Alberta Politics
The Calgary General Hospital is exploded into rubble on Oct. 4, 1998, a symbolically spectacular example of Conservative mismanagement of health care in Alberta (Photo: Screenshot of video).

A Tale of Two Columns: What drives the conservative urge to wreck public health care?

Posted on March 28, 2019, 1:20 am
8 mins

One of the unusual features of the past four years in Alberta has been the remarkable calm that has prevailed in our normally tumultuous, shambolic, sometimes chaotic health care system.

Under the NDP Government, for the first time in the past 30 years at least, health care hasn’t been a continual gong show, spinning ever closer to the edge under a series of conservative governments that couldn’t keep their political paws off the system and swung back and forth from crisis-inducing austerity to hair-on-fire crisis spending.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

This may have been because conservative ideology runs counter to reality – no, in health care, “market solutions” do not work very well, no matter what you may wish to believe. Or it may have been because, as some theorize darkly, conservatives don’t really want to see public health care succeed and therefore encourage failure to justify marketization.

Whatever, while many flaws remain in this large, complex and costly system, health care has never run more smoothly than since Rachel Notley’s New Democrats unexpectedly came to power in 2015 and Sarah Hoffman was appointed minister of health.

Paradoxically, this has been to the disadvantage of the NDP as an election approached. Health care, a traditional NDP strength, has been ticking along so smoothly it’s no longer a front-burner issue for most Albertans.

How did the NDP do it? As Calgary Herald political columnist Don Braid pointed out yesterday in a column surprising because it is so at odds with his employer’s drumbeat of attacks on the government, “the NDP calmed down the system, made significant improvements and provided stability for health planners, professionals and workers.”

United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

“Health care access and delivery are far more level and reliable than they were in 2015,” Mr. Braid wrote. And in almost all of the 30 years before that, he could have added.

But don’t worry, as the Herald columnist pointed out, Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party has a plan to “fix” all that.

Under the Progressive Conservatives, Mr. Braid recalled, “staffing and programs were flatlined, resuscitated and then put through the same survival cycle again. It was chaotic for doctors, nurses and too often for patients.

“Now the UCP proposes something even worse – real-world cuts, with no apparent hope of a corresponding hike the next year.” And all the meaningless Coroplast pledges about protecting health care signed by Mr. Kenney will not change this if he gets to do what he says he’d do.

Health Minister Sarah Hoffman (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

I was thinking about Mr. Braid’s credible prediction that Mr. Kenney’s vow to impose austerity on health care once again “guarantees a return to the chaos of the Progressive Conservative years, and maybe worse, because there would be no panic spending spikes to save the day,” when I came across another column about health care and conservatives.

The same day as Mr. Braid published his observations, Paul Krugman, economics columnist for the New York Times and a Nobel Prize winning economist, took a look at what drives the U.S. Republican Party to sabotage, and now to attempt to repeal, the Affordable Care Act, Barack Obama’s signature achievement as president.

Given that U.S. President Donald Trump is now proposing to use a legal manoeuver to take health insurance away from more than 20 million Americans in the year before a presidential election, Dr. Krugman observed, “it’s no longer possible to see any of this as part of a clever political strategy, even a nefariously cynical one.”

“It has entered the realm of pathology instead,” he said. “It’s now clear the Republicans have a deep, unreasoning hatred of the idea that government policy may help some people get health care.”

Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Sometimes it helps to put issues close to home in a larger context. As has been observed here recently, over the past 40 years there has been a significant effort on the right to forge an international ideological consensus through promotion of institutions such as the worldwide network of utopian market fundamentalist “think tanks” and Astro-Turf groups.

As a result, nowadays, there is very little light between conservatives in Washington and their counterparts in Ottawa and Edmonton.

So, is it possible that Mr. Kenney and the UCP have, like their Republican brethren south of the Medicine Line, gone beyond mere cynicism to outright pathology?

It’s not just health care

It’s not just the health care file where this happens, of course.

