Archive for November, 2009

Is this the party to whom I am Tweeting? Premier Ed answers Albertans’ questions…

Tweet dreams are made of this… Official Government of Alberta Twittering Centre – may not be exactly as illustrated.

I’m not making this up! Premier Ed Stelmach wants to hear about the issues that are important to you!

The Premier’s Communications Braintrust (PCB) has announced that Mr. Stelmach will go on line, on Twitter and stuff, to answer your questions. (If you’re using Twitter, however, no making fun of Mr. Stelmach’s accent, OK?) No more deailing with irritating media reporters or Opposition members of the Legislative Assembly. Spontaneous videos of Mr. Stelmach answering your questions will be played on Youtube and the government of Alberta home page after Dec. 4. For the purposes of this new communications initiative, the Maximum Leader of Alberta will be known as Premier Ed. If that doesn’t make him more popular, maybe they’ll try “Fidel.”

“Premier Stelmach will try to answer as many questions as possible,” the PCB says. However, take note that some exceptions may apply. Please take the time to view our comment policy to ensure your question has the best chance to be answered by Premier Stelmach.

With apologies to the Government of Alberta and the PCB, I have just copied most of this stuff right off their Web page. I’m sorry I broke their copyright. I knew it was wrong. But I just can’t write stuff this funny myself. (Breaks down and sobs.)

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Premier Ed: One ringy-dingy…? Two ringy-dingy…? Paul, why aren’t there any ringy-dingys on this little phone?

Paul: This is training for social networking, chief, like all the kids do. This is how those unions are getting people to send you all those emails about …

Premier Ed: What emailings from unions…?

Paul: Never mind, Chief. Tom ’n’ I will take care of them. All you need to know is that there aren’t any ringy-dingys because that’s a cell phone. You don’t get any ringy-dingys on a cell phone until you push the send button. No! Wait! Don’t push it yet. You have to write out your message in that little window and then push …

Premier Ed: How do I write message on telephone? There is no typewriter! Why not just make a phone call?

Paul: Just a second, Chief. … Tom! Can you bring that BlackBerry over here? No! Not the freepin’ Pearl! Bring the big one with all the keys. … What? Yeah, I know I get a big one and you only get a Pearl. We’ll talk about it later. Just bring mine here, OK? … Now, Ed…

Premier Ed: No, Paul. I don’t really want a blackberry just now, thank you very much. I’m not hungry! I want to try this Tweeting! But I don’t want to get in trouble like that Stephen Wildrose Carter … ha-ha! That was a little joke, Paul.

Paul: We’ll be getting to that. First we’re going to need to find a message to answer. … Tom, did Ted send that test message about how all the young hunters are going to grow up to be great conservationists ’cause they want to make sure there’ll always be things to slaughter…?

Premier Ed: Hello! Here’s a message. (Reading…) “Dear Premier Ed. I got my flu shot weeks ago with my hockey team, but my old Mom lined up for three hours in the cold and then got told to take off. What gives?”

Paul: Don’t try to answer that one, Premier, I think it’s a real text message…

Premier Ed: What is text? I pushed the button and this time it is going ringy-dingy…

Paul: Shit! Did it say “Call,” or “SMS text…?”

Muffled voice: [Inaudible.]

Paul: Can you give me that cell phone now, Mr. Premier… The phone! Please…

Premier Ed: A gracious good afternoon to you, sir, is this the party to whom I am Tweeting?

Muffled voice: [Inaudible.]

Premier Ed: What? You’re a healthy hockey player and you’ve had your flu shot? I haven’t even had flu shot and I am Premier of Alberta? You’re going to have to give it back…

Paul: Please, Premier, hand me the phone! He can’t give back a flu shot…

Premier Ed: Just a minute. Be QUIET, Paul, I am talking to a voter…

Muffled voice: [Inaudible.]

Premier Ed: Yes, yes, I understand you can’t give back a flu shot that has been stuck in your arm and not in your mother’s arm. Yes? Yes. But you are going to have to pay for it!

Muffled voice: [Inaudible.]

Premier Ed: Well, that’s the way it’s going to be from now on in Alberta, Ron told me…

Muffled voice: [Inaudible.]

Premier Ed: Ron who? Ron Liepert. My minister of health, that’s who…

Paul: Sweet Jaysus! (Aside…) Tom, can you get I.T. on the line and find out who the hell he’s talking to? Yes, you can have a BlackBerry with a QWERTY keyboard, just make the call … please!

Premier Ed: You, sir, are going to have to pay Province of Alberta $25. Twenty five dollars is the cost of a flu shot… What?

Muffled voice: [Inaudible.]

Premier Ed: I can look up your tax returns! You are probably trying to write off broken hockey sticks as legitimate expenses…

Muffled voice: [Inaudible.]

Premier Ed: Oh yes I can, sir! You are not dealing with anyone’s fool! You are dealing with the Premier of Alberta!

Paul: Could you please just give me the phone, please, Sir?

Premier Ed: Quiet, Paul, can’t you hear I am Tweeting with this taxpayer … What’s that, Sir? This is not a Tweet? This is a Tweet, my Communications Director has told me so, and I would think he would know better than you, a mere hockey player! He is a Communications Director, after all! What’s next, Tweetings with bus drivers? [SNORT!]

Muffled voice: [Inaudible.]

