An Alberta Health Services ambulance, this one in Calgary and hopefully not trying to find an address in Fort McMurray (Photo: AHS).

In case you missed it, while Alberta Premier Jason Kenney was trying to pretend the embarrassing rebellion of two COVID-skeptical MLAs in southern Alberta wasn’t happening, another political rebellion against his policies was coming to a boil in the heart of the oilsands. 

On Tuesday, defiant members of the council of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo – the somewhat confusing official name for Fort McMurray and environs – were refusing to hand off 9-1-1 calls to the regional emergency medical services dispatch centre to the provincial mothership.

Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo Mayor Don Scott (Photo: RMWB).

Last fall, mayors all over the province were infuriated when Health Minister Tyler Shandro stomped in, ended the negotiations municipalities had thought were still under way, and said there would now be a centralized provincial EMS dispatching system to save a paltry $6 million. 

Actually, the centralized dispatch operates from three centres, Calgary, Edmonton and Grande Prairie. But if you dial 9-1-1 and don’t live in one of those places, and sometimes even if you do, you may be in for an interesting time explaining where to send the ambulance if you don’t happen to know the street address. I speak from personal experience. 

While most of the mayors complained bitterly, it was the councillors in Fort Mac – former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean’s old provincial and federal riding – that actually ran the Jolly Roger up the flagpole and started refusing to transfer calls to AHS, which technically took over three weeks ago.

Nope, said Mayor Don Scott, “there are circumstances when acts of defiance and resistance are absolutely necessary.” This, he insisted, is one of them. 

Council unanimously supported Mayor Scott’s motion to “provide notice to Alberta Health Services that the RMWB 911 Emergency Communications Centre will no longer transfer the 911 caller to AHS Provincial Dispatch Centre.”

According to Fire Chief Jody Butz, calls with “degradation of service” – which presumably means ambulances either being sent to the wrong place or arriving late – now amount to more than 20 per cent. 

Mayor Scott dared the province to fire him and see what happens. “I challenge the provincial government to remove me as the mayor. I believe in this cause enough that I stand by it completely.”

Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo UCP MLA Tany Yao (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

He described a meeting with Mr. Shandro yesterday as nothing more than “a PR stunt” on the minister’s part, not “an actual effort to have meaningful dialogue.” 

Even the local UCP MLA weighed in with a view more sympathetic to the mayor and council than his premier. Maybe he doesn’t approve of the mayor’s tactics, Tany Yao said, but “I do support our municipality’s notion that Fort McMurray desires a higher quality of services by AHS. The answers I received on this issue from AHS weren’t satisfactory to me.”

Readers will recall that Mr. Yao was last heard from during his Christmas break in Mexico responding to Mr. Kenney’s order he wear a face mask and return to base immediately by saying that, yeah, yeah, he’d be back when his holiday was over. 

He was punished by having his committee work taken away from him, giving him less work for the same pay. 

As for the premier, he insists the centralized system that everybody hates is a great idea that was thought up many big brains on “multiple expert panels.” 

Former Wildrose leader and Fort Mac MLA and MP Brian Jean (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

“We’re absolutely committed to this change,” he said yesterday according to the CBC, which must have slipped a reporter through the net at a news conference on another topic. “We think it’s the best thing in terms of service as well as efficiency.”

Back in the fall, angry mayors said the promised modest savings are illusory – claiming AHS may save a bit but municipal taxpayers will have to pay more. 

So is the premier brave enough to fire the mayor and council in Fort McMurray and pave the way for Mr. Jean’s return to politics? 

Obviously the province hopes there’s another way to skin that particular cat.

Lawyers for Alberta Health Services and the provincial health ministry – which confuses everyone by calling itself Alberta Health – will be before an Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench judge today seeking an injunction to make the northern rebels simmer down and start transferring calls again.

Whatever the court says, for some reason I don’t think that’ll be the end of this story.

