Was Health and Wellness Minister and reputed cabinet tough guy Ron Liepert trying to make us feel better or worse with his April 16 news conference on his “action plan” for Alberta’s health care system?
Beats the heck outta me. I was there and I couldn’t tell. Neither could anyone else in the room, as far as I could see. Indeed, the big question in my mind, as I sat at the back, was: “Why would you call a news conference if you didn’t have any news to confer about?”
This fuelled a lot of speculation. Some folks reckoned he was trying to calm us down before delivering the deathblow to health care. Others speculated he was trying to get us excited before announcing nothing much at all. I sorta thought maybe he just likes the sound of his own mellifluous broadcaster’s voice?
There certainly wasn’t any news. Here are some quotes I jotted down from Mr. Liepert’s responses to various media questions:
- “I’m not going to answer your question…”
- “I don’t answer ifs, ands or buts…”
- “You’ll have to wait ‘til we roll it out….”
Or, in response to particularly determined questioner:
- “What part of what I just said don’t you understand?”
Now, anyone who’s worked in media knows that “it’s all in the press release” is a time-honoured way to dodge difficult questions. And while Mr. Liepert never quite used those words, that was the general thrust of his remarks. Trouble was, there was nothing much in the press release either.
The day before the non-news conference, everybody knew Mr. Liepert was going to talk about restructuring Alberta’s nine health regions. The day after, we all knew… uh … that Mr. Liepert is going to talk about restructuring Alberta’s nine health regions. The month after next…
In response to an excellent question by CBC reporter Kim Tyrnacity about how many health regions would still be standing when the dust settles, Mr. Liepert said we’ll have to wait until June 15.
Which leaves us where, exactly?
Well, we know that “by June 15” the minister will announce a new governance model for health regions. What he’s going to say is anybody’s guess. So here’s my prediction: Three regions – Calgary, Edmonton and Everything Else (which will also be based in Edmonton).
How confident of that am I? Not very. But it’ll be something in the ballpark.
In addition (I predict) Mr. Liepert will roll the Alberta Mental Health Board, the Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission and the Alberta Cancer Board into the three remaining regions.
He dropped a hint about home care – more Boomer moms taking care of their husbands’ aging parents, I guess. Oh yeah, and he seems to think we’re all going to the doctor too much. (My physician tells me that frequent patient visits actually save the health care system money because serious problems get fixed before they become expensive to treat. But never mind. Maybe your pharmacist can diagnose you.)
However, for those who hope (or fear) there will be a big U.S.-style attack on public health care, I bet it won’t happen – if only out of deference to the Alberta Tories’ friends in Ottawa. An attack on health care by their namesakes here in Alberta would make it possible for even the hapless Liberals under stumblebum leader Stephan Dion to sweep them out of office.
So Mr. Liepert may sail close to the wind, but in the end he won’t violate the Canada Health Act.
As for Ralph Klein’s experiment with health board democracy, well, I also predict that whatever Mr. Liepert comes up with will be the last nail in its coffin. (Democracy, that’s so 20th Century!)
There will be a lot of screaming in rural Alberta about the loss of local health boards, of course, but the government will rightly conclude it can safely ignore it.
After all, they do lots else for the rural parts of this province. Moreover, by now it should be pretty obvious to everyone that if Ed Stelmach dropped an atomic bomb on rural Alberta, the survivors would crawl out if the rubble and vote for Ed Stelmach. So why not, eh?
Anyway, no actual rural hospitals will be closed, no matter how uneconomical. (Here’s what Mr. Liepert had to say about that: “We need to undertake tough decisions. … I’m not going to get into specifics.”
Of course, the government will get to brag about having saved some money as a result – but not nearly as much as you might expect.
After that, everyone (except maybe the Friends of Medicare) will go back to sleep for another 15 or so years. At that point, some future Conservative premier can reorganize the three health regions into one, and the next one after that can reorganize them into, oh… say, 19.
Anyway, Mr. Liepert promises it’ll all become clear on June 15.
But don’t hold your breath. You see, this year, June 15 is a Sunday!