Alberta Politics
Former Alberta Liberal leader Dr. David Swann, a great example to physicians considering a run for public office (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Coronavirus has U.S. physicians eyeing politics — will COVID-19 and the UCP’s War on Doctors spur the same thing here?

Posted on May 11, 2020, 1:12 am
9 mins

The New York Times reported yesterday how the coronavirus crisis is prodding a wave of mostly progressive American physicians to enter politics.

Many are women and most have connected the dots between the United States’ appalling Third World health care system and the disastrous rate of COVID-19 infection and death throughout the Republic.

Alberta Labour Minister Jason Copping (Photo: Screenshot of UCP social media video).

Will we see the same phenomenon here in Alberta?

For all that Alberta conservatives like, absurdly, to compare Alberta to Texas — it’s Oklahoma we more resemble socially and economically — there are big differences between Canada and the United States that have worked in our favour in the battle against COVID-19.

No thanks to the current generation of Americanized Canadian Conservatives like Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party, we have universal public health care in Alberta and Canada, and our publicly owned hospitals are not in commercial competition with one another, huge related advantages in the far more successful Canadian response to the pandemic.

Spruce Grove-Stony Plain MLA Searle Turton (Photo: Screenshot of UCP social media video).

Never forget, though, that the UCP would destroy this if it could.

As Miranda Rosin, now MLA for Banff-Kananaskis, said during the 2018 election campaign with no objections from the UCP’s leadership: “We need to look at a two-tiered system, so that we can get those who have worked hard for their money to get out of the system if they would like to.” Now she sits on Mr. Kenney’s independantiste “Fair Deal” Panel, charged with, among other things, finding ways to make it easier to wiggle out of the rules of the Canada Health Act.

When COVID-19 came along, the UCP was working actively and openly to undermine the health care system by privatizing large swaths of it, including the delivery of surgical services.

We also have a degree of social cohesion in Canada that, while fraying thanks to some of the same ideological actors who are driving the United States into chaos, has nevertheless made the Canadian effort to flatten the curve of infection more effective.

Banff-Kananaskis MLA Miranda Rosin (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Still, if you’re looking for similarities, Canada’s heavily privatized long-term care system stands out. Thanks to research done by journalist Nora Loreto, on which a recent study by the Ontario Health Coalition was based in significant part, we know that there is a much higher death rate from COVID-19 in for-profit long-term care homes compared with other funding models.

According to Ms. Loreto and other sources, we know that more than 80 per cent of all Canadian COVID-19 deaths have occurred in long-term care facilities.

Plus, unique to Alberta, Mr. Kenney’s UCP has chosen the pandemic as an opportunity for a major assault on physician pay and an ugly attack by the party’s institutionalized troll farm on the Alberta Medical Association and individual physicians who dare to push back against UCP policies.

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

So while many Albertans like other Canadians clank pots and cheer the thin line of health care workers who stand between us and a coronavirus catastrophe like that in the United States, the UCP is unrepentant about its fight with the docs and vows it will continue.

Who knows what motivates such a strategy? Perhaps it’s the party’s strong streak of climate change denial that makes some members distrust the faith in science on which modern medicine rests. Perhaps as ideological neoliberals they hate it that most physicians support universal public health care. Or maybe they just see the AMA, which bargains collectively after all, as being too much like a labour union.

It’s interesting that over the weekend, the UCP quietly announced on social media it had appointed a caucus liaison to the building trades unions, which it obviously sees as potential allies in its campaign to keep expanding the oilsands extraction industry whether or not there’s a market for bitumen.

In a social media post, Labour Minister Jason Copping, looking slightly uncomfortable, said Spruce Grove-Stony Plain MLA Searle Turton had been named caucus’s “private-sector union liaison,” presumably on the strength of his former membership in Local 1325 of the Alberta Regional Council of Carpenters and Allied Workers.