Join the Conversation


  1. The UCP loves to pick fights with anyone and everyone. This is a very foolish mistake the UCP are making here. Centralized ambulance and emergency response dispatch services will only put people’s lives in peril. It won’t save any money either. Someone who doesn’t live in the area, (or even the province for that matter, knowing how the UCP loves to kowtow to foreign interests), won’t have a clue about the addresses, or streets and avenues of a particular municipality, and the delays would be devastating when it gets down to making seconds count. How would this help the victim of a heart attack? Around 20 years ago, Ralph Klein did this to some extent in Alberta. He initially said this was going to cost $55 million, and it would work well. His cost projections were way off, as the costs ballooned to nearly three times the amount, and it didn’t work out well. Another set of issues here is with the UCP’s egos and their outright hypocrisy. The premier of Alberta will not come down on his own MLAs who wish to speak out against the Covid-19 restrictions, but wants to come down on municipalities who rightfully speak out against centralized ambulance and emergency response dispatch services. Ralph Klein sure made a mess of healthcare in Alberta, and it seems many people have forgotten about this. The UCP are offering a stark and painful reminder as to what’s to come with healthcare in Alberta. Despite getting plenty of warnings about how bad the UCP would be, it’s apparent many didn’t heed these warnings. The UCP will do whatever they want, regardless of how bad things will turn out. People have been greatly deceived by the UCP, and they will regret their decision to stand behind the UCP.

    1. Ralph Klein’s centralized ambulance dispatch was a total mess in rural Alberta. The city dispatchers had zero clue about the location of calls and had no idea which town had the closest ambulance. Often the drivers were city boys who would get hopelessly lost or stuck in the snow. I pulled one out driven by a nice boy from Montreal who had managed to get stuck in a grain bin yard that had been bladed out to accommodate B trains.

      Oh, and the GPS maps they now rely on in rural areas are mostly based on military ordinance maps from the 1920s. We had one clueless wonder end up in the middle of one our sections in winter because the map showed a long abandoned forced road as still in use. This will just be a reprise of Klein’s health care chaos.

      Shandro and Kenney are perfect examples of undergraduates big on theory, but untested by reality. At least they are giving us a lesson on what “garbage in, garbage out” really means.

      1. Kang: You don’t have to be in rural Alberta to see what a total mess centralized ambulance dispatch is. The reference in the last piece to my own experience involved spotting a man in an overturned wheelchair literally across the street from the Royal Alexandra Hospital. When I pulled over and found him to be unconscious, I called 911. The dispatcher in Calgary demanded I give him the street address. “I’m right across the street from the Royal Alex Hospital,” I said. “I’m sorry sir, I’m in Calgary, you’ll have to give me the street address,” he said. And so it went. More cars pulled over. Eventually an ambulance came. I swear I thought we were going to have to run over to the hospital and borrow a stretcher to get the poor man to help. It was truly pathetic. I can only imagine facing the same situation with only a 1920 ordnance map to go by. DJC

        1. DAVID CLIMENHAGA: I was out walking to go somewhere once. I spotted a young woman lying down on a lawn in front of an apartment complex. She looked like she needed medical attention. I phoned an ambulance. Due to the centralized dispatch, created by Ralph Klein, there was communication issues. Fortunately, the ambulance did come. In the case of every second and minute counting, this move by the UCP will put lives in danger.

      2. KANG: If someone loses their life over this ill thought out move by the UCP, their relatives will sue the government. They have the right to do so. Ralph Klein did this stupid move. However, later on, there was something like four government health ministers, mostly from the Alberta PC bunch, and a lone NDP one, who flat out rejected doing this again. The UCP with their ideological blinders on ignored those previous findings of the four previous ministers of health, and are h e double toothpick bent on doing it. Nothing will change the illogical and risk laden nature of this idea. If people in the conservative heartlands in Alberta show sore displeasure with their UCP overlords, (we see this with open pit coal mining, as one case in point), it shows that something is obviously rotten in the province of Alberta, under the UCP’s arrogant and out of touch leadership. How will the UCP rate with Albertans three years into their term, if they are this bad now? What will the fourth year of the UCP’s leadership look like? Perish the thought.

  2. It’s just the beginning of Jason Kenney’s battles with Alberta’s mayors, and the mayors aren’t taking it lying down. Craig Snodgrass, mayor of High River, had some pretty choice words for the premier. Let me be blunt with you, Mr. Snodgrass was blunt with him. Jason Kenney is going to have to fire everyone in this province before long, such is the ire that follows him wherever he goes. Are there any bridges our premier hasn’t burnt yet? No matter. If he burns them, he can rebuild them as toll bridges. How perfect is that?

