Alberta Politics
Health Minister Tyler Shandro at yesterday’s COVID-19 briefing and news conference (Photo: Screenshot of Government of Alberta video).

Docs fight Alberta pay cuts in court, seeking $250 million, while battling COVID-19 on the front lines of health care

Posted on April 10, 2020, 1:47 pm
7 mins

Yesterday morning, Christine Molnar, president of the Alberta Medical Association, announced that the province’s doctors are launching a constitutional challenge and seeking $250 million in compensation from the United Conservative Party Government for the way it tore up their contract two months ago.

Yesterday afternoon, Health Minister Tyler Shandro showed up at Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw’s daily COVID-19 briefing and not one of the reporters in attendance apparently thought to ask him a question about the AMA’s lawsuit.

Alberta Medical Association President Christine Molnar (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

What’s with that, anyway?

I suppose they could argue they’d already filed stories about it that morning. But it’s not as if there wasn’t lots of time for questions, as the government’s videotape of the occasion shows. Indeed, questions were so slow coming at one point that the master of ceremonies seemed to be pleading with the journalists to toss a few more softballs. And Mr. Shandro was right there.

Nevertheless, reporters asked Dr. Hinshaw about the state of four separate nursing homes hit by coronavirus outbreaks, testing at nursing homes and homeless shelters, whether the Legislature and several golf courses ought to be open, personal protective equipment for health care workers, and the use of pediatric ventilators.

Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw at yesterday’s COVID-19 briefing (Photo: Screenshot of Government of Alberta video).

Only one of them bothered to ask Mr. Shandro a question, and that was about the $235,000 temporary shelter being donated to Calgary’s Peter Lougheed Hospital by Sprung Instant Structures Ltd., a company based in the hamlet of Aldersyde south of Calgary.

Readers with exceptionally long memories for political stories may recall the tale of the company’s Newfoundland Pickle Palace venture in the late 1980s, a drama that involved Conservative Premier Brian Peckford, large amounts of money, a giant hydroponic greenhouse, and the death of a thousand cukes. But I digress.

Getting back to the AMA’s lawsuit, which one would have thought was a significant story, there were no questions. This raised eyebrows on social media, prompting the usual rude responses from the UCP troll factory.

Alison Clarke, past president of the Alberta Medical Association (Photo: Alberta Medical Association).

For her part, Dr. Molnar outlined the reasons for the lawsuit in some detail on the AMA’s website, commenting, “If you told me a year ago that I would serve the Minister of Health with a Statement of Claim for a constitutional challenge, in the midst of the worst public health crisis in a century, I would have been incredulous.”

She explained that while she, AMA President Elect Paul Boucher and Past President Alison Clarke are named as plaintiffs, “the claim is registered on behalf of all AMA members because the government has left us with few alternatives but to defend our interests, and those of our patients, in court.”

Among the relief sought by the AMA, according to the statement of claim filed in the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench, is a declaration by the court that Alberta Health “has a duty to engage in meaningful, good faith negotiation with the AMA,” and further that the government be instructed to give the AMA access to “an independent third party dispute resolution process which may be invoked in the event of a bargaining impasse between AMA and the Defendant.”

In her commentary, Dr. Molnar addressed the inevitable criticism that the AMA shouldn’t be doing this now, in the midst of a pandemic. The answer to that, of course, is that the government shouldn’t be using COVID-19 as cover for a major assault on the province’s doctors, but the AMA president was more diplomatic. As for why the government chose this time to pick that fight, that might be a good question for some reporter to ask Mr. Shandro.

Paul Boucher, AMA president elect (Photo: Alberta Medical Association).

“While the Board and I strongly believe this court filing is necessary, I am not happy to have to take this step at this time,” Dr. Molnar wrote. “Of course, patients do not need to worry that it will impact pandemic care. Alberta doctors will be here for them. We asked the Minister many times to at least delay implementation of the Physician Funding Framework until after COVID-19. Government would not agree and implemented their changes on April 1. So, here we are.

“Physicians and government need a structured, long-term way to work together. Otherwise, without an agreement and without any effective recourse or opportunity for collaboration, we are subject to the whims of government and have no real power to bargain.

“This claim seeks to return balance to the relationship between the parties and place the AMA on a more level footing for negotiations. Through this claim, we are simply asking for the same rights that other health care workers and first responders enjoy.”

