Alberta Politics
Health Minister Tyler Shandro (Photo: Twitter/CBC).

UCP launches blitzkrieg on physicians as health care in Alberta returns to its normal state of chaos

Posted on February 21, 2020, 2:14 am
9 mins

If you’ve been operating under the misapprehension the United Conservative Party is just the latest version of the Progressive Conservative Party that ran Alberta from 1971 to 2015, yesterday’s blitzkrieg attack on the province’s 11,000 physicians should disabuse you of that notion.

No, this crowd is unique in the history of Alberta and Canada. They will pick a fight with pretty much anyone except the oil industry and the consequences be damned.

Alberta Medical Association President Christine Molnar (Photo: Alberta Medical Association).

Yesterday they picked a big one with the province’s doctors, a group that, until yesterday, presumably confidently believed they were influential, respected and very well connected. I’d be astonished if the vast majority of Alberta’s physicians didn’t vote for Jason Kenney and the UCP in last April’s provincial election.

Well, the doctors and their powerful Alberta Medical Association, which bargains collectively and historically successfully for their compensation, are reeling today after being kicked to the curb in 44 words by Health Minister Tyler Shandro.

Those words, in the traditional form of a cabinet order: “The Lieutenant Governor in Council, effective February 20, 2020, terminates the agreement between Her Majesty in Right of Alberta, as represented by the Minister of Health, and the Alberta Medical Association (C.M.A. Alberta Division) made effective April 1, 2011, as amended from time to time.”

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

In other words, the agreement that’s worked pretty well for the docs for almost a decade, the latest version of which hadn’t yet expired, is about to disappear — poof! The UCP will impose new rules on April Fools Day.

The government and the docs been bargaining for an extension of the agreement since November and the AMA wouldn’t knuckle under, so the UCP will do to its well-heeled members what the federal government used to do to the Posties or Air Canada’s unions whenever they started to get uppity. The doctors will see their fee structure cut and, if they don’t like it the government seems to think they can move to another province. The biggest changes are listed in the government’s press release, albeit in the murky language of bureaucracy.

The doctors were feeling betrayed yesterday. By tomorrow they will be furious. It will be interesting to see what they do next.

In a statement that had the look of being hastily cobbled together, AMA President Christine Molnar called the sudden move “a sad day for health care.”

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

“This fundamentally goes against a belief that Albertans hold in common: the idea that one should stand by their contracts and live up to their word. Honouring agreements with health care workers is sacrosanct in Alberta. …” Well, apparently not to everyone in Alberta.

The AMA made several offers and significant moves throughout the negotiating process,” her statement continued. “We offered substantial short-term savings, worth over 3 per cent — which equates to over $150 million in savings a year. We appreciate that there was still a way to go, but we had informed the minister that we were going to put another offer forward tomorrow. At the same time, we indicated that we would be suggesting a movement to arbitration.”

She mused that the government likely pulled the plug on arbitration because it knew it would lose. And she concluded with a stark warning: “Moving forward will be difficult and I am genuinely concerned for patients.” (Emphasis added.)

Dr. Molnar vowed to media to challenge the government’s action in court.

The late Ralph Klein, premier of Alberta and author of the Kleintastrophe from which the province is still recovering (Photo: Chuck Szmulro, Creative Commons).

But for all its talk about blockades and pipelines, this government doesn’t really care about that rule of law stuff — that’s for the rest of us. They know the courts move at a glacial pace and they can go ahead and defy the law and the Constitution to crush their opponents long before there is any legal relief.

Of course, there’s nothing new about Alberta Conservatives causing chaos in health care — it’s pretty much been standard operating procedure around these parts since Ralph Klein got his hands on the levers of power back in 1992.

But you never really got the feeling the PCs wanted it that way. They just couldn’t seem to figure out how to square their shrinking-government philosophy with the complexities of running a modern medical system for several million people. So they either blundered along or muddled through, depending on the personality of the health minister of the day.

The late Gene Zwozdesky, PC Minister of Health whenever some health care diplomacy was needed (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

If a Conservative health minister ever got in too much trouble, there was always that old smoothie Gene Zwozdesky to be sent in to pour oil on the troubled waters.