  3. I wonder if the “multiple expert panels” behind this scheme, like all such advisory panels recruited by the Kenney government, are made up of various people’s relatives–and, of course, Jack Mintz.

  4. The real game is to consolidate all of the scattered AHS EMS dispatch together so the service can be privatized. Mayor Scott is getting in the way of the the Kenney Klown Klub’s corporatizations. In Alberta it doesn’t pay to get in the way of the KKK.

  5. “…giving him less work for the same pay.”
    After enjoying warm temperatures and fine food in Mexico, lucky for Mr. Yao he’s not a front line worker at a long term care facility or an intensive care unit anywhere in your province.

  6. I have a recollection that when Jason Kenney was campaigning before the election, he told a business group that, once elected, his strategy would be to strike fast – implement a lot of changes all at once so opponents to his changes will be overwhelmed, and unable to mount an effective opposition. This strategy may be effective, but it assumes he would be dealing with the same opposition on multiple fronts. What Mr. Kenney is doing, however, is provoking multiple oppositions all at once – teachers’ pension one day, doctors the next, and now the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. He may find that that his overwhelm strategy may backfire, and it is his government that is overwhelmed.

    The court injunction that could be issued today will probably end this episode of this story. Like Mr. Scott said in the CTV story David provided the link to, the RMWB can hardly ask their employees to defy a court order. The event will, however, cause more people to look at Jason Kenney a bit more critically. Mr. Kenney, meanwhile will be hoping the ambulance delays mentioned in the story do not cause any serious problems.

    1. I wouldn’t be surprised if Kenney had said exactly that; it’s the same tactic Ralph Klein used in his first term as premier. Ralph learned it from, I recall, a New Zealand Conservative MP who used the tactic to ram through changes to their dairy industry. It amounts to “Hit ’em hard, hit ’em fast, don’t let them recover.”

      Cons don’t seem to realize, though, that what goes around comes around. Imagine the howling if (say) the NDP formed the next government and undid the UCP’s mistakes using the same tactics….

      1. I think they could have gotten away with it (and lord knows many changes they did make will cause massive damage) but two factors limited this strategy 1) They wanted to avoid significant changes before the 2019 federal election to avoid a far right agenda being used against Scheer and 2) The pandemic complicated their attacks on public healthcare and other public services and used up their political capital. They also didn’t realize that Albertans at all ends of the political spectrum don’t want to see open pit coal mining and privatized parks. At this point rather than momentum of policy change crushing their enemies, the momentum of bad news stories is coloring everything Kenney does.

  7. …yet “another self-inflicted wound by the Kenney UCP,” and another indication that “Kenney doesn’t really understand the province.”
    More fodder for right wing vote splits? I hope so. Or, it really makes me wonder whether, if the UCP has a leadership review either this year or next year, whether the membership will give Kenney the boot. Regardless, it’s just one fiasco after another with the Kenney UCP.

  8. A lot happening lately, while Premier Kenney wanders aimlessly down the cake aisle, probably trying hard to avoid the more political problems aisle.

    It seems Albertans and even UCPers across Alberta are recently becoming more united that ever in one thing – criticism of Kenney. So from the far south, to the far north of Alberta, even his own MLA’s are starting to speak up. This is starting to remind me a bit of how Wildrose got its start as a party, with some disgruntled PC MLA’s from various parts of the province. Of course, Kenney’s carefully hand picked cabinet will probably remain loyal as they have no better job prospects, so perhaps he will be able to still avoid the humiliating fate of another recent unpopular Premier – having a work plan for improvement foisted upon him.

    Mr. Jean seems to be like a political groundhog in spring, popping up these days from time to time after some absence, so I suspect Kenney will try avoid doing anything especially stupid, like firing the Mayor of Fort Mac, or as it also goes by Wood Buffalo. However, I can understand the frustration of people there about AHS, the bureaucratic behemoth. The Conservative party that was in power before the UCP was forever tinkering with the structure, promising cost savings and efficiencies from centralization and restructuring that often did not materialize, so I can understand Alberta’s skepticism here.

    So, what are they going to do to the Mayor, if he doesn’t comply? Put him jail? Fine him? That would only make him more of a martyr. I doubt Kenney will get much sympathy from other mayors after he shafted the rural ones on taxes from oil and gas companies and the bigger cities in a number other ways. There is a possibility this revolt could grow, both within the UCP and municipal politicians.

