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

Whether or not half of Alberta’s doctors are thinking of leaving, even a much smaller exodus would be a disaster

Posted on July 13, 2020, 2:29 am
8 mins

Publication by the Alberta Medical Association of poll results showing close to half the province’s physicians are thinking about leaving Alberta in response to the United Conservative Party’s War on Doctors seems to have enraged Premier Jason Kenney’s strategic brain trust.

Leastways, the UCP’s immediate response — threatening to publish individual physicians’ compensation — suggests a knee-jerk instinct to strike back that may turn out to be a blunder.

Dr. Lindsay Campbell late of Spruce Grove now practicing medicine in Yukon (Photo: Facebook).

First thing Friday morning, an AMA news release revealed nearly half of all Alberta physicians, 49 per cent, are at least thinking about leaving the province because of the policies of Premier Jason Kenney’s UCP government.

News media coverage was heavy, naturally, no doubt further provoking the Kenny Government’s authoritarian instincts.

Nine out of 10 Alberta doctors, the survey ominously suggested, “will be making changes to their medical practices as a result of the funding framework Health Minister Tyler Shandro imposed on physicians.”

“Of this group,” the news release continued, “an alarming 49 per cent have made plans or are considering looking for work in another province. … Another third said they may leave the profession or retire early, with other alternatives being mulled including changing how they offer services/withdrawing services from AHS facilities (48 per cent), reducing their hours (43 per cent) and laying off staff (34 per cent).”

“Physicians have reached a breaking point,” the release quoted Dr. Christine Molnar saying. The president of the association that collectively bargains compensation for about 10,000 Alberta physicians called the government’s tactics reckless. “I’m deeply troubled by where this is going and what it’s going to mean for medical practices and patients in the coming months.”

The government struck back furiously with a rhetorical salvo, trotting out talking points that physicians are paid more on average in Alberta than other provinces, questioning the accuracy of the survey results, and accusing the organization which negotiates physicians’ compensation of having “never taken bargaining seriously.”

But the key point in the release was the threat that “since Albertans should know the facts, the government is also exploring introducing physician compensation transparency, as exists for public servants in Alberta and physicians in a number of other provinces.”

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

To a lot of Albertans, the threat to publish physician compensation as part of its Sunshine List seems like nothing more than bullying.

The government says nothing nowadays, of course, about how running a doctor’s office is a business, out of which income must go to rent, expenses and pay for employees — although Mr. Shandro certainly knew this to be the case back in 2013.

Nor is there acknowledgement by the UCP that becoming a physician is an expensive endeavour, requiring years of high-priced education, or that salaries in every category have for years been higher in Alberta than other Canadian provinces.

Instead, the echo chamber of UCP “issues managers” and press secretaries vilifies any doctor that talks back to them, and seems to be daring physicians to pull up stakes and leave.

While the argument in Mr. Shandro’s latest press release is right that not every doctor who would like to leave actually will, even if only 10 per cent of the province’s doctors move or retire, it will be a disaster for front-line medical services in this province.

Even Licia Corbella, a reliably pro-UCP Postmedia columnist, declared: “If even a fraction of those physicians carry through, it will be a costly brain drain that will be felt by Albertans for generations to come.”

Postmedia columnist Licia Corbella (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Nor has it seemingly occurred to the UCP strategic brain trust that publishing physician compensation on the province’s Sunshine List won’t necessarily hurt the doctors’ cause.

What do you want to bet a lot of Albertans, grown accustomed to UCP propaganda suggesting doctors are overpaid, will be surprised and troubled by how modest many of their salaries appear? This is especially true of general practitioners and physicians in rural areas.

Declaring a War on Doctors during a pandemic seemed like a strange thing for a government to do when it started. In April, it led to the AMA launching a constitutional challenge and seeking $250 million in compensation from the government for the way it arbitrarily ripped up their contract two months before and took away their right to arbitration to resolve disputes.

On Thursday, the government filed its statement of defence, claiming in a news release that “Alberta’s negotiators worked hard and in good faith to arrive at an acceptable agreement” and disparaging the doctors’ legal case as doomed.

We’ll see about that when the government makes its arguments to a judge.

In the meantime, sticking with the War on Doctors now seems perverse. Many physicians are so bitter about how they are being treated they’re likely to leave even if it means a little less money.

As Dr. Lindsay Campbell late of Spruce Grove tweeted yesterday, with a nice picture: “This is the face of two doctors who have worked in AB for 12 and 6 years. We are now enjoying the freedom from vilification by the UCP working in the Yukon. It isn’t about money … it’s about respect and protection of public health care.”