When Mr. Kenney touted his plan this week to roll back legal protections for LGBTQ students, it seemed weirdly like President Trump’s decision to move against health care that benefits poor and working class Americans. That is, not particularly to the advantage of either politician, under present circumstances, to talk about such schemes.

We have to ask, does the same kind of pathology drive Mr. Kenney to do the wrong thing about protecting LGBTQ youth from persecution – sometimes, sad to say, from their own families – as drives him to promise to return health care in Alberta to the chaos and dysfunction of the PC years?

Hundreds of people gathered at the Alberta Legislature in Edmonton last night to protest against the UCP plan to dump the NDP legislation that protects students who join gay-straight alliances and, instead, to allow teachers and private schools to out them to their families.

It is profoundly to be hoped that does not become reality. The best way to ensure it does not is to reelect the NDP on April 16.

20 Comments to: A Tale of Two Columns: What drives the conservative urge to wreck public health care?

  1. David

    March 28th, 2019

    The people closest to the matters of health care, education and GSA’s generally get what a disaster Kenney’s plans would be and are already starting to speak out and need to continue to do so. Of course many of them were probably not Kenney supporters to begin with. One challenge is to get those Albertans not as closely connected to these issues to see this too and realize why it matters.

    Another challenge is there is a degree of economic desperation in some parts of Alberta now, not because we are so poor. In fact, Alberta continues to have much higher than national average wages, lower taxes than the rest of Canada and a higher labour participation rate. Its more a fear that those that are doing ok may not do as well in the future. The ongoing difficulties in getting things like new or expanded pipelines built have greatly exacerbated these fears and anxieties. Along comes Kenney and he so confidently says he will fix all our economic problems, somehow magically like the wizard of oz. This is despite him having no real business experience or even a business education. Yes he was a Federal cabinet minister for a long time, but he did not even hold a major economic portfolio.

    Con men love those who are desperate or even made to feel desperation, so some people are willing to trust someone who can say the right thing to appeal to their fears and worries. Should people trust Kenney? Based on his record and experience, I would say no. However, until the curtain is pulled back, this wizard of oz may continue to pull the levers that people respond to.

    Yes Kenney will cause damage to health care, education and other things like GSA’s, but he doesn’t have the background, ideas or abilities to fix our economic problems either and this needs to be made clear to Alberans also.

    • Expat Albertan

      March 28th, 2019

      To call Kenney a con man is to suggest that he acts with independence. No, he is more of an errand boy for the conservative power brokers in the province and beyond. Trump, now there’s a con man.

  2. TENET

    March 28th, 2019

    Well reasoned and well written but it is so ominous! I applauded Braid’s column as soon as I read it. He was pilloried with considerable derision and abuse for it. Both of you are journeymen at your craft. What would possess the parties (North and South) to strike at the heart of health care? They aim to kill people, and we all know who are the most vulnerable. Now we are talking about life and death. Kindly stay on this. I am still trying to process it all.

  3. Anonymous This Time

    March 28th, 2019

    I normally post with my real name, but because of the nature of this post I am going anonymously this time.

    I have an early 20s nephew who is my nephew because he got tired of being my niece. By the time Sally was five I suspected her orientation was different. Not really being aware of the concept of trans-gender, I suspected lesbian. Sally seemed unhappy most of the time, and between the boy’s clothing, short hair and a preference for ‘masculine’ activities, gradually my suspicion evolved to transgender, to the point that when he finally came out I felt real relief that I could finally quit worrying about accidentally referring to her as a boy.

    Fred’s parents had to beg him, with absolute assurances of unconditional love, to include him in his secret so they could support him through his difficult time. By that time he had several trans-gendered friends, many of whom had been kicked out of their family home. No wonder poor Fred was terrified to out himself to his parents!

    Today Fred is much happier, and is still living with his folks. There is no doubt in my mind his life would have been much easier if a GSA had existed in his school, and given the experience of some of his friends, the secrecy imposed by the NDP is an absolute necessity.