  9. Is the no end to these ‘shoot yourself in the foot’, no win possible situations, for what appears to be a UCP Government plagued with foot and mouth disease and an apparent desire to alienate some of their most loyal followers??

    This goes far beyond the gang that could not shoot strait or keystone cops. It is more like hari kari or death by a dozen a self inflicted knife wounds.

    I am actually beginning to feel pity for Jason Kenney.

    And this is the crew that is managing our Province? Houston…we have a problem.

    1. BRET LARSON: Of course there are Albertans who forget what the phony conservatives and Reformers did in Alberta, when they abandoned Peter Lougheed’s good governance. $575 billion in lost revenue from getting the worst oil royalty rates, $260 billion to clean up oil industry related messes, $150 billion in lost revenue from poor taxation rates, and a very large number of other very costly errors, that are in excess of $100 billion. The UCP have saddled Alberta with a debt that is going past $100 billion. What’s a mere $6 million to the UCP, when they squandered far more than that? How’s the $7.5 billion on the pipeline sound? There is so much others. The grandchildren and great grandchildren of Alberta should be asking their elder relatives why they elected these phony conservatives who fleeced Alberta at every opportunity.

    2. Keep your shirt on Brett. We are still paying off the national debt from World War One (1914-1918). The nice thing about government debt is the individuals who get that interest pay back 30% of it every April 30 when tax time rolls around. The other 70% of that interest usually gets spent on goods and services and those producers also pay tax. So the net cost to government is not all that great.

      Keeps the pump primed and often funds useful stuff like developing micro-chips for the benefit of future generations (bet you did not know that spread-spectrum wireless communication was developed in World War Two (1939-1945), or that ultra cheap computer chips were developed thanks to Regan’s “Star Wars” program). That virtuous circle was broken when corporate taxes were lowered. Electric cars are now running on batteries developed with government funding from Dalhousie University.

      The private sector is a failure because it is too short sighted to plan for the future. Which is why our economies are shrinking while the socialist and social-democratic countries are growing.

        1. Enjoy the wireless router that your great grand parents paid to develop. They paid many things forward so, where is it written we should not do the same for our future generations?

  10. The initial comment made by Bob Raynard identifies the “bully egos” kenney’s favoured lieutenants use. David C. mentioned shandro’s tactics with the municipalities, the same stunt he pulled with the doctors, the same lying stunt toews and his lap dog nally pulled with ATRF. If the first lie doesn’t work, shut ’em down! Lars mentioned manning’s name. This may sound “loopy” but I think there exists a Tea Party Republican connection, beginning 1949? with Leduc #1, bringing that American oil barron influence out of Texas, kenny shoulder to shoulder with ted cruz, here to good ole Alberta and right into Calgary. kenny,manning,harper (Calgary boys)- just recently discovered cruz was born in Calgary- still pulling the reins.

    1. I wish that Dave would actually do a head count and tell us how many of the UCP MLAs and Alberta CPP MPs were actually born and raised in Alberta .

      Our Premier was born in Ontario ,raised in Saskatchewan where he was educated in private school, and received his incomplete post secondary education in California.
      Harper is an Ontario boy ;Stockwell Day from Montreal .What about the rest ?

      And then there is the connection between UCP and CPP and right wing Fundamentalist Protestants. We need another list here as well .

      1. Those must be the “eastern bums” that Ralph Klein was referring to, how about you take in Doug Ford to complete the set! All kidding aside, I think you more than evened up the score when you unloaded Pierre Poilievre on the Province of Ontario.

  11. However satisfying the thought may be, I think it’s a mistake to think that Kenney is ACCIDENTALLY shooting himself in the foot. He got the gig because he’s WILLING to shoot himself in the foot. He has no feeling there, or in any other part of his body.

  12. “Liberty requires responsibility. That’s why most women/men dread it.” – George Bernard Shaw
    Mr. Climenhaga’s blog, I think, provides an encouraging platform for political perspectives to be shared. This is valuable and encouraging. Valuable because an” idea” resource base allows germination and propagation…of ideas. Encouraging because it can be used to help counter the “red – neck” rhetoric this province is noted for. May our concerns lead to the removal of UCP in the next provincial election.

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