Alberta Politics
Christine Molnar, President of the Alberta Medical Association, who weighed in yesterday on the Telus Babylon app (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

If Health Minister Tyler Shandro were smart, he’d walk back that Babylon by Telus deal pronto

Posted on March 22, 2020, 12:55 am
10 mins

This whole Babylon smartphone app partnership between the Alberta government and Telus Corp. is starting to look like a major blunder.

If he’s smart, Health Minister Tyler Shandro will recognize he needs to walk back Thursday’s gee-whiz news release announcing the deal with Telus, quickly.

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

Probably the best way for him to do that and still retain a few remnants of credibility would be to explain that Babylon is just part of the government’s entire COVID-19 initiative, which also includes higher rates for family physicians doing telephone and internet consultations with patients, and other initiatives.

This is better advice than Mr. Shandro will likely get from the United Conservative Party braintrust, which tends to believe that what are known in right-wing circles as “flip-flops” don’t go over well with the base. Plus, it’s free. Alas, the kind of people who run the UCP are likely to distrust any political advice that doesn’t come with a big price tag and the imprimatur of an ideologically reliable source.

They certainly didn’t advise the sensible course of drafting a new provincial budget when COVID-19 and the Russian-Saudi oil price war together blew Finance Minister Travis Toews’s Feb. 27 budget to smithereens.

Jason Kenney, premier of Alberta (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Only two days have passed since Mr. Shandro and his staff shamelessly plugged this dubious Telus service in an official government of Alberta press release as a great way to get medical advice in the midst of a global pandemic.

I’d say the portion of Alberta’s medical profession that is active on social media pretty well laid waste to that claim in the hours after the press release was published, complete with enthusiastic quotes from Mr. Shandro and Telus CEO Darren Entwistle.

It was pretty well established within minutes that, as was suggested here yesterday, Babylon’s clinic-free tele-docs didn’t exactly offer the best clinical practice — or necessarily even the most prudent advice — knowing neither the patients they were texting nor the communities where they resided.

And that was before people began digging into Telus Babylon’s terms and conditions and privacy policies. “I would not feel safe sharing my confidential health information through this app,” observed Edmonton physician Amir Pakdel in a tweet.

Former prime minister Stephen Harper (Photo: World Economic Forum/Flickr, Creative Commons).

Physician-patient confidentiality? “We may share your personal data with members of our corporate group and our partners,” the terms and conditions say. Moreover, “while outside of Canada, personal data may be accessible by foreign government agencies under applicable law.”

Yesterday, the Alberta Medical Association weighed in on Babylon.

“Babylon was introduced without any consultation to the profession, which means we are getting information at the same time you are,” said AMA President Christine Molnar in a statement to her members. “It is in effect a virtual walk in clinic. … It provides access to a small number of doctors who work in rotation. There is no mechanism to assign patients to a consistent Babylon physician in order to maintain continuity. This service is focused on episodic care.”

Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Moreover, Dr. Molnar said, “The Babylon physicians have no access to the medical records of existing clinics nor do they contribute to those medical records directly.”

“This type of care results in fragmentation and disruption of continuity of care,” she explained. “Evidence shows in comparison with care from a regular family physician, this model of care results in more tests, more referrals, generates more visits to emergency and results in more hospitalizations.”

“These are impacts we could not afford in a pre-COVID economy. In the current pandemic these outcomes will strain the system and are potentially life threatening to affected patients.”

Dr. Molnar called on the government to make an effort to fairly compensate all physicians who offer their services through virtual media, and provide virtual options for all physicians immediately.

“We need government to stop ‘advertising’ for one particular physician clinic and ignoring the rest,” she concluded. “We need government to be more transparent with patients about the pros and cons of new services provided.”

Meanwhile, back at the Economic Recovery Council

Well, if Babylon done anything for the government, at least this Babylon babel has kept the talk from turning to the membership of Premier Kenney’s “Economic Recovery Council.”

Economist Jack Mintz, chair of Premier Kenney’s Economic Recovery Council (Photo: McGill University).

If the presence of Jack Mintz, Mr. Kenney’s favourite professor, as the chair of the panel isn’t enough to make your blood run cold, then the appearance of Stephen Harper, Canada’s former Conservative prime minister sure as heck should. If you have your savings in a government pension, it might also cross your mind to worry about the presence of the CEO of the Alberta Investment Management Corp.

To give the UCP its due, it actually found a labour guy after a fashion, lawyer Bob Blakely, a former union plumber, and there’s only one actual member of the Laurentian elite. What’s more, the only certifiable billionaire on the list, as far as I can tell, was born in Calgary.

That said, for all the UCP’s pretences about representing the little guy, this is not a crowd that’s going to instinctively think very hard about how to bail out the poor gig worker who can’t meet her rent or a waiter whose restaurant has just been shut down.

