This column appeared in today’s edition of the Saint City News.
Albertans concerned about the future of health care can be forgiven for wondering, “What the H-E-double-hockey-sticks is going on?”
We know that under the leadership of former premier Ralph Klein, the government’s approach to solving complex problems was to throw the cards in the air and see where they landed.
Some people even argue that this worked, sort of – in the case of retail liquor stores and… Uh, liquor stores are all I can come up with right now.
It certainly didn’t work very well when it came to a complex file like health care. We had public hospitals blown up or abandoned, state-of-the-art heart surgery suites sold for a song to private interests, and the famous “Third Way,” which flopped as soon as Albertans realized it was really only the Second (that is, American) Way all over again.
The only thing that saved the Klein government from fiscal embarrassment was the fact oil revenues kept rolling in.
Apparently, this remains the preferred approach under the government of Premier Ed Stelmach. Alas, energy revenues aren’t rolling in quite like they used to. But even for an era of diminished expectations, recent news reports about health care do not suggest a government with a carefully thought-out plan. Instead, over the past few weeks, there has been an unrelenting stream of apparent goof-ups, disturbing leaks and troubling announcements.
A newspaper reports surgeries will be cut 15 per cent at an Edmonton hospital on orders of Alberta Health Services, the province’s new public health care super-board, so the budget can be met. Cancer patients will have to wait longer for life-saving surgery. “Elective” surgeries – hip replacements and cataract removals – may be impacted more. The government assures us everything is fine.
Another report, based on a leak, describes a list of rural hospitals and care centres to be closed or downgraded. The government insists it’s an old list and tells us not to worry. Yet.
Then we learn that physicians at the Stollery Children’s Hospital are practicing emergency medicine in a tent, for heaven’s sake! A long-planned expansion has been put on hold. It’s the budget again. Critically ill children are being flown to Calgary.
It keeps piling up: The $200-million-plus Mazankowski Heart Institute remains idle; seniors boo the health minister when he appears on a stage in St. Albert; Alberta Health Services plans to fire 100 managers; the government says there are too many nurses – after years of telling us there weren’t enough.
You have to wonder, what’s next?
The government insists there’s no money and health spending must be brought under control. Remember, though, these are the same people who last year stopped collecting health premiums, costing the system $1 billion in annual revenue. This is the same government that’s posted nearly $27 billion in surpluses since 2000. I wonder where that money went?
There’s a cynical theory the Conservatives are engineering a fake crisis to help achieve their dream of privatizing health care. Others shake their heads and dismiss these shenanigans as mere fiscal incompetence. At the very least, the situation hardly suggests a government in control of its public relations.
Whenever we hear another health care horror story, a lot of Albertans squawk about how they weren’t advised of the government’s plans before the previous election. True enough, I suppose, but this excuse is getting old.
Does it really matter if the cause is incompetence or malice? It’s time for Alberta voters to recognize that Mr. Stelmach’s government is doing serious harm to our health care system.
It’s often said Albertans keep electing Conservatives because, well, who else is there? But maybe that’s the wrong question. Maybe the right question is: Who could be worse?