Alberta’s response to the risk of a medical exodus that it denies is credible has been to post 179 openings for physicians on a website used by applicants from abroad, said by physicians to be an unusual surge.

Meanwhile, health authorities in other parts of Canada are doing the same thing — making their pitches to disgruntled Alberta docs.

They’ll probably get a few, as there are no signs the Kenney Government’s perverse War on Doctors will end any time soon.

18 Comments to: Whether or not half of Alberta’s doctors are thinking of leaving, even a much smaller exodus would be a disaster

  1. Bill Malcolm

    July 13th, 2020

    Goodness gracious me, no. The UCP cannot tolerate educated people disagreeing with them and worse, threatening to withdraw service permanently. The Grand Poohbah as Head of government has a very serious ideological agenda to impose and people paid by him, er, government, cannot be allowed to rebel! The very thought of it is preposterous. Those docs should be grateful for what He decides they should get. Who knows better then He what they are worth? He wants the stolid no-imagination types to populate the place, people who take kindly to a bit of insincere flannelly flattery and don’t talk back using actual logical arguments. Suing him is beyond the pale! It’s mutiny! Any doc giving back chat will be publicly shamed as a greedy grasping anti-Albertan by showing the populace just how much they are ripping the province off for, living off the fat of the land as they do at public expense. So there, docs! And if that doesn’t simmer you down, your offices will be designated as critical defence infrastructure subject to the rule of unconstitutional law; how’d you like them apples?

    About sums it up in the Modern Grand Dystopia Of Alberta. And the regular herd of UCP supporters mooed in agreement or sloughed it off with disinterest. By any standard definition of the term wherein a government/corporate tie-up runs a jurisdiction under de facto regimentation with no criticism allowed and opposition suppressed, it’s fascism.

  2. Bob Raynard

    July 13th, 2020

    During the Klein cuts the doctor my wife and I used moved to Nova Scotia.

  3. Lulymay

    July 13th, 2020

    Maybe Jason can just bring in all those taxi drivers currently working in Toronto, who all seem to claim that they are really doctors, but just not allowed to practice here in Canada. Perhaps Jason and his adoring cohorts can over ride the Canadian Medical Association requirements in order to be licensed to practice, and just create another of his “made in Alberta by Jason” standards?

    I don’t think most of the doctors (outside of some Specialists) are making much more than Jason has earned living off the public teat all of his post failed university years life, do you? And he hasn’t had the expense of setting up offices, hiring staff, paid for memberships etc, after all Jason’s working life has basically been all about “non-profits” hasn’t it? What a dweeb!!!

  4. Murphy

    July 13th, 2020

    Doctors, while being relatively high earners in modern Alberta with its vast low-income population, are still workers. They are among those who toil, and as such, must subjugated by the Kons. The ultimate Kon healthcare dream is a corporate entity owned by a grade-ten drop-out that employs specialist physicians.

  5. Northern Loon

    July 13th, 2020

    It’s interesting that Mr Shandro makes substantially more than any other Provincial Health Care Minister. When is Minister Shandro going to start attacking himself for making more than his counterparts?

  6. David Bridger

    July 13th, 2020

    What a clueless bunch Kenney’s UCP is.

    Now this after pouring money into getting more oil to market amid oil prices that make it uneconomial.

    And the fight with doctors during a pandemic.

    Are Albertans missing Notley yet?

  7. Expat Albertan

    July 13th, 2020

    Hiring foreign scabs…er doctors…would only work if the College of Physicians and Surgeons cooperates with the province over licensing requirements. Given that the College probably sees more eye-to-eye with physicians than governments – especially one that is hurting their members – this will be quite interesting.

    • jerrymacgp

      July 15th, 2020

      You have to wonder about the timing of the government’s recently-introduced amendments to the Health Professions Act mandating a minimum 50% public membership on College Boards, including that of CPSA. While this idea of increasing public involvement in professional regulation is a nationwide trend aimed at greater transparency & accountability, given the current Alberta government’s predilection towards making everything ideological, you have to wonder if this is in fact going to be about lowering practice standards for Alberta physicians.

  8. John T

    July 13th, 2020

    The percentage of the population who still support the UCP (and there are many as of a month ago at least) will only realize the error called Kenney when they cannot find a doctor. When waiting times for an appointment are a month or more for a simple appointment.

    It has to hit them where it hurts to get them to notice it seems.

    • Athabascan

      July 14th, 2020

      Ironically, kenney is punishing his own base by vilifying doctors. If old white males can’t get medical help because so many doctors have left the province – oh, well.