This will likely take a long time to resolve. Possibly longer than the worst of the COVID-19 crisis. As doctors battle the coronavirus, though, I imagine knowing their collective bargaining association is fighting for them will improve their morale considerably as they risk their lives to save ours.

The lawsuit may not be a slam dunk, but it’s not based solely on a wing and a prayer. Courts have ruled before that if a government pays people, those people are entitled to have some input in to what they’re paid.

16 Comments to: Docs fight Alberta pay cuts in court, seeking $250 million, while battling COVID-19 on the front lines of health care

  1. Abs

    April 10th, 2020

    I think we are long past our naïve, rose-coloref glasses. Questions by reporters are pre-screened, aren’t they? Surely reporters would have questioned Shan the Man about a lot of things, if only the Postmedia ones weren’t already onside with the cone of silence. and the others weren’t afraid to be tossed out on their bottoms. Shan has Protective Services ready to act, you know? Any and all questions are threats. He’ll call you at night on your unlisted number to remind you that government, like Shan himself, never sleeps. Besides, who needs Tammy Fay Shan on the driveway?

    Well, here’s what happened in Seattle: tent hospitals dismantled without treating a single patient.

    https://www.foxnews.com/us/washington-field-hospital-coronavirus-dismantle

    Homeless camps dismantled during the pandemic.

    https://www.thenation.com/article/society/seattle-homeless-sweeps-coronavirus/

    A logical person might have realized the homeless could be housed in the vacant field hospitals. Never mind.

    Here in Alberta, there is a risk that field hospitals will become “severely normal” for Albertans once the pandemic is over. Just think of the two-tiered sytem: paying customers indoors at the private American hospital that our money built, and the “severely normal” leeches outside, getting treatment from healthcare aides hired off the street earlier that day. Great, until around -40° C. or the typical summer golfball hail. Unlike Seattle, tent hospitals may be here to stay. And who needs doctors, anyways?

    Reply
  2. Keith McClary

    April 10th, 2020

    I bought a Sprung cuke in Calgary. I even asked the stockboy where it came from, and he checked in the back: Newfoundland.

    Reply
  3. Murphy

    April 10th, 2020

    As an example of the Calgary Way, I had to include this gem from the Newfoundland House of Assembly’s Oldies But Goodies stack:
    “MR. K. AYLWARD: That is right, they put in $4 million. They were putting in $4 million. It was set. That is what it says here, $4 million, and the government was putting in the rest. Now, you know it is a 50 per cent shareholder, 50/50. Then we form NEL, which is Newfoundland Enviroponics Limited. So, once we form NEL, then we give a contract as NEL to the Sprung group of companies to build a facility for $14.5 million.

    So we, ourselves, I’m a Sprung, I gave myself the contract to build the facility.

    AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

    MR. K. AYLWARD: Exactly. Now, that it where they got the $4 million. It says here, the Sprung group contributed $4 million to the Sprung greenhouse project. ‘The shareholders’ agreement contemplated the Sprung group contributing the following financing for the project: Shareholder loan at $3.5 million, and a loan guarantee for $500,000. But the $3.5 million of the Sprung group contribution was a direct set-off against progress payments due to Sprung by NEL, himself, under the construction agreement.

    So he never put anything in it. I’m not sure if he put a cent in. Not only that, I think he was set up as one of the chairmen, or CEOs, of the company. He got paid a salary besides that. So that was the math of the day, and that was the only reason that I, as a member of the House, would have any questions.”
    https://www.assembly.nl.ca/HouseBusiness/Hansard/ga41session4/92-06-05.htm

    With good ol’ Calgary know-how, if you pull hard, and I pull hard, we’ll be all right, in the middle of the night, pulling hard together! (Fighting el-kaydahs and commonists and Rooskies and Covids and tree-huggers)

    Reply
  4. Abs

    April 10th, 2020

    This does seem like an odd time for Jay and Ty’s notwithstanding horse to rear its heinous head in someone’s driveway. How would that roll out with Alberta’s amendments to the Emergency Management Act? Perhaps the lawyers here can inform us?

    Reply
  5. Dave

    April 10th, 2020

    I am not sure what the lack of questions on the lawsuit says about our docile mainstream media here in Alberta. Perhaps they are just preoccupied by corona virus, but I have another interesting theory.

    recently noticed a particularly cheerleading article of the UCP by an Edmonton reporter who was never very critical of them and am wondering, perhaps the word is out they are looking for a new person to take over the war room. This might explain why some of the usual suspect reporters seem even more suspiciously eager to praise them without much merit. It would make sense that if they were to make changes which seem to be needed there, they might try to do it before the corona virus problem subsides. It does seem to keep attention away from other things the government is doing.