The low-profile backbencher will likely be greeted politely by building trades unions and enthusiastically by the Christian Labour Association of Canada. But who wouldn’t love to be a fly on the wall at his first meeting with United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401, which represents employees of the COVID-19-ridden Cargill Inc. and JBS S.A. Alberta meatpacking plants?

Former NDP MLA Dr. Bob Turner (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Of course, one wonders why Mr. Copping doesn’t do this part of his job himself, but I digress.

Will there be a UCP caucus liaison appointed to cozy up to Alberta’s doctors? Or another to listen to the concerns of public sector unions like those that represent nurses, other health care workers, teachers or government employees? Not likely.

Which brings us back to the idea of doctors in politics. As in the United States, the coronavirus and the UCP’s War on Doctors could — and should — inspire progressive Alberta physicians to enter the political arena.

They could take inspiration from former Alberta Liberal leader David Swann, the Medical Officer of Health fired by the Conservatives in 2002 for speaking up on the health effects of global warming. Dr. Swann made a huge contribution to public discourse in Alberta, serving in the Legislature from 2004 to 2011.

Or they could look to the NDP’s Bob Turner, an Edmonton oncologist elected in Edmonton-Whitemud in the 2015 general election. Dr. Turner retired last year.

They would represent an educated voice to counter UCP ideology and propaganda, and would give the rest of us an opportunity to ensure the cheers for front-line health care heroes aren’t heard only during the coronavirus crisis.

And, as one of the physicians quoted by the a New York Times put it, running for public office may be challenging, but it’s got to be easier than persuading your patients to get a colonoscopy!

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misspelled Miranda Rosin’s last name in the text, but not mercifully in the photo caption, and said the comment quoted was made during the 2015 election campaign, when of course it was made in campaign leading up to the 2019 election. regrets both errors.

7 Comments to: Coronavirus has U.S. physicians eyeing politics — will COVID-19 and the UCP’s War on Doctors spur the same thing here?

  1. Bill Malcolm

    May 11th, 2020

    When I heard on CBC Radio news this morning that the CFIA meat inspectors union was up-in-arms at being forced into plants like Cargill’s by the feds in spite of Covid-19 concerns, I almost threw up. They’re even training office workers having had no previous field experience with a 5 Day In-Depth Super Course to turn them into Instant Experts to join in the mayhem. So Justin is at it as well. Say one thing and do the other. And our chief neoliberal and neocon all rolled into one, Chrystia Freeland, says it’s up to provinces to keep federal inspectors safe. She doesn’t know her job or federal responsibilities then, but loved heading the Lima Group stamping out socialism in latin America. It’s so Democratic Party-ish, so old school Foggy Bottom.

    The TMX pipeline construction is proceeding apace don’t you know, now advancing into BC, I was also informed. I’m sure the workers are socially distancing because it’s a Federal project and non-existent Alberta inspectors are monitoring things. The Bay Street Rollers are pushing the Feds to bail out Alberta’s tarsands industry toute-de-suite. Gotta get their “fair” share of the $250 billion the Parliamentary Budget Office says we’ve spent on ourselves. Grab the money and bail is the likely strategy. Kind of shows up the small town hicks kenney uses to decorate his cabinet positions as mere pikers, mouthing slogans they don’t understand.

    Essentially, under the stealth afforded by locking up the citizenry these past two months for valid virus concerns, the big boys are hard at it making sure nothing changes and that wealth still flows to the terminally poverty-stricken-fearing elite in cubic acres of lovely lolly. All the wonderful gestures regular Canadians have shown one another in this pandemic like shopping for old folks, making masks, etc. mean nothing to these crass opportunists. They just smile at the serfs’ futile antics. Not surprising, given the Canadian government support of Bay Street bankers’ investments and mining interests in South America, where duly-elected Maduro is a “dictator”, and duly-elected Morales was turfed from Bolivia. Yup, our pols know who to keep satisfied all right.