Other than Mr. Zwozdesky’s short stints in the job, about the only time in the past three decades the health care system hasn’t seemed to be in utter chaos was during the four years after the 2015 election while the NDP was in charge and health care was the responsibility of the capable Sarah Hoffman.

Well, the NDP has been “fired,” as the UCP likes to say, Mr. Zwozdesky has passed on, and these new guys don’t give a hang. They seem pretty confident that whomever they outrage, the oil industry can buy them another election victory.

Still, if they’re angry enough, the doctors could turn out to be a formidable foe.

As for patients, they’re just going to have to share the pain. You’d almost think this government wanted to punish the whole province for its apostasy in 2015.

Warning to snowbirds: Your travel insurance needs just went increased!

While all the excitement yesterday was focused on the government’s fight with the docs, the UCP was were also making changes to out-of-country health care coverage that will cost travellers — especially snowbirds, another group that likely voted heavily for the UCP last year.

So also on April 1, the province will stop covering “elective, non-urgent health services and routine lab tests.” How do they define non-urgent and routine? I asked, and they didn’t answer, so I can’t help you with that one.

The change is expected to save about $1 million, the government’s news release said — about what it costs to run the “Energy War Room” for 12 days.

25 Comments to: UCP launches blitzkrieg on physicians as health care in Alberta returns to its normal state of chaos

  1. Abs

    February 21st, 2020

    The UcP is counting on everyone forgetting about this by the time the next election rolls around. They’ll toss out a few crumbs in 2023 and poof — memories erased. Klein was a master of this.

    Either that or Kenney will have succeeded in his quest to take Alberta and Canada right back to the days when buffalo roamed the prairies and the fur trade was king. Here I thought he was proudly aiming for 1950. Wrong. When the buffalo chips are down, hunting, trapping and beaver felt hat factories will be the new Alberta diversification plan. Much like oil, there’s diminished demand for beaver felt hats in recent years, but since when did reality matter to the premier?

    Or, is it possible there won’t be another election in this province, because the UcP will have us hitched up to our American cousins by then, or elections will be illegal?

    In any case, they’re imploding health services along with the economy of Alberta. It may be very hard to crawl out of the hole they’re digging right now, and it might just bury them, and us, too.

    Reply
  2. Janna

    February 21st, 2020

    “This fundamentally goes against a belief that Albertans hold in common: the idea that one should stand by their contracts and live up to their word. Honouring agreements with health care workers is sacrosanct in Alberta. …”

    Apparently the doctors weren’t paying attention to what was happening with other agreements with other health care workers.

    I agree that most physicians probably voted UCP. As well as most Snowbirds.

    All I can say is, well, your chickens have come home to roost. The NDP doesn’t look so bad any more, does it?

    Reply
    • Naf

      February 23rd, 2020

      What makes you think doctors voted UCP? I voted NDP as did most of my colleagues. I saw this coming a mile away, as any intelligent voter would. If any of my colleagues voted UCP, none of them admitted it (and that’s during the election, not after it).

      Reply
      • Michael

        February 23rd, 2020

        I kind of agree with NAF. When I was door-knocking for the last election, nearly all households I visited with teachers or anyone associated with healthcare living there were going to vote NDP – including quite a few doctors. Plus I was campaigning with several medical types for the NDP.

        Now I don’t have statistics to back this up, and I am sure there were MDs that voted for the UCP as well – after all some of the proponents for more privatization are doctors, just as some of those violently opposed to privatization are doctors.

        Support for parties might break down along lines of specialization within the medical profession ? Anyone have any insights ?

        Reply
  3. Death and Gravity

    February 21st, 2020

    It’s Harper’s Wrecking Crew, as I think Jeffrey Simpson called it, fully gloves-off unleashed in their home Province. An amusing spectacle to watch. From a safe distance.