    Of course the medical association lawsuit will continue long after the corona virus subsides and the government will probably have to deal with the problem of rural hospitals having no doctors because they changed reduced the billing rate for hospital visits. These largely self created messes by the UCP are definitely not going away anytime soon, even though they may not be getting the attention they deserve right now for whatever reasons. I also have to wonder, if there is any thinking by the Premier to replace the health minister while the Alberta mainstream media seems even more docile and distracted than usual and replace him with someone who has some ability to clean up messes.

    Reply
    • Bob Raynard

      April 11th, 2020

      “… and replace him with someone who has some ability…”

      Dave, your question assumes such a person exists. Think back to the gong shows around the UCP nomination meetings, when Jason Kenney was manipulating the candidate selection process from behind the grassroots curtain.
      The most essential criterion for a candidate was a willingness to meekly follow Kenney’s directives. Poor Jason might be wishing he put a higher priority on competence, rather than obsequiousness.

      I wonder if he is hoping Sarah Hoffman will cross the floor.

      Reply
  6. Just Me

    April 10th, 2020

    I have a belief about court challenges to the UCP government’s various and bizarre policy actions these days….

    I believe that the UCP will never EVER lose a court challenge to any of their actions. I go back to the strange decision by the Alberta Appeals Court that the federal carbon tax was unconstitutional. It seemed to be that the question of overreach of federal powers into the provincial domain in matters of taxation was dealt with when the GST was everyone’s favourite lightning rod. The Supreme Court ended all challenges with their decision, but the question reared its ugly head again in four provincial appeals courts. All upheld the reach of federal powers, save for Alberta, which declared that the federal government had no right to interfere with the superiority of Alberta justice and other UCP b.s. One against three over the same question? And there was the matter of an Alberta court agreeing that the government can end their contracts or alter them at will.

    Methinks that things in Alberta are somewhat skewed, judicial-wise?

    Of course the AMA’s challenge remains to be seen, but I suspect that it will meet the same fate. And of course there’s that Notwithstanding Clause that hanging around and begging to be used.

    Things are about to get interesting and increasingly bizarre in Alberta. Maybe it’s time for health care professionals to reconsider continuing their respective practices in Alberta? Voting with their feet remains the final option, but perhaps the only option.

    As for state of health care in Alberta after the deluge? I guess that faith healing and exorcisms will become respectable health care options.

    Reply
  7. Lars

    April 10th, 2020

    Were the reporters present at this press conference all employees of Postmedia? That would explain the easy lobs. They wouldn’t want to embarrass their friend Tyler, after all.
    Illustrative of the toothlessness of the Alberta media. How are we supposed to hold the government to account if the press won’t do their jobs? If only one of our big cities had a really independent newspaper, one with a wide readership. Here in Calgary, all we have are The Herald and The Sun. Dumb and Dumber.

    Reply
  8. lost in the colonies

    April 10th, 2020

    really pleased to see somebody in AB has recourse to battle the Kenney/UCP idiocracy

    the rest of us, unfortunately and possibly tragically, will have to wait til the next election
    and even then considering the amount of stupid in this province that’s not a great bet either

    proportional representation in AB and all of Canada

    Reply
  9. Murphy

    April 10th, 2020

    I’m sure that there’s some point to “testing at nursing homes”, although it certainly escapes me. The bug continues to circulate and some people continue to go to work and others don’t. Everybody can go to the grocery store or the dollar store if they choose. I am about to go to the liquor store as, miasma or no miasma, I never fail to commemorate Good Friday, the day in 1867 when Anne Frank joined forces with the Easter Bunny to stop Joseph Stalin from putting Louis Riel’s name on the Stanley Cup. After that, I’m free to go to the park and walk past as many people as I choose, mask or no mask, all of us emitting or not emitting virus loads when we sneeze, cough, talk, or maybe just breathe hard. I can’t go to work of course, holiday or not, but the semi-skilled labour renovating the flipper’s house down the street from me are hard at it, well supplied by daily trips to fast-food outlets that remain open.
    My daily perusal of the Alberta Government Covid page shows that of those 1500 who have tested positive, one person under twenty has been hospitalized. One person over twenty and under 30 was hospitalized. A grand total of 40 cases under age sixty have been hospitalized across the province for a case rate of 4%.
    The positive test rate, over one month into the official crisis in Alberta, is still under 2%. If we were really serious about a lock-down and managing the bug, why have we not been locked down completely, save for people equipped with respirator-type masks who distribute food, and healthcare workers?
    How many people have had the bug already and are no longer positive for the PCR test but would test positive with serology for antibodies? Given that over ninety percent of people under sixty who are positive for the bug suffer no symptoms or symptoms mild enough that they recover without hospitalization, what is the real number of people who have had the bug and recovered? Nobody has any idea, and no effort to make this determination is underway.