    Jason Kenney talks about how his policy would only allow teachers to inform parents when it was in the best interests of the child. Sadly, in a fundamentalist school the teacher could claim it was the in the best interest of the child to inform the parents so they could enroll him/her in conversion therapy before he/she permanently damaged his soul.

  4. Brian Law

    March 28th, 2019

    Do you ever consider that conservatives might just think that changing the way health care is delivered would improve health care for everyone? That maybe all Albertans agree that strong, stable and timely health care for all Albertans is the end goal, and some of us just disagree on the best way to accomplish that? Do you ever think that the kind of vicious, hateful rhetoric you use to describe your opponents and their motives (which, of course, you have no way of actually knowing) might be causing irreparable harm to our province’s ability to engage in a civil debate that might otherwise lead to improved outcomes for everyone??

    • Kang

      March 28th, 2019

      Seriously Brian: you do understand there is a history here of Conservatives wrecking publicly delivered health care for the profits of their friends in big business and private insurance? Cronyism and worse under Conservatives of all stripes. The days of the Joe Clark/John Diefenbaker community oriented Conservative are long gone. They have been replaced by a band of fundamentalists filled with zeal for private enterprise and blind hatred for government.

    • tom in ontario

      March 28th, 2019

      “Do you ever consider that conservatives might jus think that changing the way health care is delivered would improve health care for everyone?”
      Not sure what you are getting at. The first thing that comes to mind is private health insurance, private clinics and hospitals, opted out doctors

      “Did you ever consider that conservatives might just think that changing the way health care is delivered would improve health care for everyone?”
      Please explain how conservatives think it would be done. To sceptics, “improve” is the code word for private health insurance, opted out doctors, private clinics and hospitals, two tier health care, not great for people who can’t afford the extra cost. Australia is a sad example.

    • Lars

      March 28th, 2019

      If Conservatives are doing their best to accomplish”strong, stable and timely health care for all Albertans”, they sure seem to have a funny way of going about it. And as David points out, the only government that has accomplished some progress on this front in the past four decades is, surprise surprise, not a conservative government.
      I think that we have enough evidence to hand to decide what the conservatives’ desired goal is. The methods are the end.

    • Brogan

      March 28th, 2019

      Are you blind or willfully deluded? As long as I’ve paid attention to politics conservatives/fascists have tried to destroy public health care so that themselves and their corporate cronies can profit from gouging the public for an essential service. Their policies enrich already wealthy, greedy assholes while further impoverishing the poor and middle class.
      Trump is the epitome of conservative: motivated by pure greed and bigotry. I know your motives, fascist. You’re like trump and Ford and kenney, self serving lying racist corporate whores without empathy, dedicated to superstitious bullshit and an intellectually, ethically and economically bankrupt idealogy that puts your greedy racist ass on top at the cost of others suffering and environmental degradation.

    • Simon Renouf

      March 28th, 2019

      Brian, I don’t think you are correct. It would be nice to be able to attribute good faith to those we disagree with, but it’s not possible on this issue. No one who has spent the time to understand Alberta’s health care system could possibly conclude that adding more for-profit care would be anything other than profoundly damaging. So those – like Kenney – who advocate those changes either don’t know the damage they would cause, or worse, they don’t care.

    • Charity

      March 28th, 2019

      Have you considered that conservatives have been in power for 40 years, and have had plenty of time and opportunities to prove that their method to accomplish anything is the one that works? Have you noticed that their methods have not worked? Have you considered that we, the general public, have had decades to observe that self-described conservative politicians keep hawking the same ideologically-driven policies with absolutely zero evidence that their way is the right way, and that we have lots of evidence that their ideologies cause actual damage when enacted?

      Have you ever considered that when people accurately describe the actions of conservatives, we are told we are being hateful and vicious? Have you contemplated the fact that when progressives protest about being threatened with rape and murder for expressing our opinions, we’re told to stop being so sensitive? Why the double standard, friend?

