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Ralph Klein has gone and it is time to retire Ralph's World. Thanks to all of you who have supported this venture by contributing material and through your comments. It has been fun.

Should we get another blog underway? Let me know your thoughts by e-mailing me at johnnyslow@gmail.com.

John Slow
January 1, 2007

Saturday, February 28, 2004

Did they get the message? 

The following is one of three presentations made by members of SALT to the Government MLA Committee on Strengthening Alberta's Role in Confederation at its hearing in Edmonton on Friday, February 27, 2004. Neither of the three PC MLAs at the hearing had any questions of the presenter. Does that mean they got the message?

Mr. Chair and members of the committee:

I speak in support of Strengthening Alberta’s role in Confederation.

I was encouraged to read your Chair’s comments as reported in the Edmonton Journal on February 13th. He noted that the committee is not about separation or building firewalls or isolating Alberta from the rest of Canada but rather about “…issues that will strengthen the provinces and the country.” I want to suggest that, if we are to build that strength, we need to discontinue those actions that undermine it, and end the mixed messages that call our credibility into question.

A case in point is Alberta’s decision not to participate in the National Health Council. All other provinces and territories except Quebec have opted in and even Quebec has indicated that it will cooperate with the Council.

Alberta, with its innovative programs in primary care and the recently established centres of excellence in medical research, has a great deal to contribute to such a Council. Further, Alberta has participated very productively in other national councils such as the School Achievement Indicators Program that established public educational standards. So why not participate in a National Health Council? Surely we are not so arrogant as to believe that we cannot learn something from our other partners in Confederation who have also been struggling to make their health care systems work more effectively.

Further, one has to wonder why our Premier chose to heap such derision on the Health Council. He said the Council was only of interest to Friends of Medicare and people whom he labeled as “health care junkies”. I don’t mind being called a health care junkie because, as the Premier defines that term, it applies to the majority of Canadians who believe that a comprehensive, universal, accessible, portable and publicly administered health care system is a defining feature of our national identity.

If our government sees nothing of interest in a National Health Council, one has to wonder whether it is really committed to the Canada Health Act. Yes, I am aware that the Premier asserts that he wants to uphold the principles of the CHA but his actions and the actions of his government constantly belie those assertions.

Beyond dismissing the National Health Council, the Alberta government has made numerous moves that suggest it really wants to distance itself from the problems associated with the operation of a public health care system. Apparently, it would rather turn these problems over to private interests, be they:
- private-for-profit surgical facilities,
- public-private partnerships to build hospitals, or
- private-for-profit insurance companies.
Apparently our Premier thinks there is something “unfair” about Blue Cross offering affordable health insurance coverage to Albertans. Perhaps he believes the escalating costs associated with private, for-profit auto insurance would somehow benefit health care.

Rejection of the National Health Council suggests that the government doesn’t want any fettering or even scrutiny of its actions from outside Alberta. It seems similarly averse to transparency within the province. The elimination of elected members on Regional Health Authorities before they had even completed their first term in office made that perfectly clear and seems totally inconsistent with Alberta’s opposition to an appointed senate.

Perhaps the most confusing mixed message of all comes from the Premier’s recent suggestion that Alberta might actually give up $1.2 billion in federal transfer payments if these interfere with the hitherto unspecified changes he wants to make to our health care system. How does one square that with a commitment to the principles of the Canada Health Act or, for that matter, with concern for sustainability?

Nor are Alberta’s mixed messages restricted to the field of health care. We have seen similar posturing erupt in relation to utility deregulation, education funding, regressive tax measures and user fees, environmental issues and, most particularly, the Kyoto Accord.

As a so-called ‘health care junkie’ I have to tell you that ‘power junkie’ politicians with their chest thumping and turf wars are an increasing source of worry to many Albertans. What we are looking for is statesmanship, not gamesmanship. We do not want an unfettered provincial government any more than we want an unfettered federal government but I have to tell you that, at present, many of us view the federal government as a much-needed bulwark against the ideological excesses of the provincial government.

With respect, I would suggest that eliminating these mixed messages and excesses is a first and necessary step to strengthening Alberta’s role in confederation.

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