Alberta NDP Opposition Leader and former premier Rachel Notley at yesterday’s news conference in Calgary, with Calgary MLA and Municipal Affairs Critic Joe Ceci in the background (Photo: Dave DeGagné/Alberta NDP).

What the hell was the Kenney Government up to last fall when it had the brainstorm to compel Alberta Health Services to ship patients and their surgeons to an apparently under-used surgical facility in British Columbia’s Okanagan?

The site of the Okanagan Health Surgical Centre in Kelowna (Photo: Screenshot of Google Street View).

The saga involving what NDP Opposition leader and former premier Rachel Notley called the “slightly less-than-reputable surgical facility” during a news conference in Calgary yesterday can be reasonably described as bizarre. 

Indeed, it makes little sense even from the perspective of the market-fundamentalist ideology espoused by Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party. 

Documents obtained by the NDP through a freedom of information request show senior AHS officials were opposed to the scheme and recognized it would be controversial if the news ever leaked that the UCP Government wanted to make Alberta surgeons perform knee and hip surgeries on their Alberta patients at the Okanagan Health Surgical Centre in Kelowna.

But the AHS managers couldn’t persuade the elected officials to take ownership of the idea or even announce the scheme themselves.

“Here we go,” said Ms. Notley, describing how the process was supposed to work according to the 400 pages of emails and briefing documents FOIPed by the NDP. “An Alberta patient and their Alberta surgeon do the prep work in Alberta. Then they travel together and stay in B.C. in order to get the actual surgery completed. And then they travel back to Alberta together afterwards for the post-surgical care.”

AHS Clinical Operations Vice-President Sid Viner (Photo: TBA).

Needless to say, this adds costs for no apparent reason and puts patients at additional risk. AHS didn’t like it, and neither did the doctors. “The whole plan was utterly ridiculous,” Ms. Notley told the news conference. “But the UCP insisted.”

“Government has directed AHS to pilot using an out-of-province chartered surgical facility,” said AHS Clinical Operations Vice-President Sid Viner in an email to other health authority officials. 

“This will be a pilot, and is in addition to, not instead of maximizing use of all possible capacity within Alberta,” Dr. Viner told his colleagues in December 2021. “Important to keep this in mind, as I realize most staff and surgeons will wonder why this is being pursued. Again, this is direction from government so we need to pilot without it causing loss of focus or any disruption to maximizing the surgery we will do in Alberta.”

Other emails from Dr. Viner showed “this is controversial and not well supported by clinicians.”

“Feedback on doing surgery at an out-of-province chartered surgical facility was universally negative,” he said of a town hall with clinical department heads and other senior managers.

Alberta Health Minister Jason Copping (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

Ms. Notley accused staff in Health Minister Jason Copping’s office of lying about the scheme when word of it leaked to a reporter in Kelowna. 

“Even though they were actively exchanging contract language with the Okanagan Health Surgical Centre in the first week or two of February, Jason Copping’s press secretary lied to B.C. media and said no particular negotiations were underway with any facility,” she stated.

Her evidence was a Feb. 11, 2022, email from an AHS contracting director that noted: “Just received an email from Okanagan, they are good with our contract template and we are expecting costing this weekend that we can review early next week … so should be ready to go soon.”

The same day, the minister’s press secretary told the B.C. journalist: “We’re not in negotiations with any clinic. We’ve made some preliminary inquiries as part of contingency planning, depending on what capacity could be available and how fast we can ramp … our own surgical capacity back up in the coming weeks.”

NDP Finance Critic Shannon Phillips (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Asked Ms. Notley: “Why on earth was the UCP so obsessed with flying Albertans to another province to get their surgeries at a specific facility?” 

She said the clinic is “one that the B.C. government will have nothing to do with.” In 2017, the Okanagan Health Surgical Centre was also included by the Globe and Mail on a list of private Canadian medical facilities at which physicians were charging both government and patients privately in what the newspaper termed an “illegal double-dipping practice.”

“We all are extremely concerned to learn of this secret plan while we can see the UCP sabotaging the health care system,” Ms. Notley said, while recounting a litany of system-wide failings including shortages of doctors and nurses, shuttered Emergency Rooms, cancelled surgeries, and long waits for ambulances. 

While it is not known if or when the plan actually went into operation, other correspondence in the FOIP trove suggests that AHS expected “low acuity procedures” to commence in January 2022 “as requested by the gov.”

UCP leadership candidate and former finance minister Travis Toews (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

That same month, Dr. Viner said in an email, “despite our best efforts to change their views, government is still intent on at least piloting having Albertans have surgeries out of province.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Copping and two aides are still enjoying their visit to Denmark where, according to the government’s news release last Friday, they are attending an “international forum” on the Scandinavian country’s health care innovations.