    • Expat Albertan

      March 28th, 2019

      Yes, Kenney could indeed be a true believer about the benefits of, private health care. If he is, it doesn’t really matter…the evidence is plain to see with regard to the lack of efficacy of a privatized health care system.

    • Brogan

      March 28th, 2019

      Improved outcomes: code for increased profits for corporate elites. White christo-fascist corporate elites. We just look across the border to see how the poor and middle class suffer under profit focused health care.

      White supremacists, christian Dominionists and corporate profiteers represent your conservative “big tent”. We won’t let you hide that.

  5. Farmer Dave

    March 28th, 2019

    Many people in Alberta and Canada have no idea how good our healthcare is for us. A friend of mine who has a practise in the medical profession was in the U.S. recently with several of his colleagues. He was injured in an accident and needed major surgery and remembers being in the hospital and several Doctors and an Accountant were deciding how they would proceed. The Accountant told the Doctors not to touch him until they could find out how insurance would pay them. My friends colleagues came up with five million dollars to pay for the surgery and they still would not do it until he could prove he had insurance to cover. The surgery wasn’t going well so my friend paid $30,000.00 to Air Evac himself back to Alberta. He said we in Alberta have no idea how good our healthcare is and now we have Mr. Kenny wanting to destroy it.

    • Another Anonymous Today

      March 28th, 2019

      In 2010 our 32 year old son was dying of Stage 4 Colorectal cancer. The treatment he received at the Tom Baker Clinic in Calgary was, in my opinion world class. The doctors, nurses, lab staff and everyone stood on their heads for him. They gave him all they had.
      One day I approached his oncologist, an outstanding, empathetic doctor, “If my son were being treated in the United States, would he be dead now and our family bankrupt?” Single word answer, “Yup.”
      Three cheers for Alberta health care and the unsung heroes who make it work every day.

  6. Political Ranger

    March 28th, 2019

    A couple things David:

    You say, “Kenney touted his plan this week to roll back legal protections for LGBTQ students, it seemed weirdly like President Trump’s decision to move against health care that benefits poor and working class Americans. ”
    I think it’s more like Trump’s and Betsy Devos’s plan to eliminate the $18 million budget for the Special Olympics. That’s $18 million out of a $trillion-some budget; that 5 or 6 decimal points before it’s even going to show up! It’s cruel and downright creepy!

    You say, “… ideology runs counter to reality …”. I agree; it often does, not always but often. More importantly, ideology never, NEVER, is a rational, solid or supportable basis on which to make decisions.
    That’s why Christmas is a public holiday and not public policy, that’s why unicorns are not on the endangered species list and that’s why fascism, racism, corporatism and other far-right conservative ideologies don’t form lasting governments. Kenny, Trump, Ford, et al are all only capable of tearing things down; they have no idea how to build a strong, safe and prosperous jurisdiction.

  7. Albertan

    March 28th, 2019

    I was a frontline health care professional (and a farmer, too) during the Klein era health care cutbacks. it was hard, and stressful work, to carry health care then, which we did. We saw many AB Conservative voters then, and their loved ones, enter the health care system then and watched them come to the realization that their expectations were not being met. How one votes, and the expectations for health care, are intertwined.
    Those of us on the health care front lines suffer no illusions on how the Kenney/UCP’s talk on cutting the health care budget by 25% will greatly, negatively, affect health care. We lost many topnotch health care professionals to the USA then. Cutbacks to the med schools then, at U of C and U of A, is still impacting us today with the shortage of doctors in Alberta, particularly the rural areas. Doctors also left rural areas then because hospital beds were shut down.
    Memories seem to be short re: how the AB Conservatives left us with $billions (up to $30 billion) in infrastructure debt, from which we are still trying to claw back. And it is wondered why we have had to go into deficit spending?! Then, again, there was the problem with resource revenue during the boom years and the AB Conservatives not following Lougheed’s ‘Six Principle’ for resource development: “Behave like an owner, Collect your fair share, Save for a rainy day, Add value, Go slow and Practice statecraft.”
    Now, it is wise to keep in mind why we should not, vote for the Kenney UCP:
    “Trickle – down economics do not work.”
    “Kenney will suppress jobs and wages…which suppresses the economy.”
    “Kenney’s UCP has no plan to address unprecedented changes in the oil & gas sector.”
    In my riding, Livingstone-Macleod, the NDP candidate, Cam Gardner, a rancher/farmer, gets my vote.