Premier Ed: Oh really? I don’t think so, sir! We are not subject to city, state or federal regulations! We are the Province of Alberta! We are omnipotent, Mr. Rich Hockey Player. And if you don’t pay us the $25 you owe us for the flu shot you had when you were jumping the line, and which your poor old mother should have had, I am going to send Ron over to your house to get it!

Muffled voice: [Inaudible.]

Premier Ed: Ron Liepert. I told you. He is a big, mean guy and he’s already told me that guys like you are going to have to pay! Sooner, not later!

Muffled voice: [Inaudible.]

Premier Ed: Well, Tweet-Tweet to you too! You think so, do you? Well we’ll see about that when Ron gets over there to…

Muffled voice: [Inaudible.]

Premier Ed: Oh, you hockey players think you are so tough! Well, I think Ron will show you a thing or two about tough hockey players! Now, be sensible, Mr. Taxpayer, sir. Wouldn’t you rather just pay up than lose your health insurance and probably the use of an eye? … Amazing, Paul! That taxpayer just hung up on the Premier of Alberta. I must Tweet him right back…

Paul: NO! Please give me the phone, sir! That wasn’t a Tweet. It was a phone call. I think the 4H delegation is here! THANK you, sir!

Premier Ed: This is a good communications technique! I can see why the young people like to Tweet. This afternoon, I think I will Tweet some more…

Paul: Tom. Get someone from the Public Affairs Bureau over here pronto! Maybe we can make a video of him and slap it up on Youtube. I know you hate the BlackBerry Pearl, but whatever the hell you do, don’t give it to him!

[With apologies to Lily Tomlin.]

Let’s not drink Mr. Harper’s Karl Rove Kool-Aid!

Karl Rove, the King of Republican Slime, and George W. Bush – their partnership spanned years, as illustrated, and its tactics inspire Stephen Harper’s Reform/Conservative Party today.

The Conservative Party of Prime Minister Stephen Harper clearly worships at the feet of Karl Rove.

The odious Mr. Rove was and probably still is the King of Republican Slime, joined at the hip to George W. Bush along the trail of devastation that we know today as the political career of America’s Worst President. Mr. Rove has been described as “America’s Joseph Goebbels,” a master of fascist demagoguery and an outright liar. In his heyday in the Bush II White House, he directed “a formidable political dirty tricks operation and disinformation mill.”

This was the man who stunk up the American political system by distributing flyers inviting street people to a Democratic candidate’s meeting promising free beer, food and girls, falsely accusing John McCain of fathering a dark-skinned baby out of wedlock (after Mr. McCain, then challenging Mr. Bush, with his wife adopted a Sri Lankan girl), famously outing CIA agent Valerie Plame when her diplomat husband authored a report the Bush Administration did not like, and engaging in countless other dirty tricks, lies, smears and worse.

Notwithstanding our prime minister’s cynical effort to pour oil on the troubled Parliamentary waters yesterday, the federal Conservatives’ 3D campaign of denial, disparagement and delay in the still emerging Afghan torture imbroglio is ripped right out of the Karl Rove playbook. This should come as no surprise, really, as it’s well known that over the years there has been plenty of traffic back and forth across the Medicine Line by the more unsavoury elements of the ideologically identical Republican and Reform/Conservative parties.

Mr. Rove was justly infamous for his startlingly vicious attacks on anyone who showed a chance of beating a candidate for whom he worked. He would not just defeat his foes. If possible he would destroy their careers, their marriages, their families, their lives. No tactic was beyond the pale.

If the opponent was a decorated, wounded, disabled veteran of the Vietnam war, Mr. Rove’s tactics called for branding him a traitor and a coward. If it worked, as it did with Democratic Georgia Senator Max Cleland in 2002, voters could elect instead a typical Republican chickenhawk draft-dodger, served up by Mr. Rove as a real American.

Canadians could see these kinds of tactics at work this week and last in the lockstep attacks by Reform/Conservative ministers and fartcatchers on Canadian diplomat Richard Colvin, who alleged in testimony before a Parliamentary committee that prisoners captured by Canadians soldiers in Afghanistan had been handed over to certain torture at the hands of the openly corrupt government of President Hamid Karzai.

Mr. Colvin was all but accused of consorting with the Taliban for his whistleblowing, just as Sen. Cleland was accused in TV ads of sympathizing with Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein for daring to criticize Mr. Bush’s catastrophic regime, then in its second year.

For his part, as a high-ranking Ottawa insider, Mr. Colvin must have known what would happen if he spoke aloud about his concerns. After all, this is hardly a new tactic to Mr. Harper’s Ottawa version of the Republican chickenhawks, who puff themselves up and spew their invective on anyone who opposes their plans while real Canadians (including Mr. Colvin as a matter of fact) risk their lives on the dangerous ground of Afghanistan. The fact that he spoke publicly about his concerns anyway lends credence to his assertions.

Remember how the Conservative Slime Machine (CSM) called NDP Leader Jack Layton “Taliban Jack” for daring to suggest that we would get nowhere in Afghanistan without talking with some elements of the Taliban? Today the Karzai government and NATO forces in Afghanistan are doing just that, apparently with the approval of Mr. Harper and his cabinet. One wonders if this makes the prime minister “Taliban Steve”?

