of authority over our health care system into the hands of the Minister of Health & Wellness, instead of the elected Assembly.
The plan sets out some goals for emergency room targets and continuing care spaces, but does not address some of the key capacity issues that are creating the problems in the health care system. With this government’s habit of constantly tinkering and re-announcing projects and plans, Albertans should not be blamed for being skeptical about politically convenient re-announcements and health care policy created on the fly.
Was Fred Horne just being “Fred friendly”?
Rumours began to emerge late last week questioning Dr. Sherman’s mental health. The whispering began after MLA Mr. Horne placed a phone call to the head of the Alberta Medical Association, Dr. Patrick White, concerning the state of Dr. Sherman’s mental health. A self-described friend of Dr. Sherman’s, Mr. Horne held a media conference last Friday clarifying that he did make the call, but it was not to discredit the Doctor.
It might just be me, but am pretty sure that calling up the head of your friend’s professional association to question the state of his mental health and then talking to the media about it does not make you a good friend (especially when this friend is an MLA and medical doctor who has just been suspended from your party’s caucus for being highly critical of their health care policies).