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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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. AlbertaPolitics.ca regrets both errors.