Mr. Kenney said: “The Government of Alberta will do everything in its power to protect jobs and job creators,” by which he presumably means oil companies. We already know what Dr. Mintz’s advice will be, if his past pronouncements are a guide: more tax cuts for corporations, pay cuts for the front-line health care workers battling the COVID-19 epidemic, and, if Ottawa won’t knuckle under and send more money, maybe “Albexit.

Here’s the full list of members of the new high church version of Mr. Kenney’s earlier Fair Deal Panel — by which I mean, better vestments, same old neoliberal dogma:

  • Jack Mintz, University of Calgary economist, chair
  • Clive Beddoe, former president and CEO of WestJet
  • Robert Blakely, lawyer, Canadian Operating Officer of Canada’s Building Trades Unions

    Labour lawyer Robert Blakely (Photo: Blakely & Dushenski).

  • Brent Belzberg, founder and senior managing partner of TorQuest Partners, a Bay Street private equity firm
  • Bob Dhillon, president and CEO of Mainstreet Equity Corp., a rental property manager
  • Chris Fowler, president and CEO of Canadian Western Bank
  • Stephen Harper, former prime minister and current leader of the International Democrat Union, the right’s internationale
  • Peter Kiss, owner and president of Morgan Construction and Environmental Ltd.
  • Zainul Mawji, president of Telus Home Solutions
  • Nancy Southern, CEO of ATCO Ltd.
  • Kevin Uebelein, CEO of AIMCo, the Crown-owned pension management company
  • Mac Van Wielingen, founder of ARC Financial, another private equity firm

18 Comments to: If Health Minister Tyler Shandro were smart, he’d walk back that Babylon by Telus deal pronto

  1. alan

    March 22nd, 2020

    Are individuals like Harper and Mintz being compensated for their time by the same “Nanny State”, that they despise and love to criticize non stop? Because, it always seems to be the case that those who squawk the loudest about the “Nanny State” and why it should not exist, are always first in line for their own personal handout. In the case of Mintz, who gets greased both ways:

    http://donaldgutstein.com/follow-the-money-part-3-big-oil-and-calgarys-school-of-public-policy/

    And in the case of Stephen Harper, is he going to be on the panel as himself, or is he going to be on the panel as a representative of Harper & Associates, collecting that nice big fat “Nanny State” consultancy fee? I am sure that it must be lean times in the Harper household, like it is for the average Alberta family.

    Even though, Robert Blakely appears to be the outlier, it would be unlikely that he would be called, if he himself was not a conservative labor bureaucrat that had been disciplined a long time ago and knows full well not to bite the hand(s) that feed him and his family.

    Show trials exist for a reason, as do publicly funded circuses of this type.

    Reply
    • Kang

      March 23rd, 2020

      Apparently Conservatives are less inclined to accept either human caused global warming or that the Covid 19 infection are serious issues. So perhaps this problem will prove to be self-limiting sooner rather than later as Darwin swings into action.

      But you can bet if any of these worthies gets infected, a ventilator will be yanked from a lessor mortal to save them just like in Klein’s day.

      Reply
  2. Bob Raynard

    March 22nd, 2020

    In the midst of a pandemic Jason Kenney certainly seems to express a lot of concern about the economy, and in my opinion, too much. While long term thinking is certainly important, Kenney’s focus on the economy implies he is taking for granted this whole pandemic thing will just blow over, which I believe is dangerous thinking. Worse yet, it probably causes others to take the situation less seriously as well. If (when?) Jason Kenney’s base starts losing loved ones, Kenney’s preoccupation with the economy is sure to rub them the wrong way.

    The whole situation does strike me a little bit like a hockey coach who benches his best players during the semi-finals so they will be rested for the finals. It does not end well.

    Reply
  3. Athabascan

    March 22nd, 2020

    At a time like this Kenney’s number one priority is assembling this panel?

    This Covid-19 pandemic will likely take 18 months to run its course, and this economic recovery panel is what he’s focused on right now? What’s wrong with this picture?

    I hope Albertans remember how Kenney failed us as he concentrated on stealing our money by misappropriating our taxpayer money during this crisis.

    It’s quite clear where his priorities are and it isn’t us.

    Reply
    • Pogo

      March 23rd, 2020

      Assembly? Well that does apply, if, you believe that these “experts of altruism” aren’t the same creators who got this bag o’ phony elected in the first place! Otherwise? Your comment? It closes with what is perhaps the most conservative deployment of the English language I’ve seen used to describe what kind of fresh hell the disaster capitalists are up to! The line up for the trickle down? Starts on the right.

      Reply
  4. !?

    March 22nd, 2020

    Babylon did not come out of the goodness of Darren”s opportunistic heart: Where are the bids &costs for this? What is the Telus skim rate?

    Reply
  5. Just Me

    March 22nd, 2020

    Just a quick scan of the membership of this so-called blue ribbon panel reveals that there are some pretty sketchy characters on it. None I them I would ever call advocates for the public interest, though connections to certain private and political interests indicate that Kenney’s wants this group to be ideologically pure. No doubt the stupid that’s coming will be impressive.