    Reply
  4. Simon Renouf

    February 21st, 2020

    Who knew this was so complicated? For Tyler Shandro, and all the other instant experts on health care, I’ve saved only one quotation from Donald Trump, but you might want to study this one: “President Trump, meeting with the nation’s governors, conceded Monday that he had not been aware of the complexities of health care policy-making: ‘I have to tell you, it’s an unbelievably complex subject. Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.'” New York Times, February 27, 2017

    Reply
    • ingamarie

      February 21st, 2020

      Health care complicated? Time for a few simpletons to take an ax to it and chop it down to where conservatives can understand it. My best friend’s husband, waiting for heart surgery, died prematurely during the last conservative moves to ‘simplify’ the system down to where they understood it. Long wait lines apparently being a sign of a vibrant market for health care. De klein was simplistic then; breaking contracts kkk Kenny’s version.
      Some Albertans my need to learn this lesson twice; my friend doesn’t.

      Reply
      • anon

        February 22nd, 2020

        A genius idea to destabilize the Alberta Health system just when corona virus and a second more lethal virus is well established and on its way here. Remember to kiss your local UCP MLA or even that UCP party supporter before you go.

        Reply
  5. Fosiya

    February 21st, 2020

    In general, fee-for-service (ffs) physician compensation models are outdated and do a disservice to patient care, as they do not incentivise quality outcomes or the use of a robust interdisciplinary team. Unfortunately, many physicians do fraudulently, whether knowingly or unknowingly, bill the public insurance plan and there needs to be a serious conversation about unnecessary cost-overruns. To be fair, many healthcare providers (physicians, nurses, etc.) are not educated about how the system is funded, or their role in contributing to health care costs. Frankly, we do not have an unlimited amount of dollars, but there are ways to ensure we provide the appropriate care to patients, while ensuring quality outcomes by working differently and restructuring the system to focus on preventative care, improved quality of life outcomes, and overall value to patients and their families. Further, newer docs don’t want to worry about overhead, or paying for office staff – give everyone a fair salary, benefits, pensions and the stresses that contribute to fraudulent billing may decrease. I think this is a step in the right direction and hopefully, physicians will look past their own finances and society as a whole.

    Reply
    • ingamarie

      February 21st, 2020

      Perhaps I’m missing something but this sounds like nonsense to me. Fees for service are leading to fraud? I rather doubt we have many Joe Magliocca’s in the health care system, but I have seen a persistent belief in the conspiracy theory of reckless spending among the far right………..funny enough, it is often accompanied by petty forms of fraud among a few right wing politicians.

      As to the idea that unilaterally breaking a contract in the middle of the contract period is a ‘step in the right direction’ I need you to qualify just where it is you think such deal braking is designed to take us. High handed autocrats who show such contempt for legal agreements, and the public served by the provinces doctors aren’t my idea of a friendly future.

      And if we only have so much money, let’s end some of those subsidies to the richest corporations and bring back taxes that are progressive……we’ve still got lots of disposable wealth in Alberta, the watering holes are generally full. Let’s get everyone to contribute, not just teachers, nurses and doctors. They actually provide a service we need.

      Reply
    • Murphy

      February 22nd, 2020

      That was a brilliant parody of the rantings of a neo-con dipshit. I loved how you updated Ronald Reagan’s “Cadillac-driving welfare queen” fairy tale and swapped in the Alberta physicians as the fraudulent villains. That was some good stuff, and with the Hillbilly Grifter governement currently in power in Alberta, a few clever jokes like yours are sorely needed.

      Reply
  6. Just Me

    February 21st, 2020

    As the UCP’s war against everyone continues, Alberta will see a tipping point…right about now.

    Health care professionals have always been a favourite target of the UCP. Usually, it’s nurses that get the boot and the kicking never stops. Now, the UCP has decided to punch higher and go after the doctors. As the UCP works its way down its list of enemies, making sure each one of them gets what’s coming to them, the rage overflows and splashes onto unintended targets, which are everyday Albertans.

    What could be the end goal of all this mayhem? The short answer is a privatized health care system. Doctors find that if the government is unwilling to negotiate with any seriousness concerning their fee structure, they have two options: leave Alberta for provinces where maturity still exists in governance; or, they can go private and charge the patient directly for their services.