When most ordinary Canadians see tactics like those of the Harper Conservatives in action, I believe they can’t quite believe the evidence of their eyes and ears. We are decent people, for the most part, ethical and honorable in our conduct with one another. When we see outright smears like those directed at Mr. Colvin, at least on some level we are anxious to believe what we hear because it is so hard for us to accept that our respected leaders would behave that way.

Well, they do and they will again. We had better get used to it. The government of Stephen Harper is cynical to the core, and its fondness for Rovian Republican tactics is the symptom, not the disease. We Canadians need harder noses and clearer eyes. We need to recognize the CSM for what it is when we see and hear it at work.

Just because Mr. Harper and his ministry are offering us Karl Rove’s Kool-Aid doesn’t mean we have to drink it.

Holy cow! Rich, powerful, middle-aged white guys suffer under yoke of oppressive commentary!

Premier Ed Stelmach gets ready to change the channel on abusive commentary about the way he talks by Wildrose Alliance officials. Actual politicians may not be exactly as illustrated.

Lighten up, guys!
I always find it faintly distasteful when a member of the dominant culture and the more-advantaged sex who’s been around long enough to be treated with respect by the local constabulary starts acting like he’s the victim of naked oppression. I’m talking about middle-aged white males here, folks, people like Premier Ed Stelmach and me.

This is particularly objectionable when you don’t even do the whining yourself, but send out one of your highly paid media flunkies to do it for you.

OK, I agree with the other blogging Dave that it was probably an error in judgment for Stephen Carter, described as an advisor to Wildrose Alliance Leader Danielle Smith, to make fun of the premier’s enunciation in a Tweet that could be read by about a bazillion humans. That said, it sort of makes my skin crawl to read that the premier’s media thingy self-righteously whinging about this ill-considered e-remark being “insensitive” and “disrespectful.”

According to a CanWest newspapers political blog, Tom Olsen, who is Mr. Stelmach’s press secretary, complained that Mr. Carter “appeared to be making fun of either Stelmach’s Ukrainian heritage or rural roots.”

Oh please, Tom! Make up your mind. Roots, or boots? Either whine about Mr. Carter being an evil bigot mocking the premier’s Ukrainian background, or complain that he’s as naughty as the Little Bus Driver wasn’t when he didn’t call down the Boss for having manure on his clodhoppers.

On the topic of the manure on the premier’s boots, readers will recall that the comment was authored by a Canadian Press writer, not by NDP Leader Brian Mason. Still, it was Mr. Mason the premier nevertheless offensively lambasted in response by mocking the fact the New Democrat once earned his living as a bus driver.

As for Mr. Stelmach’s arm’s length hypersensitivity, let’s not forget that he’s the premier of the province, for crying out loud, and enjoys quite a comfortable and powerful position. If you ask me, there’s just something about being rich, powerful and in a position to call the shots that ought to take the sting out of being mocked, even when the mocking is in bad taste.

The fact is, guys with the attributes enjoyed by Mr. Stelmach should find it pretty easy to get by in Alberta. This should be true even if you don’t happen to be the premier, and even if you are, as Maid Louise famously said of “Chauncey Gardiner” in Being There, “stuffed with rice pudding between the ears.”

Mr. Stelmach would do well to emulate the grace with which U.S. President reacted to being called “boy” from the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives by a classless Repug Congressperson. Under the circumstances, this seems a graver insult than chuckling about whatever has adhered to he soles of the premier’s boots, or whatever point it was that the unfortunate Mr. Carter was trying to make. (The Congressman who insulted the president, I’m sorry to report, was born in Canada, so maybe some of the our national tendency for coarse political rhetoric and low-quality debate rubbed off on the guy during his brief stay.)

Since the atmosphere under the dome back here in Edmonton is one of perpetual fake outrage, it shouldn’t surprise us that the well-off, well-connected big boys in the Legislature try to work up a head of ersatz steam about a mildly offensive Tweet by an aide to a politician who’s been holding the premier’s feet to the fire.

Just a guess, but it’ll take more than Tommy Olsen’s priggish complaints to derail Ms. Smith’s train.

Globe asks: Has Dion’s wife ‘gone rogue’? Gone rouge, more like it!

Janine Krieber in black, with white hat. A sign of things to come? Below: Stephane Dion. Time to take a walk, cowboy?

Reports emerging from Montreal Saturday said Janine Krieber, the wife of deposed federal Liberal Leader Stephane Dion, had posted to her Facebook account a scathing commentary about her husband’s replacement at the helm of Canada’s former Natural Governing Party.

Michael Ignatieff, that person, has since his successful palace coup in December 2008 led the once great national party down to 23 per cent in the polls from 26 per cent under Mr. Dion. This is a remarkable achievement, given that the person Mr. Ignatieff must inevitably be compared with is Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a man with all the charm of a dyspeptic badger.

“Dion’s wife goes rogue?” the Globe and Mail wondered in its Ottawa Notebook blog, which reprinted Ms. Krieber’s entire Facebook comment in its original French and also provided a convenient if clunky English translation for those of us who are, as Dear Oscar once observed, condamné à parler la langue de Shakespeare.