    As for Shandro, it’s not like there hasn’t been an Alberta politician on the take before. Nor have any of the rogue’s gallery from the past ever cared about how they look to the rest of Alberta. I guess the mantra ‘Who else are you going to vote for?’ applies.

    I suspect that we can look forward to all kinds of initiatives to lift Alberta out of the hardship caused by the Covid-19 epidemic and PMJT…

    Right-to-Work legislation
    Immediate and forced roll back of all labour codes
    Emergency pairing down of all regulation that impact business
    A complete overhaul (but they’ll call it ‘reform’) of taxation and levies that unfairly impact business activity
    The abolition of the Oil and Gas Royalty Program
    And the introduction of a PST (Because an HST would involve Ottawa and, you know, ‘firewall’

    Yes, Alabama North will become a reality soon enough.

    There used to be this notion that the mere appearance of impropriety was enough to cause anyone to walk away from public office. We’ll have to see what Shandro does next, but it likely won’t be what he should do — resign.

    Reply
    • Expat Albertan

      March 22nd, 2020

      I think it’s safe to say that this is Jason Kenney’s Shock Doctrine panel. And it comes at a time when people will conveniently not be allowed out to protest its decisions. Albertans, beware.

      Reply
  6. Political Ranger

    March 22nd, 2020

    That’s a mighty big “if”!
    And by the way, a fair question.

    “If he’s smart” – well, there is scant evidence at hand.

    Reply
  7. Simon Renouf

    March 22nd, 2020

    Stephen Harper? I appreciate many may feel that desperate times call for desperate measures. But ludicrous measures?

    Reply
  8. ema

    March 22nd, 2020

    ‘Shandro’ and the word ‘smart’ should never be written in the same sentence, IMO. I believe this man is a clear danger to our health in Alberta and that he is entirely incompetent in that ministry and even in caucus.

    The fact that he now has a QC designation is an absolute horror, somewhat comparable to giving Klein the OC. Both of these designations have truly been sullied with this motley pair having been granted them.

    #ShandroMustGo #UCPfail

    Reply
  9. Keith McClary

    March 22nd, 2020

    Is there any point in asking how much this “Economic Recovery Council” is costing us?

    Reply
  10. Simon Renouf

    March 22nd, 2020

    DC, I know I shouldn’t do it, t but I keep checking the War Room “Canadian Energy Centre” web site. There hasn’t been a new post in 11 days, since March 11. At first that seemed like a joke, but do you think JK secretly shut it down, even while fending off the NDP amendment to delete its $30 million from the budget?

    Reply
    • Expat Albertan

      March 22nd, 2020

      Maybe they are all under quarantine.

      Reply
  11. Dave

    March 23rd, 2020

    Mr. Kenney is getting a bit desperate, I think, with his latest uber blue ribbon panel. He has essentially called in the big guns of the Conservative elite to try save his bacon.

    If it was just the Corona virus crisis which will be bad, but over well before the next election, it would manageable. After all Mr. Harper’s government survived the 2008 economic crisis and went on to win the next election. Unfortunately, for Mr. Kenney it is far worse – languishing oil prices and now the bottom has fallen out of them. His budget was already overly reliant on rising oil prices and now it is totally unrealistic. He has already blown much of his fiscal fire power on tax cuts to large corporations that so far have delivered no jobs.

    Mr. Harper may still be well regarded among more fervent Conservative supporters, but I don’t think even he and the more elite version of the blue ribbon panel can save Mr. Kenney’s bacon now.

    Reply
  12. lost in the colonies

    March 23rd, 2020

    mr Climenhaga just want to say thanks for the outstanding “go to” website/blog for keeping well informed about what’s going on in AB politics in satisfying detail . . . names are named

    also enjoy many of the comments and regular commenters

    cheers and thanks again

    Reply
  13. Ian

    March 23rd, 2020

    Regarding membership of the Economic Recovery Council. I understand that Mr Blakely is retired as COO of Canada’s Building Trades Unions. The announcement was made March 1 2019.

    Reply
  14. Just Me

    March 23rd, 2020

    Funny story…

    Here’s Kenney hosting one of his press conferences and he’s going on about the increase in traffic volume at the homeless shelter he volunteered at. (Yeah, I don’t believe him either.) Kenney attributed the increase in the volume to the hoarding going on at stores. Then, he pronounced that there’s a ‘special place in Hell’ for hoarders and scammers. Right.

    Having made a number of trips to a few large grocery stores lately, I can say that the mass-hoarding has definitely stopped. You do see the few people trying to wedge 50+ cans of tuna through the self-checkout, but that’s the extent of the idiocy now. And, regardless of their obvious love of canned tuna, they are getting death stares for others.

    So, if it’s not the hoarders, how has the volume at shelters shot up? How about the impact of COVID-19 pandemic and all those cuts?

    What was that about that special place in Hell, again?

    Reply

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