    The UCP has always believed that health care and the free market will, unequivocally, provide the best service options. So, throw everything to the “Invisible Hand” and a thousand flowers will bloom. In the interest of personal entertainment, I attended a few of Kenney’s roadshow events. While, the UCP was still only a twinkle in his gleeful eyes, Kenney would mount the stage and announce that he had the keys to a better world, a world of limitless, affordable, and the best health care the world had ever seen. All one had to do was let the free market take over. Sitting in the audience at these events, I noticed that I was in the midst of the choir, so challenging Kenney’s lies would get you shouted down and thrown out of the hall. But there were a few who asked the questions that needed to be asked about how was anyone going to afford this? Kenney, his chest puffed up with pride would drop the craziest platitude of all: humanity’s goodness would make everything alright. Considering that the event began with everyone standing for a recitations of the Lord’s Prayer and God Save the Queen (this was in rural Alberta, after all) I got the sense that this crowd was ready to go for anything to get rid of the Dippers and that “nasty woman” premier. Judging by the pre-event tailgate parties in the endless sea of pick-up trucks, the truly ginned up crowd was beyond reason. Gone were the days of Presto Manning’s alcohol-free Refooo…oorm Party; sober second thought is something Kenney doesn’t want.

    Alberta will reach its tipping point. Once the hangover from Ken-Doh’s reckless shenanigans comes to light, not even the effluent spewing from the war room will save the UCP’s hide. But then again, open a tailgate party, pour the spirits, and everyone will be too distracted to care about the UCP’s lies.

    Reply
    • jerrymacgp

      February 22nd, 2020

      “ …throw everything to the ‘Invisible Hand’ and a thousand flowers will bloom… “. This phrase sounded familiar, so I looked it up. It’s actually a misquote by an order of magnitude: “let a hundred flowers bloom, let a hundred schools of thought contend“ was the tagline for Chairman Mao’s Hundred Flowers campaign in 1956-57, in which intellectuals were encouraged to speak out & criticize the Communist government (perhaps you knew that & used it in irony). This campaign didn’t end well for those intellectuals, though … https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hundred_Flowers_Campaign.

      It’s kind of funny, though, to picture these extreme right-wing neo-cons evoking Chmn. Mao. It’s illustrative of the notion that has been put out by some political sciences that at the extremes, left-wing & right-wing ideologies actually begin to approach each other by looping around like the points of a crescent.

      Reply
  7. Tana

    February 21st, 2020

    Alberta is under attack. But comparing this government to Klein, or Getty, is a huge mistake. Those former Premiers, although they made drastic and massive cuts to services – they understood that going to war with the entire province was not in their own best interest. This gang of thugs – and they really have proven to be exactly that – have taken water canons to the people of Alberta, ripped up contracts and agreements, and made it clear that they will do whatever they want to do, no matter the consequences. They are short-sighted and ill-informed. In less than a month thousands of public-sector workers will be fired. They join the more than 50,000 people who have already lost their jobs under this government’s tyrannical regime. Now they have alienated and angered our Drs, specialists, nurses, and teachers. Who, exactly do they think is going to be moving TO Alberta? The large majority of people I talk to, many – like me – born and raised Albertan – are making plans to leave this province. Kenney himself will be moving on in a couple of years – so if you think he’s invested in these devastating policies – think again.
    It is a SAD SAD day for our province. If we were Québécois, or First Nations, or European, or students in Hong Kong – we would be in the streets by the tens of thousands protesting these moves. But we are not. Because we are polite. And we don’t know how to storm the castle.

    Reply
    • Carol

      February 21st, 2020

      But the storm can be disrupted if we want to march together. And still be polite.