So, has she “gone rogue”? Far from it. Gone rouge more like! Leastways, what she had to say made sense – even if it had disappeared down the memory hole by mid-day Saturday – and needed to be said. It may even forecast the best way forward. So if indeed this statement is evidence she has “gone rogue” – a la Sarah Palin, an obvious reference for our U.S. obsessed media – it is a sorry commentary on the pathetic state of the once great Liberal Party of Canada.

Ms. Krieber speaks a profound truth when she states that “by refusing the historic coalition that would have placed (the Liberal Party) at the helm of the left, it will be punished by history.”

It gripes me to this day that Mr. Harper and his dittohead supporters managed to persuade Canadians that the coalition idea – a profound expression of the will of Canadians through our elected Parliament – was somehow “undemocratic.” It was the opposite, of course. Meanwhile, the unprecedented and unconstitutional prorogation of Parliament to prevent a vote of non-confidence by the elected members of the House of Commons was absurdly portrayed as an expression of democracy.

Had Canadian democracy not been suspended in the scheme hatched between the prime minister and the governor general, Canadians would have had about three years of stable and sensible policies from a democratically elected coalition of moderate Liberals and New Democrats. It is not much of a stretch to imagine that such a government could have been re-elected.

It is a national disgrace that last December’s suspension of the Constitution produced barely a whisper of dissent, let alone the “colour revolution” it deserved!

Shamefully, Ms. Krieber’s voice is almost the first one we have heard on this topic.

Mr. Ignatieff, of course, fled from the coalition idea, imagining to the joy of Mr. Harper and his supporters that he could somehow have all the glory himself. We see the results of that miscalculation in the polls cited yesterday by Ms. Krieber.

In the context of the current Afghanistan torture scandal dogging the Conservatives, she questions if a sometime intellectual apologist for torture like Mr. Ignatieff is the right man to speak for the majority of Canadians at this juncture, when the leader of the government so manifestly does not.

Of Mr. Harper and his unprogressive Conservatives, she said: “They are, slowly, like any dictatorship, changing the world. Torture doesn’t exist, corruption is a fabrication.” She then asked, sensibly: “Do we really have the right leader to discuss these questions?”

Ms. Krieber concluded, in the Globe’s awkward sounding translation: “I am starting a serious reflection. I will not give my voice to a party that will end up in the trashcan of history. I am looking around me, and certain things are attractive. Like a dedicated party that doesn’t challenge its leader at every hiccup in the polls. A party where the rule would be the principle of pleasure, and not assassination. A party where work ethic and competence would be respected and where smiles would be real. Maybe I’m not dreaming.”

Does she have a particular party in mind? The Canadian Press describes this comment as cryptic. Maybe it’s not so cryptic, though. And maybe she isn’t dreaming, seeing as there is a party in Parliament right now that fits the bill.

We spend a lot of time out here in Alberta gossiping about potential floor-crossers in the House. But maybe we’re talking about the wrong legislature? Maybe it’s time for Ms. Krieber’s husband, who is still the honorable member for Saint-Laurent-Cartierville after all, and four or 10 of his Parliamentary colleagues to make the long walk to the party of the centre-left that is not going to end up in the trashcan of history?

They could even dress in black if they like!

Rathgeber talks the law ’n’ order talk but fails to walk the walk

Edmonton-St. Albert Member of Parliament Brent Rathgeber prepares to fire a sub-machine gun. Really. Thank God these things remain on the restricted weapons list … for now. In the background, Canadian sailors and NDP Leader Jack Layton. (!) Also really.

This column appeared in today’s edition of the Saint City News.

Brent Rathgeber, St. Albert’s Conservative Member of Parliament, likes to pass himself off as a law ’n’ order kind of guy.

Rare is the month local media don’t receive a news release from Mr. Rathgeber trumpeting his commitment to “cracking down on crime,” handing out “serious time for serious crimes,” giving less time off to well-behaved prisoners and the like.

Obviously, Mr. Rathgeber wants us to think he’s a friend to victims of crime and a friend of the police.

But if you judge Mr. Rathgeber on his actions, not just his hot air, you’ll see he’s not nearly as interested in “fighting crime” as he says. At least, when it came down to voting to save a law that actually helps crime victims – in the best possible way, by keeping them from becoming victims – he did the opposite.

I’m talking about Parliament’s vote on Nov. 4 to dump the national long-gun registry, which the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police calls “vitally important for police all across this country.” Mr. Rathgeber voted to eliminate it. For months he has been pushing to shut it down as quickly as possible.

Here’s what the Chiefs of Police have to say about the continuing effort to dismantle the registry: “We believe the elimination of Canada’s national firearms licensing registration system for rifles and shotguns will make Canada less safe. We believe it will compromise the ability of law enforcement to deal effectively with gun violence. We believe law enforcement will lose access to information that helps us keep our officers and our communities safe.”

When it comes to listening to what senior law enforcement professionals have to say on this important public safety issue, though, Rathgeber has beans in his ears. He’s circulated 10 National Rifle Association-style householders on this topic. The latest one claims – contrary to what police say – that the registry “is ineffective against real gun crime that is endangering our communities.”

Other than the fact it was a Liberal initiative, Mr. Rathgeber’s main knocks against the registry seem to be that it cost too much to create and that it “burdens law-abiding gun owners with paperwork.”

