The Edmonton Superlab, as imagined by its architects (Unattributed photo found on the Internet).

When it opted to build a $590-million “Superlab” in Edmonton, Alberta’s former NDP government was relying on sound advice from the Health Quality Council of Alberta, which recommended medical lab services be consolidated under “a single public sector platform.”

But never mind the HQCA was set up under legislation created by a previous Conservative government to get itself out of a political jam caused by the never-ending crisis in health care that’s been the hallmark of Conservative rule in this province since Peter Lougheed left office in 1985.

Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro (Photo: Government of Alberta).

That certainly didn’t stop Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party, which is now the government of Alberta, from accusing the NDP for basing its decision on “ideology.” This was blatant nonsense, of course – and ironic too, since it is the conservative movement that is now dominated by rigid economic dogma, much of it shown repeatedly not to work very well, in Canada and around the world.

So throughout the recent Alberta election campaign, Mr. Kenney and the UCP vowed regularly to kill the Superlab project if they won the election. Characteristically, the NDP hid its light under a bushel and never really responded effectively to the constant UCP talking points about “risky ideological experiments” and the like.

The UCP’s opposition to the the Superlab may have been driven in part by bitterness that the NDP’s capable health minister, Sarah Hoffman, had quickly dumped a weird Tory scheme to privatize the whole operation for $3 billion over 15 years to an Australian corporation no one had ever heard of and which had no history of doing business in Alberta. Talk about a risky ideological experiment!

Former Alberta health minister Sarah Hoffman (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Regardless, when a UCP majority was elected on April 16, work stopped at the Superlab site before the new government had even been sworn in.

Thus it was mildly surprising to hear Health Minister Tyler Shandro sounding a bit like one of the grownups yesterday and expressing reservations about the UCP’s knee-jerk ideological reaction. He even sounded like he might consider it risky, telling reporters at the Legislature that the government has only “paused” construction and that it’s now “a matter of doing due diligence and find out what the consequences will be when looking into being able to cancel that.”

Is he saying Mr. Kenney had no idea what the consequences would be when he made his risky ideological promise? Presumably, yes, although Mr. Shandro can be forgiven if he doesn’t want to phrase it exactly that way.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

It presumably remains likely the government – deeply committed to its ideology of privatization, which is known to increase costs and remove public accountability – will pull the plug on the project.

But since the UCP will probably be looking for private “partner” to run it, they may now be seeking ways to keep construction moving so our public investment can be transferred for a song to their private sector friends. Certainly, something will have to happen if medical lab services are going to keep on being delivered to a population that continues to grow. We’ll probably have to wait a little to see if that’s what’s going on.

Mr. Kenney himself, one suspects, doesn’t really care. He’s already busy campaigning for his next job, leader of the Conservative Party of Canada as soon as Andrew Scheer manages the difficult task of losing this fall’s election to the rudderless Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberals.

After that, the new Alberta premier will move right on to campaigning for the next job he covets, that of prime minister of Canada.

So as long as Mr. Kenney remains at the helm, the UCP will advocate the right policies and make the right talking points to keep his generous donors and supporters sweet – including major media, think tanks and corporations that have the ability to wiggle around election financing laws.

In the event something goes wrong, someone else will be left to wear the egg on their bespoke suits and sort out the mess long after Premier Kenney has left for pastures that are greener in every way except the one that matters.

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  1. Perhaps the UCP is having second thoughts about some of their rash promises. I suspect that particular silly one on the lab facility cost them a seat or two in suburban Edmonton and didn’t gain them anything elsewhere – most of the rural ridings they would have won anyways. I doubt if people there even paid much attention to that promise.

    Now they have a mess, a self created one that they have to try and fix without seeming to backtrack too obviously. I suspect they will rework things a bit, somehow privatize it and then continue on with construction once they get the cost off the government books. Perhaps they will be smarter about it than the old PC’s were with their 3 billion contract to a company from Australia no one here had ever heard of. A piece of good political advise, not sure if they are inclined to take it, this time buy local. If it is going to be a sweetheart deal to some company, have it be one from here in river city not some faceless unknown multinational.

    I think we should soon start a pool on how long Kenney will stay as Alberta Premier before he jumps ship back to Ottawa. Off the top of my head, I would say two years and eight months. I have a feeling Scheer will find a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. He is already talking about moving the Israeli embassy to Jerusalem, all he has to do now is go on a foreign trip and lose his luggage. A tip for Scheer, if he is inclined to take good political advise – avoid India, it is very hot this time of year.

  2. Private lab was tried in London England, someone I’m associated with went to University there and worked there. The private lab didn’t work so they went back to Government labs. Research needs to collect data a year in advance to determine the strain of flu vaccine a year in advance and private labs fall short. Good luck to us all and Kenney with his private lab.

  3. I suspect the decision to pause construction on the very day of the election was made by someone in the bureaucracy, without political direction, simply to avoid additional costs being put into a project that might very well get scrapped in a matter of weeks. If the UCP backtracks on this bad idea and allows construction to proceed after all, less harm done than if it had continued full-steam ahead and then they shut it down later.

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