      Reply
    • Murphy

      February 22nd, 2020

      Getty likely believed in what he was doing, but Klein was absolutely an imbecile Yeltsin-like puppet. I know for a fact that prior to his annointment as a provincial leader, he was taken by a group of those who pull the strings here, and given the once-over, in the manner of Senator Geary in the second Godfather. it was determined that he was a malleable degenerate who wouldn’t make a move that defied the Owners in Calgary, and the rest is history. He was a known wife-beater, who punched out his wife at a Kon get-together for a former Provincial Minister. Klein’s debauched assault on his wife so appalled the few witnesses that some immediately quit working for the former minister. Klein’s first wife worked for my neighbor, and she used to come to work after “walking into a door”, sporting a lovely shiner. People in this province need to grasp that the Kons are compromised stooges who can be controlled by the geologists and real estate developers who actually run this province.

      Reply
  8. J.E. Molnar

    February 21st, 2020

    No one in Alberta these days would ever accuse Jason Kenney and the UCP of political aplomb or political panache for that matter. What we get instead is beast mode jackassery.

    Trumpian autocratic behaviour has apparently become the dystopian norm in Alberta — thanks in large part to a coterie of right-wing media toadies, party sycophants and tail-wagging government MLAs. It may be wishful thinking, but my guess is most Albertans can’t wait until the 2023 election, when the province will have another chance to return to normal with the re-election of Rachel Notley the NDP.

    BTW — whatever happened to the promised UCP “Recall Legislation?”

    Reply
  9. Ingamarie

    February 21st, 2020

    I’m reminded of a comment from an elderly farmer at the Carmangay rally after the Conservatives closed their long term care facility and moved the old people, some of whom had dementia, to another centre over 100 km away. He had an outfit that identified him as NDP. When I said to him and his wife, ‘perhaps this will convince people not to trust the conservatives, he replied , ‘They’re slow learners here’.

    Breaking promises has been part of Alberta politics for a long time, and it doesn’t seem to hurt the conservative dynasty. Time will tell if anyone cares about cuts to health, education and other social services….or if the people who do care, have the will to stand up against those cuts.

    Public service pensions, including my teacher pension, have been invested with that BC pipeline that’s causing so much disruption now……and TC(alias TransCanada) is apparently so confident in its future that its sold a 65% sha to AIMCo and a US hedgefund, KKR. It looks like my old age security is going to depend on a fracked gas pipeline, and the continuous fracking of our northwest.

    So far I haven’t received any marching orders in protest of that theft. On the contrary I doubt most retirees know the name of the pipeline being protested, or their stake in it.

    In Alberta we seem to believe that keeping our heads under the covers makes us invisible. Arresting all those ‘radicals’ standing in the way of our Alberta ‘investment’ is the political response most characteristic of Albertans, and their chosen government. That our pensions may depend on forcing the Wet’suwet’en to stand down isn’t on most public service people’s radar. The indebted nature, and short lifespan of fracked wells not one of the ‘facts’ grasped in this province either.

    So good luck to the doctors. They should have allies everywhere by now. But until a relative is dying due to lack of essential services, will your average Albertan know or care?

    Reply
  10. Athabascan

    February 21st, 2020

    Remember fellow Albertans, you voted for this. More surprises are on the way for you.

    Next time an intelligent, non-bible college dropout, ethical and honest woman runs the province don’t fire her.

    Reply
    • jerrymacgp

      February 22nd, 2020

      I have to agree, Athabascan. Canadian voters are, by & large, idiots. They think we still have the kind of brokerage politics that were the norm in past generations, when no party was excessively ideological, and you voted the bums out after two or three mandates, and saw them replaced by a different set of bums, and what you really cared about was how well they listened after they were in government, not what their platforms were, since those were essentially a mix of platitudes and fiction. If government floated an unpopular idea from their platform, public pressure would get them to back down. If the people wanted them to do something that wasn’t in their platform, they’d listen and probably oblige, because they wanted to be re-elected, ideology be damned. If the bureaucracy advised them to do something because it was good governance and good policy, they’d probably also oblige, because competence is another path to re-election.

      But, those days are over. Now is the era of entrenched ideological political parties, especially on the right, and if a conservative party says they’re going to do something you don’t like, you’d damned well better believe them and not vote for them. The conservative movement telegraphed everything they were going to do during the four years of the NDP’s run, from the day after the election — when they were screaming “accidental government” because the first-past-the-post voting system worked exactly as designed in allowing the NDP to win a majority of the seats without winning a majority of the popular vote — right up through the PC leadership campaign, the WR-PC merger campaign, & the UCP leadership campaign with its “kamikaze candidate” and all-around electoral shenanigans. Only the most low-information voters — meaning, most of them — could have been unaware that the way the current government is governing, is exactly how they said they would do.

