NDP health minister’s decision to drop Tories’ phony AHS ‘decentralization’ is no loss to anyone

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PHOTOS: Alberta Health Services, as originally envisaged by the Tories and described by the Wildrose Party. Below: Another AHS reorganization as seen by the NDP. Below that train wreck, Alberta Health Minister Sarah Hoffman.

Alberta’s two right-wing opposition parties are said to be in a lather because of Health Minister Sarah Hoffman’s announcement yesterday the former PC government’s so-called decentralization of Alberta Health Services is no more.

Well, it’s part of the job of being an opposition MLA to gin up a little fake outrage now and again, so one can hardly blame the Wildrosers and the tattered remnants of the once mighty Tories for giving it their best effort.

ReorgThe Wildrosers, who are the official opposition, painted a picture of rural Alberta betrayed, which of course is mere hot air. Rural voters are quite intelligent enough, thank you very much, to understand their quite justified unhappiness with the 2008 centralization of the province’s health regions into the monolithic Alberta Health Services would not have been fixed by the Tories’ so-called reorganization.

The Tories themselves, who haven’t yet quite figured out yet how to do opposition, pointed to real problems with the centralization disaster that they perpetrated all by themselves and claimed the plan they rolled last March would have fixed it, which is laughable when you look at what they were really proposing.

The new NDP government, speaking through Ms. Hoffman, suggested sensibly enough that the province’s health care system couldn’t stand another major reorganization just now without practically coming apart at the seams, an assessment almost everyone inside the health care system fears might just be true.

“Every time you have a system change, it creates more chaos and struggle,” Ms. Hoffman said. “We want to make sure that we’re providing stability.”

Obviously, it suits everyone in the Kabuki play that is parliamentary politics to pretend that the so-called reform introduced by the Tories was a real decentralization that would have had actual costs and consequences, the pros and cons of which can be sensibly debated.

It suits the opposition parties because they’d like to do what they can to stir up resentment against the NDP in rural areas by pretending Premier Rachel Notley’s new government has taken away something valuable.

HoffmanIt suits the government because it would like to make the case that Tory and Wildrose politicians, who were still all in one party in 2008, want to make the disaster they perpetrated back then even worse, and to offer a concrete illustration that they’re doing something about it.

As for the media, they have always reported the former government’s press releases at face value and they continue to do so, which is evidence of either a conspiracy or an incapacity to engage in simple observation and report on it.

But while Ms. Hoffman is almost certainly right that there is little or nothing to be gained at this fraught moment in history by any reorganization of AHS, it is important to remember that the plan proposed by the PCs was entirely cosmetic in nature, and that it would be fair to describe the entire scheme as not much more than a deception.

As was reported in this space back on March 23, when you actually looked at the few details of Tory plan, AHS was not going to be dismantled, Alberta was not going to return to regional health authorities, and it was highly unlikely that any significant decisions about health care would ever be made at the local level if the PC plan had been implemented.

The PC Government’s March 18 news release – intentionally, it is said here – left a lot of readers with the false impression the scheme would mean restoration of regional health authorities, which were eliminated in 2008 when AHS was created by the government of premier Ed Stelmach.

A lot of those misguided readers, who apparently included journalists like the writer of the Canadian Press headline that said, “Back to the past: Alberta returns to decentralized health care,” fell for this fairy tale.

The reality is that AHS decision-making mechanisms were never going to be decentralized. All that was supposed to happen was that AHS’s five “zones” would have been renamed and insignificantly restructured into eight to 10 “districts,” including the same two giant urban jurisdictions in Edmonton and Calgary.

Oh, and there would be some local advisory boards, which would have had no power but have been a nice place to reward some PC Party loyalists with opportunities to claim for “expenses.”

As for AHS, it would have remained exactly the same under the PC restructuring the opposition parties are now complaining about losing – that is to say, legally the province’s single health authority – as it now will under the NDP. Alberta Health Services communications officials admitted this at the time if you asked them the right question directly.

The real advantage of yesterday’s NDP decision is that it will save money that would have been hosed away on meaningless and cynical cosmetics by the Tories in their doomed effort to steal votes from the Wildrose Party by fooling a few rural voters.

That is a small thing in light of the vast amounts of money that have gone heaven knows where during the nearly 44 years of Tory misrule in Alberta, but it is worth the effort nevertheless.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Categories Alberta Politics