Opinion: Kenney must keep his promise to protect public health care

The following opinion piece was originally published in the Edmonton Journal on October 22, 2020.

Jason Kenney must make it clear, either he believes in a public health-care system like he has said, or he agrees with his party who last weekend called for a two-tiered, American-styled system that will mean more Albertans will suffer.

Kenney’s UCP members have passed a resolution calling for the establishment of a separate, private health system in Alberta. They did it just days after the current health minister was scoffing at the media for even bringing up the topic. Now, we’re seeing a lot of spin coming from government offices trying to suggest that the resolution will not become public policy — at least, not yet.

But Kenney has already begun to do exactly what his members are demanding. Alberta’s public labs, our best line of defence against this pandemic and the next one, are being sold off. Public long-term care facilities, which are dealing with the pandemic much more effectively than privates, are being sold. Tacit approval has been given for private operators to start their own surgical facilities. Impediments are being thrown up to make booking surgeries or even a doctor’s appointment in the public system more difficult. Paramedics are chronically underfunded, leaving us all at risk of a slow response when we need it most.

Consolidation plans and service cuts are underway in rural Alberta. Layoffs in the thousands of health workers have been announced and are being carried out with the goal of transitioning workers to private employers.

And yes, all of this has been underway long before “a plan” to do it was made public. “Protecting” public health care was removed from government policy when the new Health Statutes Amendment Act was passed this summer.

Far from being a simple party policy matter, the wishes of party members to have a two-tiered system are already being carried out. The plan to privatize our medical labs has been in motion for a year with the first expression of interest being issued last December before the AHS performance review was even released.

Layoffs are not new. HSAA was served with notice of layoffs last November. Funding cuts for specific programs, public health and the system overall have been made since the UCP was elected. The shifting of surgeries from the public system to private profiteers is already being done through the Alberta Surgical Initiative.

This is not just a “party policy” that we are all being asked to ignore; it is already “public policy” that Kenney has imposed on Albertans all the while gaslighting us to say it isn’t happening.

Privatizing health care takes public funds from the public system and uses them to guarantee profits for out-of-province, private interests; that is money that should be spent on patient needs. There is no evidence that privatization of health services reduces waiting lists or saves money. This fact that has been proven time and time again was recently reaffirmed by the B.C. Supreme Court when in a ruling, Justice Steeves said about claims private health is cheaper and reduces wait times, “… there is, in fact, expert evidence wait times would actually increase … .”

And so, if Kenney stands by his pledge to protect public health care, he must denounce the resolution passed by his party, tell the members he made a promise to Albertans and he intends to keep it.

Either he is a principled human who keeps his word, or he’s not. He must decide.

Mike Parker is an advanced care paramedic and the democratically-elected President of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta which is more than 27,000 highly trained health-care professionals dedicated to ensuring public funds are used for patient care.