No question he’s right about the registry’s price tag. But why dismantle it now that it’s been paid for? As for his complaint about paperwork, please! As a law-abiding car owners, every one of us who drives is “burdened” with paperwork, including licenses, plates and registration. Most of us are grown up enough to recognize that putting up with this paperwork protects our property and keeps our roads safe.

Asking law-abiding firearms owners to register their guns is not “picking on innocent farmers and hunters,” as Mr. Rathgeber’s taxpayer-financed flyer preposterously claims, any more than requiring car owners to register their vehicles is “picking on innocent motorists.”

Opponents of the registry like Mr. Rathgeber imply that only handguns are used to commit crimes, and that crimes only happen in cities. One need only think of the tragic events at Mayerthorpe in 2005 to know this is nonsense.

As the police chiefs say, this is not about law-abiding farmers and hunters, or city versus country, “it is about public safety. … It is about responsible gun ownership.”

When Parliament gave second reading to the bill to eliminate the gun registry, Rathgeber could have done the right thing and listened to the police. He did not.

As a member of the influential Public Safety and National Security Committee, which will examine the bill before it is sent on to the Senate, he still could. It’s pretty obvious he won’t.

That’s fine. But when Mr. Rathgeber tries to pass himself off as a friend of law and order, we know the truth. Actions speak louder than words.

What’s the hurry? ‘Activity-based funding’ for hospitals raises too many questions

AHS CEO Stephen Duckett: heavy on the promises, light on the details.

According to a recent media report, Alberta Health Services is on the verge of “radical changes” to the way it funds nursing homes and hospitals.

That is to say, next April Fool’s Day the so-called “health superboard” (which is in reality a branch of the Alberta government and nothing more) will begin to move toward what is termed “activity based funding” for nursing homes. A year later, the same financing model will be “rolled out” for public hospitals and emergency medical services.

This scheme was touted by Alberta Health Services CEO Stephen Duckett in a speech to a friendly audience at the Edmonton Petroleum Club as a way to persuade private sector and not-for-profit nursing home operators to take patients with higher needs. The claim was also made that when it is applied to public hospitals, activity-based funding will reduce waiting times for patients.

However, the news story about Mr. Duckett’s remarks provided few details of how this would actually work.

Now any promise that comes from Alberta Health Services these days needs to be taken with the proverbial grain of salt. This is, after all, an organization that last Tuesday announced “administrative savings initiatives,” solemnly stated that it “has made a commitment to avoid layoffs,” and then somehow managed to avoid mentioning in its news release that the cost saving initiative involves well over 100 layoffs!

To say that any AHS news release or speech come with a certain amount of spin hardly does justice to the achievements of these documents’ anonymous authors. Gyroscopes and tops have less spin on them!

So while I am not persuaded that the activity-based funding model is in every case a bad thing, I think it needs a more serious and cautious appraisal before it is rolled out holus-bolus across the province.

Any reasonably alert layperson who has spent the past three decades listening to the sales pitches by corporations, right-wing politicians and privatizing senior health bureaucrats for “market based solutions” will agree that skepticism under these circumstances is justified. These guys hardly have an impeccable record of delivering on their promises!

That is it being advocated by the likes of Mr. Duckett, who is on record as wanting to close our world-class psychiatric hospital and whose organization can’t deliver a mass immunization campaign to a generally healthy population, is not reassuring.

I am willing to bet that there is more than one approach to “activity based funding,” and that some approaches work better than others. Some may even work well. But it shouldn’t make us feel comfortable that the news report of Mr. Duckett’s speech is so lean on facts about how the scheme will actually work. Given his record to date, how likely is it he’ll pick an approach that is not designed to subvert public health care?

The theory behind this managerial fad is that handing out lump sum payments to facilities based on their size, their programs or their number of patients encourages inefficiency. Instead, financing should be based on results, its advocates say – for example, the speed at which patients are processed.

Depending on how you define results, of course, (and it seems to me that’s a pretty big “depending”) this should almost certainly have the effect of reducing waiting times. If achieving shorter waiting times was your only objective, adopting activity-based funding might be an easier decision.

However, from a common-sense perspective, several other questions need to be answered before we are pushed into this particular market nostrum. These include:

  • How are results measured? For this idea to work, hospitals must seriously monitor patient outcomes. How is that to be done? Who would do it? Or is it being proposed that we just take Mr. Duckett’s word for it that everything’s ducky?
  • What is the cost of measuring outcomes in a meaningful way? It doesn’t take a doctorate in medicine – or economics – to know that a properly run monitoring effort will require manpower, technology, time and resources. The implication of the report on Dr. Duckett’s remarks is that activity-based funding will save money. I am highly skeptical about this claim. Even if waiting times are reduced, it seems likely that the monitoring necessary prove it will increase costs, not lower them.
  • Can activity-based funding reduce waiting times in hospitals already operating at capacity? I say this is doubtful. Most urban hospitals in Alberta are already at or near capacity. Where is the benefit in such circumstances? Albertans deserve a respectful answer to this question. They don’t deserve to be blown off as “whingers,” or with whatever the nasty Australianism of the week happens to be.
  • What is the impact of this formula on rural hospitals? It seems likely that hospitals in areas with a low density of population are not going to do well with activity-based funding. This doesn’t mean these hospitals aren’t required in their regions. Will this formula be used as an excuse by Alberta Health Services to close or downgrade rural hospitals? You read it here first: It will be.
  • What “perverse incentives” are built into this system? Isn’t “activity-based” funding an invitation to game the system? What do you want to bet that if we adopt activity-based funding, hospitals will try to increase the number of measurable procedures performed on patents – especially ones that can be done quickly – so they can get more funding? How many of those procedures will have no sound medical justification? Will hospitals race to specialize in swift procedures – say, laparoscopic surgeries versus major surgery? I also think it is safe to assume there will be an incentive to send patients home far too soon, again to demonstrate measurable results. (Plus, it’s demonstrably better from a “results” standpoint if they die somewhere else! You can always claim they had “an underlying medical condition.”) Activity-based funding is rife with the potential for perverse incentives.
  • Does activity-based funding take medical decisions from physicians and give them to bean counters? That’s pretty well a given, don’t you think, unless the docs are going to be given a share of the incentive payments? In that case, see “perverse effects” above.
  • Can a new funding formula become an excuse for cutting funding to all hospitals? If we don’t understand the underlying assumptions, or have the details of the model of activity-based funding being proposed, I’m not optimistic this won’t be the case. Wait for the refrain, especially with regard to rural hospitals, that your under-funding is not our fault, it’s yours, because you’re inefficient.
  • Will activity-based funding for emergency medical services make paramedics drive like pizza deliverymen? Get to hospital in less than 20 minutes or your next hernia operation is free? Sheesh! So, why are emergency medical services being included in this scheme?

All these questions, except maybe the last one, deserve serious answers before we’re stampeded into a funding formula for public health facilities that may well come with a hidden privatization agenda.

Proponents of change at any cost – especially change that involves market mechanisms – can be counted to whinge with frustration (sorry) that the time for talking is long past and the time for action is upon us.

I’d have more faith in this claim if they weren’t usually pushing ideas supported only by ideology, not a foundation of facts, the goal of which is to irrevocably dismantle our public health care system.

The fact that this particular idea is being pushed so hard by people who have no stake in our Alberta health care system, and who may derive a financial bonus from making harmful cuts to it, is cause for additional concern.

Whenever Mr. Duckett and his ilk pressure us to adopt the latest “community options” or “market solutions” brainwave, I think “What’s the hurry, Murray?”

The hurry, one suspects, is that they don’t want us to have a chance to think too much about the impacts on public health care before they present us with a fait accompli.

I think we should tell our MLAs that when it comes to a whole radical new funding formula for public health facilities, “trust us” isn’t good enough.

Where are the facts? Where are the numbers? What’s the hurry?

More fashion advice for the politically inept: eschew faintly fascistic fashions

Bad fashion choices: Four men in black too sinister even for Alberta politics. Below, good fashion choice: the Man in Black.

You couldn’t make this stuff up! Remember the Fiscal Four, the four lads from the Legislature who are going to hold Ed Stelmach’s feet to the fire to make darn sure Ed does what Ed wants to do anyway? Well, they’re all going to wear black until Alberta’s out of the red.

I’m not making this up. I heard it myself on Access TV’s Alberta Prime Time program last Sunday. Battle River-Wainright MLA Doug Griffiths, one of the Fab Four, explained the group’s strategy: “We’re all going to wear black until the province is back in the black.” Never mind the rest of the interview. Even with the softball questions, it didn’t make a heck of a lot of sense.

Personally, I’m going to go on wearing black until they come up with a darker colour. But that’s because I’m with Johnny Cash: “I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down, Livin’ in the hopeless, hungry side of town…”

Not these guys. MLAs Griffiths, Kyle Fawcett, Jonathan Denis and Rob Anderson wear black for the accountants. They want to be just like the Deep Six when they grow up, even if the only remaining member of the Deep Six wears nice blue and grey suits by Giorgio Armani and Sam Abouhassan. They want to be the Four Horsemen of the Fiscal Apocalypse.

Well, that’ll scare the beejeepers out of Premier Ed Stelmach and Wildrose Alliance Leader Danielle Smith too, don’t ya think? Or will it? Remember that story about 10 would-be floor crossers, set to join the Alliance ranks, later amended down to four. Well, Mr. Griffiths mentioned in that Access interview there are six more Tory MLAs who plan to join the Men in Black. 6 + 4 = 10. Hmmmm…..

I’ve got to tell you, though, political movements that dress all in black have a spotty history. It’s just sort of creepy and threatening like the gents in the picture at the top of this page. Wildrose Alliance or Progressive Conservative, it could start to go bad for you, guys, if voters start to get creeped out by your faintly fascistic fashions.

If you must dress in black, better to stick with it for the poor and hopeless. ’Course, then you might want to cross the floor to the NDP. If that’s just not on, wear it because it’s slimming. But as a political uniform? Trust me. Don’t go there!

Helmet tips for politicians: Just Say NO!

Personally, I thought Michael Dukakis looked fine in that helmet. Heck, it came complete with a semi official nametag, and what’s more there was a tank underneath it. Still, the general consensus among the political cognoscenti south of the Medicine Line is that the 1988 Democratic presidential candidate sealed his fate the catastrophic day he slipped that jar on his head.

The Digital Journalist Web site explained it this way: “Compared with the dashing WWII pilot Bush, the little Dukakis came off a clown, and the photo op blew up in his face.” The Bush in question, of course, was the elder one, George Herbert Walker. He used the film clip to devastating effect in a cruel TV ad. As a result, this sort of thing has come to be known in U.S. politics as a Dukakis Moment.