    Honestly, there’s no chance that the virus pandemic will change anything for the betterment of regular citizens afterwards. Alberta’s just in the lead of putting the boot in to any expectations. Let’s hope there are enough doctors in Alberta to join in politics on the social side of things. It’s not clear to me that they understand that private HMO medicine in the US has drastically cut back most docs’ income, a sort of de-listing, because there’s not much call for their services unless they’re in frontline virus care, since hospitals are basically empty otherwise and thus not generating income, precious life-giving private industry income. And dear old Onex, Chapters and Westjet owner, runs a big HMO in the USA. Dear Jason wants to emulate that model of health “care” of course, and to hell with real people.

    Did anyone important mention the environment recently? Beyond kenney suspending environmental monitoring in the oil patch, that is? No?

    Am I just a bit cynical about the intentions of our lords and masters? Whatever gave you that impression?

    What a damn mess.

  2. Bob Raynard

    May 11th, 2020

    I think Dr. Hinshaw would be an obvious candidate in 2023. I bet she could sure spill some dirt on Jason Kenney too.

  3. tom in ontario

    May 11th, 2020

    “Canada’s heavily privatized long-term health care system stands out.” In more ways than one.

    Dennis Gruending writing in on April 18, 2020:
    “One of the biggest players in the private sector long-term care field is Chartwell Retirement Residences. Mike Harris (Ontario Premier 1995-2003) now sits comfortably as Chair of the Chartwell Board of Directors and according to Unifor, another union in the sector, Harris pulls down $237,000 a year for his part-time job.”

    That’s a chunk of cash not used for patient care or workers’ wages, many of them earning the minimum.

  4. Dave

    May 11th, 2020

    I think a healthy democracy should have a mix representatives from various professions and occupations and doctors do have valuable perspectives to bring. I suspect the current governments ham handed approach to health care along with its particular animosity towards doctors will get more than a few thinking about public policy and political involvement a lot more.

    Physicians do have a rigorous education based in science and analysis of data, so I think this perspective could add a lot to public debate. Also, particularly in more rural areas, they are generally well known and respected in their communities. I think the UCP will come to regret its dismissive and heavy handed approach in dealing with health care and doctors, by the time of the next election, if not before then.

  5. Just Me

    May 11th, 2020

    I’ve always been of the belief that there’s nothing funnier than putting someone who doubts science in charge of something scientific. It’s like making a faith-healer the Health Minister, which is about the same thing as having a lawyer fulfill that same role.

    The Liberal Party enjoyed a succession of leaders who were also doctors, but it looks like that trend was on the wane. Truth is people who deal in a world of facts and truths have no place in the fantasy world of politics.

    I recall someone telling more once that working in politics, which he did, was not like working in the real world. Any transgression could be erased by doing something as simple as attending church on Sundays. Idiot voters love divine guidance and redemption. He was not optimistic about politics becoming anything more than emotional partisan freak-outs, because political parties were like religious cults. The leader is divine and the party was the absolute truth; any criticism was heresy.

    • David Climenhaga

      May 12th, 2020

      Not all physicians are created equally, of course, as the two successive leaders of the Alberta Liberal Party indicate. Raj Sherman, of course, started out as a Tory, and probably should have remained one, hence the intentional omission of his name in this piece. DJC

  6. Jim

    May 13th, 2020

    We seem to be in a time where Doctors have been elevated above being questioned. There is no doubt their work is important, especially during a pandemic, but it is important to remember that medical officers of health are political appointees and therefore beholden to political masters. At a time when governments and unelected bureaucrats have been given tremendous power over our lives it would be dangerous to blindly follow. Remember how wrong Dr. Tam and the WHO got this thing in the beginning. These errors cost lives and we are finding out how flawed the models were they all seemed to be working from which will also cost lives.
    I would much rather hear from actual front line doctors treating patients, but the good ones likely don’t have time for interviews.


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