  8. Scotty on Denman

    March 28th, 2019

    You asked…

    The answer is “yes,” it can be called a kind of pathological hatred of anything not on the right side of the mendacity line.

    It’s true: aspirants to stateless, globalized corporatism do read from their same page, and one of the top headings is diminishment of sovereign nations and sovereign democratic control of them—that’s why think tanks dispense with national patriotism to find common cause. Those sovereign inconveniences might tax profits and regulate polluting industries whence those profits come, marginally more than had they been taxed and regulated—and for that margin all is risked. Nations are supposed to become corporate branch plants and the invisible hand of the market is supposed to run everything so well history itself ends.

    But this is a classic, Geckoid delusion. Last I checked, the world still teeters on the knife-edge of strategic disaster —and how could that exist without the entrenched existence of the very things globalized neoliberalism aims to exterminate: the sovereign state…? Moreover, we have it on good, solid, scientific authority that an increase of rampant, unregulated industry and economic inequity will kill the goose that lays everybody’s golden eggs, elites and hicks alike.

    The pathological hate is symptomatic of extreme, blinkering stress and, in the case of the stateless, Geckoid profiteers, that stress comes from unquestioning loyalty to and evenagelical faith in something that’s utterly impossible, like statelessness, like infinite growth in a finite system… Their brains are as wrenched as their souls are wretched. The capitalist cronies and market monopolists don’t even adhere to their own bible’s tenets of competition and fair rules of law in which to conduct commerce to the general good of the people. In this sense pathology really means psychopathy, the lying, the lack of empathy and, most of all, the rejection of reality for some utterly fantastic, phantasmagoric fabulation that doesn’t even adhere to the tenets of narratology: without ending it has no meaning, only paranoia and destruction.

    And here they thought the Soviet collapse would be so good—just not for everybody.

  9. Jim

    March 28th, 2019

    I think you are confusing Obamacare with affordable health care, it isn’t and was never intended to be. The issue with the ACA is they tried to fit it into the American system, same private hospitals, same private insurance companies. It had very little to do with healthcare and was more about insurance. Insurance doesn’t work that way, try getting auto insurance with several tickets and accidents on your record. If you can get coverage you likely are going to cost the insurance company and they will have to recover these costs somehow.
    I try to tell my American friends this, most get it and the differences between our two systems. We the people own the hospitals it truly is socialized medicine, and that’s not a bad word. Economies of scale seem to only work if profits fall into private hands.
    The so called conservatives in Alberta and Ottawa aren’t looking for a free market healthcare system as some seem to think. They are looking for another fixed game, a crony capitalist system that allows their funders to milk the taxpayer.
    The last number I saw for the cost of healthcare per Albertan was about $7,300 per year higher than average but growing slower thanks to the NDP. Actually shrinking when you consider inflation. That’s not bad when you consider the cost of insurance under the Obamacare system. So about $29,000 for a typical family of 4 to have access to not just basic healthcare, show me a truly middle class family that doesn’t pay that much or more into the pot. And there is no deductible and no increase should you get sick or have a pre-existing condition of course drug costs are on top of that.
    I have said it before the NDP like no other Alberta government in my memory truly has started to drain the swamp. They don’t advertise this enough in my opinion but really should because it resonates with those of us who had enough of the patronage appointments for political cronies.

    • David Climenhaga

      March 29th, 2019

      I am not claiming Obamacare is affordable. That is beyond my ken. I am stating the Affordable Care act is known as Obamacare, after its author. “The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), often shortened to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or nicknamed Obamacare, is a United States federal statute enacted by the 111th United States Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama on March 23, 2010.” DJC


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