This side of the line, voters may be more forgiving of helmet abuse – leastways, former prime minister Jean Chrétien seems to have gotten away with being photographed in a helmet – worn backwards, no less. But then, Jean was Jean, and you can get away with a lot if you’re prepared to personally throttle protesters and batter burglars with the first ministerial soapstone sculpture!

Still, I think it’s fair to say that any politician who dons a helmet, no matter how good the cause, is taking a grave political risk. I’m no fan of George W. Bush, the son of the WWII pilot and CIA supremo, but he did one thing right: He took his helmet off before he stepped out of that airplane on the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln for his Mission Accomplished Moment in 2003.

All this is a long way to saying I don’t know whether to applaud Edmonton-St. Albert Member of Parliament Brent Rathgeber for his courage posing in a helmet to persuade young cyclists to pedal safely, or to send him a sympathy card.

I’m leaning toward the card. Only time will tell if it’s possible for a Conservative to have a Dukakis Moment in Alberta.

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NOTE: Alert reader Brian Dell has drawn to my attention a photograph of Premier Ed Stelmach, similarly accoutered. There is nothing in the photo, which appeared on Oct. 22 in the Edmonton Journal’s Capital Notebook blog, to persuade me to revise my original opinion of the wisdom of politicians allowing themselves to be photographed in military helmets. Even if Mr. Stelmach does not look quite as goofy as former prime minister Chrétien – owing, presumably, to the fact that one of our brave troopers helped him get his helmet on the right way round – this photograph will come back to haunt him. If nothing else, whenever he experiences vigorous attacks from his opponents, there will be those who are unable to resist portraying him this way. Incoming!

Perfesser Dave explains why progressives can’t have their own Wildrose Alliance

Perfesser Dave discusses the Lodgepole Federation with Red Green. Below: The Great Horned Owl, a potent symbol of … potency, the wild rose, and the provincial fungus of Alberta. (Readers are responsible for picking the right red cap mushroom.)

Tell me, Perfesser Dave, why can’t sensitive new-age Albertans like us have a political party as exciting and cutting edge as that Wildrose Alliance thing? I mean, those Conservative types are just not hep to the jive the way we lefties are. So how come that Danielle Smith seems to have the media in a tizzy all the time and all we’ve got is Brian Mason his old grey suit and David Swann in his weird red turtleneck? Why can’t Rachel Notley set those guys ablaze?

Answer: That Danielle does look sharp in a blazer, doesn’t she? … And Rachel’s not setting anyone ablaze. I think she’s spoken for….

Question: Perfesser Dave! You’re not even trying to answer my question! I meant set the media ablaze!

Answer: Oh. Sorry. I was thinking about something else. OK, just give me a minute here… It’s complicated. You see, before you can have a really exiting new splinter party, you have to have something worth splintering from. So before you can have a thrilling new splinter that sets the media ablaze, you’ve got to have a big fat old tired monolith that absolutely everybody and their dog is a member of, seeing as they can’t think of anything better to do on a Saturday night in Stettler. That’s why the conservatives in this province are way ahead of us. Once they got all their original splinters together into one big stick, the time was ripe for them to have an exciting new splinter! Also, it helps to have about a bazillion dollars in oil money.

Question: I still don’t get it. Why can’t we have a splinter like they have a splinter?

Answer: Because all we’ve got now are splinters, only without cool names. Before we can have a really newsworthy splinter, we’d have to tie everything up with a splint and I just can’t see that happening, can you?

Question: Perfesser Dave, why do you always answer my questions with a question?

Answer: Why shouldn’t I answer your questions with a question?

Question: Seriously, Perfesser, why couldn’t we have a Progressive New Democratic Green Liberal Alliance?

Answer: Because that name sucks big time, plus it’s one-sixth taken. Would you vote for something called the PNDGLA?

Question: Maybe not. But Albertans voted for the Conservative Reform Alliance Party, and that wasn’t exactly a great name either! Maybe we could come up with a cooler name, sort of like “the Wildrose Alliance?”

Answer: Hmmmm… I used to think that. I used to think the Wildrose Alliance would be a great name. Not obviously partisan, plus it includes our beloved Alberta provincial flower. Who could hate something named after a wild rose? The problem is, it’s taken… Well, I suppose we could call our new monolithic party the Wild Rose Alliance – that would have the benefit of being spelled correctly!

Question: I don’t think you could do that, Perfesser Dave. Think of the confusion!

Answer: Think of the votes we’d get by mistake! Oh, never mind… I suppose you’re right. Anyway, the right wing seems to have the market cornered on alliances nowadays. Too bad, though! Symbolism’s so … symbolic, and that rose is such a nice symbol. It’s even our colour! Sort of. Well, maybe we could use another provincial symbol….

Question: Alberta has another provincial symbol?

Answer: Absolutely! Oodles of ’em, in fact. We have a provincial tree, a provincial bird, a provincial fish, a provincial rock, and more. Let me illuminate your fuzzification.

Question: Gee, a provincial tree sounds nice? And Albertans seem to go for political flora… D’ya think we could name our party after the provincial tree?