      Reply
  11. Dave

    February 21st, 2020

    Yes, the UCP now seems to want to stick it to the doctors along with almost everyone else who depends on the provincial government to hold up its end of the bargain. I’m not sure that is politically very wise. If you want the Health Care system to work, you probably shouldn’t alienate everyone – especially a group as powerful as them. At least they didn’t start closing rural hospitals, so perhaps they don’t have a total political death wish, at least not intentionally.

    I think one of the “lessons” the UCP learned from the last election was a united right in Alberta can do whatever it wants and get away with it. I’m not sure that will turn out to be correct, though. There is a large enough and viable opposition, no foreseeable light at the end of the tunnel and now an increasing number of cranky people the UCP has, or is in the process of alienating by its overly heavy handed approaches to various things. Not all of these people voted NDP in 2019 and some those that voted for the UCP may now be feeling regret or even worse anger.

    The NDP did a fairly good job of steadying the health care system. I think by the end of their term it was taken for granted and many people somewhat forgot all the chronic problems it had for years under the PCs. To their credit, the PC’s were not totally stupid about it and when things got too bad, past a certain point, they would stop and at times even reverse the damages they caused. I think they could sense how much voters would tolerate.

    With the UCP, I sense a more rigid ideological approach without the political pragmatism sometimes shown by the PC’s. I don’t think this time the lady is for turning. It might take a year or so for the damage they are causing to seep into the more broad public consciousness, as many people do not have frequent interactions with the health care system. However, once it does and once people realize the UCP can not or will not fix their mess, they may come to the conclusion the only way to fix it is to send the UCP packing.

    It’s not yet clear this is how things will play out in health care and elsewhere, maybe the UCP will chicken out before then, but if not I can see them facing an eventual reckoning they may not yet fully grasp.

    Reply
  12. February 22nd, 2020

    “Warning to snowbirds: Your travel insurance needs just went increased!

    “…the province will stop covering “elective, non-urgent health services and routine lab tests.” How do they define non-urgent and routine? ”

    While I’m no expert in Albertan politics, as a licensed agent in Alberta, and a bit of an expert in this field, I can assure you that, while this move to eliminate a previously enjoyed benefit will cost some travellers, it won’t increase the general need for travel insurance (unlike Ontario’s recent elimination of all out of province medical coverage).

    That’s because any travel insurance sold in Alberta for Canadians leaving their province is for ’emergency medical’ benefits. Non-urgent or elective health services are not covered by emergency travel insurance. So eliminating this provincial perk (which covers people that need ongoing testing for chronic conditions such as blood sugar levels, hormone conditions, or simply getting a prescription filled while down south), won’t create any EXTRA demand for travel insurance. It’ll just cost $1million out of the pocket of those previously savy snowbirds/travellers who knew that their province would cover the bill!

    It’s still a punch to the gut of many retired travellers on limited pension incomes. No doubt about that.

    Reply
  13. JS

    February 22nd, 2020

    Congratulations to all doctors, nurses, teachers, snowbirds who voted for this government. Let your vote hang as shame around your neck forever.
    And don’t blame your parents and spouses for forcing you to vote for ucp. And many of you are gullible enough to vote for them in the next provincial election.

    Reply
  14. Naf

    February 23rd, 2020

    Not sure why you would assume that most doctors voted for the UCP. As a physician, neither I, nor any colleague that I’m aware of, supported them, and some, myself included, actively campaigned against them. I’ve practised under conservative rule for long enough to know that their policies do not result in good patient care, nor do they understand science or evidence based practice. I only wish that the NDP had a longer mandate so that we could have seen real progress. Much of what was just getting underway was scrapped when the Unhinged Clown Posse got in. Sadly, none of this is a surprise to educated voters.

    Reply

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