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After building AHS, UCP leadership candidates talk decentralization

After building AHS, UCP leadership candidates talk decentralization

Still spinning fairy tales about Alberta Health Services (AHS)’ leadership conspiring to sabotage the United Conservative Party (UCP) government, leadership candidate Danielle Smith Tuesday published a statement vowing to “decentralize control of health care delivery to local decision makers and health professionals.” 

In the same release, the UCP frontrunner and former Wildrose Party leader claimed that “on Day 1, should I win this leadership race, I will … immediately hire a new, competent and capable Alberta Health Services CEO.”

If she meant that last bit, it suggests she already has someone in mind – and one can only hope it’s neither a naturopath nor a chiropractor! 

Whoever Smith hires and whenever she hires them, it’s likely to be a market-fundamentalist determined to privatize as much of AHS as fast as possible on the strength of Jason Kenney’s 2019 mandate, before the government has to face the electorate in a true democratic test.

The same day, former finance minister Travis Toews, who appears to be in second place in the contest to captain the UCP, appeared in a video with the Southern Alberta town of Coaldale’s council to argue that “the highly centralized decision-making structure in health care delivery, particularly through Alberta Health Services, is failing Albertans.”

He went on to say he believes AHS is also “failing front-line health care professionals, disengaging them from the front lines, not allowing them to make changes, make decisions, ensure our system is nimble and appropriate offering best delivery and most efficiency.”

So, he said, “we need to decentralize the decision-making structure.”

To give Toews some credit, his decentralization chatter left room for more nuance. He conceded, at least, that “I don’t pretend to have all the detailed solutions at the back end. …”

But he’s still allowing Smith to set the narrative, and the direction of the campaign. And Smith’s calls for decentralization are clearly tied to her hostility toward public health measures, her skepticism about vaccines, and her frequent enthusiasm throughout the pandemic for quack cures for COVID-19. 

Progressive Conservative premier Ed Stelmach’s government may have created AHS in 2009 for some of the wrong reasons – it was done at least partly to break the power of Calgary Health Region CEO Jack Davis.

But the vast if hard-to-estimate sums spent to create AHS gave Alberta purchasing power in world markets that undoubtedly helped the fight against COVID-19, and has allowed Alberta to spend less on health-care administration than any other provincial health care system on Canada. 

Inspired by such demonstrable successes, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia have adopted a similar province-wide approaches.

The idea of now going on a spending spree to decentralize the whole thing again for ideological reasons and to appeal to the UCP’s anti-vaccination base is bonkers! 

But it’s easy to campaign by making big promises, and this one illustrates the Smith campaign’s characteristic reliance on confident claims that big and complex problems can be solved with snap-of-the-fingers ideological solutions.

It won’t work. You can take this to the bank: If Alberta ignores the cost-cutting and understaffing that is the real cause of Alberta Health Services’ failure to support health care staff and introduces more chaos and expense by decentralizing AHS, the morale of the province’s already demoralized health care workforce will collapse. 

Count on it, the instant audit and decentralization scheme promised by Smith will drive even more health care professionals from Alberta than the exodus we are now witnessing.

Bid to woo rural docs recruits only one physician 

Meanwhile, the NDP Opposition revealed Monday that after nine months of operation, the UCP’s three-year, $6-million plan to recruit new doctors for rural communities facing medical staff shortages has so far only managed to recruit … wait for it … one physician. 

“The UCP has essentially failed to place a single new doctor through this program in 2022,” said NDP Health Critic David Shepherd in a news release. 

In fairness, it did manage to place a single new doctor. One. 

The reason, Shepherd suggested, “is that front-line health-care professionals know they cannot trust the UCP. Three years of hostility and threats and harassment is not going to be erased with a slightly different program.”

Justice minister publicly tells Human Rights Commission chief to resign

On Monday, Justice Minister Tyler Shandro publicly asked Alberta Human Rights Commission Chief Collin May to resign.

Shandro’s statement to Alberta media came in response to an open letter published Monday by the National Council of Canadian Muslims and signed by 28 Alberta-based Muslim groups.

Despite attempting to engage with May about a book review he wrote in 2009 that included statements described as Islamophobic, the letter said, “it has become clear that Mr. May does not appear to be interested in taking accountability or ownership over his actions. For that reason we have no choice but to call for his resignation.”

“Even as Mr. May promised to engage with Alberta’s Muslim leaders to learn and reflect, we have learned that Mr. May has also been issuing demand letters threatening to sue his critics,” the letter also said. “This is simply unacceptable.”

The entire letter from the NCCM can be read here.

In a statement emailed to the CBC, Shandro’s press secretary said, “upon receiving the letter, Minister Shandro requested an explanation from Mr. May. … After reviewing the explanation, Minister Shandro has asked for Mr. May’s resignation.”

Since appointees to government boards, agencies and commissions serve at the pleasure of the government, asking them to resign is not strictly necessary. The UCP demonstrated this soon after it was elected in 2019, when it removed more than 20 members appointed by the previous NDP Government in a single day. 

But by framing Monday’s decision as he did, Shandro signalled to the Muslim community that he acknowledges and understands its members’ concerns.

Like the CBC, AlbertaPolitics.ca has received a letter from May threatening legal action regarding articles published about the book review controversy.

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