Answer: Our provincial tree is the lodgepole pine. This has some pluses and minuses, symbologically speaking. On the plus side, it tends to stand straight and makes a very nice tent pole, hence the name. On the down side, however, it burns like gasoline and is infested with bark beetles. Anyway, if you ask me, the Lodgepole Federation sounds a little too much like a group that would wear green shirts and gather at Red Green’s lodge. The last time we had Greenshirts in Alberta they had something to do with Mr. Aberhart’s Social Credits. I don’t think we ought to go there again.

Question: Got it. What about the provincial fish?

Answer: The provincial fish is the Bull Trout. Personally, I’m very fond of the Bull Trout … especially with a little garlic butter. Ha-ha! Settle down, I was kidding. I think it’s an endangered species too. But I can’t shake the feeling our political opponents would make fun of the Bull part, just like we did when they formed the CRAP. I think we’d better throw the Bull Trout back.

Question: Is there another animal symbol?

Answer: Good question. As a matter of fact, yes there is. The provincial mammal is the Big-Horn Sheep. The provincial bird is the Great Horned Owl.

Question: They sound good. Why not use one of them?

Answer: There’s a theme running through those two that I’m not sure Alberta voters would be comfortable with. You know how important that fundamentalist vote is! On the other hand, calling ourselves the Great Horned Social Democrats or the Big Horned Liberal Democrats couldn’t hurt the action in the hospitality rooms come convention time! Let’s put those ones in the Maybe File.

Question: Anything else?

Answer: Well, I suppose we could think about the provincial grass – no! not that kind of grass! It’s called Festuca scabrella, rendered in English as Rough Fescue. When I hear it spoken aloud, I can’t say I like the sound of it in either Latin or English! Let’s not go there either.

Question: Is there a provincial rock?

Answer: Yes there is. It’s called petrified wood. I don’t think that’s suitable for us, but I think the Tories might be interested in it after Danielle’s the premier. …

Question: You’d think there’d be a pretty provincial rock.

Answer: In fact there is. The provincial gemstone is Ammolite.

Question: Ammolite? Say what?

Answer: Exactly. The Ammolite Society? I don’t like the sound of that one bit, and neither would the voters!

Question: This isn’t good. Is there anything left?

Answer: Only the provincial fungus.

Question: The provincial fungus?

Answer: Leccinum boreale (the red cap mushroom). The Legislature voted to make it our provincial fungus, but it’s never been proclaimed into law.

Question: Why not, I wonder?

Answer: Probably because even though it’s harmless and edible, it looks pretty much like two other red-topped fungi found in Alberta that, not to mince words, will kill you if you eat ’em. Quite quickly, too, apparently. Still, I think you’ve got to concede that a name like the Red Cap Mushroom League might just be what it takes to Unite The Left!

Question: Gee, thanks, Perfesser Dave. This time you really did illuminate my fuzzification!

Answer: You’re welcome. My pleasure! That’s why they call me Perfesser.

Surprise! H1N1 vaccination fiasco results in poor poll performance

H1N1 virus or Conservative poll results?

According to this morning’s Edmonton Journal a new poll shows Albertans are less happy with the way H1N1 influenza vaccinations have been handled that the citizens of any other Canadian province.

One wonders how many people in Premier Ed Stelmach’s office slapped their heads in astonishment at the receipt of this news? Their reaction, sad to say, was probably, “What’s wrong with those people?” They’ll follow this up by blaming “communications.”

The newspaper’s account was pretty straightforward: Albertans are the least satisfied of all Canadians when it comes to the way their government handled H1N1 vaccinations.

The nationwide poll by the EKOS research firm indicated, “58 per cent of Albertans surveyed said they disapproved of the way their provincial or local services had dealt with the H1N1 pandemic,” the Journal reported. This contrasted with an average approval rating nationwide of 42 per cent – which includes, by the way, that lousy Alberta rating to drag the average down.

Well folks, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Albertans have their faults, but they’re not plain stupid, and it’s obvious on the face of it that no other Canadian provincial government did as pathetically bad a job of dealing with this situation as ours.

The lineups may be gone, but the impact is still being felt as each day’s news includes a new count of H1N1 victims and another day when healthy Albertans – who need the shots too – go uninoculated. Every time I hear of another person dying of swine flu, I wonder if they would have lived if they’d been vaccinated in a timely fashion.

Instead, we got politically motivated chaos followed by a pointless delay, followed by a priority list pretty clearly designed to keep lineups small to minimize bad PR instead of immunizing the maximum number of people who could be vaccinated in an orderly fashion.

It’ll be Christmas – Christmas 2010 – by the time healthy Albertans get their shots!

Many of us have heard stories of how St. Albert’s vaccination clinic sat empty all day on the day vaccinations … finally … resumed after the government’s long pause to figure out what the heck to do next. Oh well, at least 25 nurses got overtime for a nice quiet day. In time for their Christmas shopping, too.

No amount of “communications” can change this simple fact: Albertans gave their health system the worst marks for its effort to organize an H1N1 immunization campaign because Alberta did the worst job of any Canadian province.

And Alberta did the worst job because the vaccination program was driven by the desire of Premier Stelmach’s government to score political points, not by the advice of the government’s medical experts.

In other words, this government deserves its lousy poll results.

The only real surprise in this poll should be that 26 per cent of the Alberta respondents approved of the job the government did. Where do they live!