      I guess grandpa will have to wait for his hip replacement. , if he doesn’t die of Covid -19 first. That’s one less UCP voter in 3 more years.

      He’s literally killing off his own base like Trump.

  9. RJ Pisko

    July 13th, 2020

    This disgrace of a NON-government is trying SO hard to become a dictatorship run by the whims and greed of Corporatists – like closing east slope parks to open up Alberta’s BEAUTIFUL mountains to the regressive, unbelievably damaging (economically, health-wise and environmentally) endeavor?” How many pieces of silver is this goof Jason Kenny getting from this dead and dying industry? My MLA – Roger Reid (Livingstone-Macleod), has BLOCKED me . . . refuses to respond to queries and concerns, and hands out free masks from his Tim Horton’s franchise(s) – (no longer a Canadian company, BTW), and paid for with Albertans’ tax $$$. SO – any criticism is met by eliminating you as a constituent with serious concerns and questions.

  10. Abs

    July 13th, 2020

    This dovetails rather nicely with what’s happening in Alberta.

    Numbers of doctors have been overestimated, due to the way they are counted for licensing purposes. Doctors are retiring all over the country. B.C. needs doctors. Alberta has doctors, but does not want them.

    Alas, Albertans believed Sharpie marker-and-Coroplast fantasies. That is what they got: fantasies, a useless, dried-up marker, some non-recyclable plastic and now hundreds cases of Covid-19 in one weekend alone. But who cares if people over 60 get sick with a “kind of flu”, and especially if they are over the age when they should have just died already, right, Jason? If people won’t die when politicians want them to, getting rid of unwanted doctors is one way to help the process along. Psychopathic and expedient: it’s the Alberta Solution.

    • Athabascan

      July 14th, 2020

      Idiot kenney doesn’t realize, it’s the over-60s who vote for him. When they pass away who will replace their votes?

      Young people aren’t falling for kenney’s BS.

  11. Just Me

    July 13th, 2020

    Of course, the UCP will claim they are being victimized by the AMA’s bullying, further justifying the ramping out in this war against doctors and other health care professionals.

    Already being witnessed as Albertans are seeing the list of health care services diminish greatly, there is more shock to come as Shandro pushes ever harder to suit the zealot living in the Premier’s Office. Kenney will assure that any opposition will be silenced by awarding them substantial rewards for their loyalty. This is the nature of a failed state.

    Sooner for later Alberta will come to realize that they were had and they will impose the demand that the UCP government honours its commitments to Albertans’ interests.

    But…Albertans are the stupidest people alive, so never.

    • CovKid

      July 14th, 2020

      “Albertans are the stupidest people alive” …
      Probably, but don’t include me and about another 50% of the population which will be required to remove this pestilence known as the United Conservative Party which, every day, seems to reveal another plot to return this province to the days of 19th. century servitude.
      Fortunately for us, we have the rest of Canada to save us from the worst inclinations of this fascist outfit.

      • Just Me

        July 14th, 2020

        It seems that in the last election, a considerable number of Alberta voters opted to support two political parties that had no chance of winning any seats, including one party where its leader and former leader was rewarded with plum patronage appointments. (Yeah, you, Glenn Clarke and Stephen Mandel.)

        The nonsense of voting in protest has enormous sway among the angry day-drinkers that make up the bulk of Alberta’s electorate. Clearly addle minded and barely functional, they allow this UCP nonsense to prevail.

        I have no problem seeing Alberta destroyed; it’s people truly deserve the chaos they have wrought.

      • Athabascan

        July 14th, 2020

        I totally agree!

  12. Dave

    July 14th, 2020

    I really wonder about Mr. Shandro. Perhaps the easiest and the wisest strategy in dealing with the doctors, would be for him to say and do nothing for a while. For whatever reasons, he does not seem much inclined to try de escalate his war with Alberta’s doctors and seems to consistently be making every effort to make it worse. It is any wonder then that so many of them are feeling attacked, unappreciated and thinking of leaving? If you are a government, you can impose a number of unfair and arbitrary measures against a targeted and attacked group, even in a democracy, but ultimately people can also vote with their feet, if other efforts to bring it a government to its senses fails.

    I suppose it is not a surprise the Government of Alberta is looking for replacement doctors, knowing that their rural supporters in particular will be quite angry with them if local hospitals have to close because of this governments belligerence and incompetence. However, doctors do talk to each other and word gets around. I am not sure how successful Alberta will be in luring many replacement doctors, if it develops a reputation for abusing its physicians.

    It’s not as if there are no other places that need and want more doctors, for instance I hear Manitoba is recently looking for more doctors and trying to recruit some from Alberta already.


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