    Reply
  10. MoS

    April 11th, 2020

    https://youtu.be/nBhK8OByZAc
    Dave, I’m from a military family that has served our country through the 19th and 20th centuries. Before that it was England and before that it was the Northern Crusade. My dad went to Britain, shipping out in 1940. He came back with a few bits less than he went over. Four of his brother-in-laws also went. One is still in France. Another came back a broken man held together until his death by an unbelievably devoted and forgiving wife.

    Today they’re succeeded by others. There are no bayonets or bombs, no shrapnel mutilations (most have no idea what a little jagged white hot shrapnel can do as it tears through a body). But Canada is, once again, in distress and, once again, we have these people putting themselves in harms way because it’s the right thing to do.

    Watch the YouTube video. God only knows what we’d be without them.

    Reply
  11. Scotty on Denman

    April 11th, 2020

    When Christy Clark was a new minister of education in Gordon Campbell’s first BC Liberal government, she made a big splash by tearing up the teachers’ contract which was negotiated and settled by the previous NDP government. The teachers immediately took it to court. And so began a nine year-long legal battle, most of which Christy missed since she took a political powder after her son was born and got to miss out of much of the tumult—

    —until she came back several years later, winning the leadership convention required by Gordo’s disgraced resignation; and the teachers’ suit was still in court!

    The teachers, as I recall, won the trial case on constitutional grounds (that is, workers have a constitutional right to free collective labour contract bargaining). The BC Liberals appealed and lost, and appealed again and were fined a few million dollars for being such assholes. The teachers had been through a couple more contract negotiations by this time, of course, all of them very nasty (the government persisted in calling the people who take care of our children five days a week so we can go to work “greedy”, “conspiratorial”, “lazy” and all sorts of other smears—did the same for nurses, too, the ones who save lives every day). Finally the BC Liberals were court-ordered to retroactively repay the teachers the money they should have earned, and to make good on other issues, an especially prickly one being class size. Typically, the BC Liberals still kept dragging their heals —I’m not sure if they ever made good on the fundings they were ordered to reinstate before they lost the 2017 election.

    Yes, the teachers and the constitution won, but almost an entire cohort of students were short-changed by BC Liberal policy by the time the legal gears churned out the final decision. Needless to say, there was enduring bad blood between teachers and the ministry for a decade and a half.

    Talk about unhealthy!

    I suspect the UCP will be every bit as—and perhaps even more—obstinate as the BC Liberals were.

    Reply
    • Comment

      April 12th, 2020

      I believe you’re right. As glib as Kenney is, he does not seem to waffle. I remember him saying something along the lines of why do something if you’re just going to give in (to protests) and change your mind later. This greasy snake oil salesman is sure of his decisions.

      Reply
  12. Just Me

    April 11th, 2020

    Watching Kenney and Shandro give away medical PPEs and ventilators because the pandemic in Alberta is “on the run” and “under control” sounds like famous last words. And to drive the point home further, the Journal’s David Staples declared the pandemic in Alberta over thanks to the heroic efforts of (UCP) bureaucrats, who are as worthy as any doctor or nurse, just proves how deep the madness in Alberta runs.

    Of course, Kenney trying to make nice by handling the equipment over to B.C. (Seems they really have the pandemic in hand) Ontario (Does Doug Ford still like Kenney?) and Quebec (Alberta’s stuff for the Energy East Pipeline, deal?) It’s not like Kenney never met a PR stunt he didn’t want to be in. As for Shandro, at least we know where he is not standing in someone’s driveway and screaming.

    But now that there will be fewer doctors and nurses in Alberta, why leave all that medical equipment laying around? Use it to buy influence.

    If Kenney’s path to the federal PMO is paved in N95 face masks, it proves how much stupid he’s willing to do to satisfy is angry dwarf ego.

    Reply
    • Comment

      April 12th, 2020

      re: Shandro’s driveway debacle

      And crying. You forgot the crying.

      Reply

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