There is no information on the conference to be found on the Web but for reprints of the news release published by the Alberta Government.

After Mr. Copping is finished conferring in Denmark, he and his aides will fly to London on July 4, where they will meet “with health leaders and specialists to gain insight into their health system practices and share areas of focus for transformation and change in Alberta.”

This sounds like bureaucratese for being wined and dined by providers of private health services, this time British ones. 

The sojourners are scheduled to return to Alberta on July 7.

Where did all the COVID money go?

Alberta media may have ignored Ms. Notley’s newser about the Okanagan surgery scheme, but at least some reporters covered Auditor General Doug Wylie’s shocking report on the Kenney Government’s failure to keep track of how it spent $4 billion it says was used to manage the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Alberta Auditor General Doug Wylie (Photo: Office of the Auditor General).

According to the auditors, the government apparently “could not trace” where $1.3 billion in federal safe-restart funds went. Nor could the Health Department recall how much it spent on personal-protective equipment, contract tracing and rapid testing. As for how many vaccine doses it received from Ottawa, it had no idea about that either.

Said Alberta NDP Finance Critic Shannon Phillips: “The gross incompetence outlined in this report is jaw-dropping.”

Supporters of UCP leadership candidate Travis Toews, meanwhile, want you to think he was Alberta’s best finance minister ever. 

Same shirt, different decade!

Raj Sherman in circa 2011 (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Finally, you’d almost think former MLA Raj Sherman was using the same pickup truck for his pre-disallowed bid to run in the UCP leadership race as he did in his unfortunately successful effort to lead the provincial Liberals a decade ago.

It’s fair to say Dr. Sherman was not the breakthrough the party was hoping for when it allowed non-members to vote in its leadership election and the former Progressive Conservative won on the first ballot on Sept. 10, 2011. Indeed, the Alberta Liberals have never recovered and now have no seats in the provincial Legislature.

Plus, it also looks like the unwelcome would-be UCP candidate, who appears to be striving to become the biggest nuisance in Alberta political history, is wearing the same blue shirt too.

Well, you know what they say: Same shirt! Different Decade!

Join the Conversation


  1. I thought the UCP was all about punishing B.C. for being B.C.? Now it appears they are intent of establishing an relationship where Albertans are dependent on B.C. healthcare system to assure they are getting any treatment at all. At this point, Alberta should just outsource their governance to B.C. but I’m not holding my breath for that one any time soon. As for the increased costs (and there will be) Alberta has that brand new surplus c/o Vlad Putin to piss away. I guess it’s better than it’s spent on that than another pipeline to no where.

    Looking at Jason Nixon’s trumpeting over his genius as Treasurer, he declared that the surplus will be used to pay down the provincial debt and expand the Heritage Fund. Since the Fund has been stuck at $18 B since the 90s, one wonders how it will stack up against other sovereign wealth funds. Norway’s own sovereign wealth fund comes to mind and it’s awesome — almost $1 T USD. How did Norway do it? For one thing declare their fossil fuel resources a national resource that belongs to Norway. The second thing is realize the full value from their fossil fuel resource by charging an economically credible royalty rate or the equivalent. And the third thing is assure that their fund is invested in non-fossil fuel assets, you know things like their hydro-electric infrastructure, their EV infrastructure, viable public works projects, as well as stuff like education and all the other good things that make societies civilized. Somehow, I don’t Nixon think had any of these things in mind when he talked about growing the Heritage Fund.

    Even Norway looks at Alberta and mutters, “Albertanere er de dummeste menneskene som finnes. Jeg sverger hvis disse menneskene hadde en nyttig tanke, ville det sannsynligvis drepe dem.”

  2. Strangely enough, as I was driving past a mobile vape shop recently, I noticed a health business that piqued my curiosity. “Surgical routes available privately whether
    in Alberta or in Canada and internationally” its website states. The website led me to Okanagan Health Surgical Centre in Kelowna. An orthopedic surgeon on the local website speaks about “entrepreneurship and health system transformation” to other surgeons, which means “private health care” in plain English. The office complex also houses a well-known and longstanding Conservative politician who is a cabinet minister in the UCP government. Isn’t that a coincidence?

    This UCP idea might seem crazy, but is it any crazier than making pharmacists doctors, sans all the training and further education? What would be really crazy? How about turning pharmacists into surgeons, who operate on patients in underutilized grocery stores after hours, with night stockers as OR nurses? What if they used rubber gloves purloined from the pharmacy section, and waylaid mint-flavored dental floss for sutures? That would be crazy, but after the next election anything is possible. I’m beginning to think “Anything Goes” should be Alberta’s official provincial motto.

    1. Well that explains it all. the owner of the centre is connected to politicians in Alberta. It was throwing some money his way. Wonder how much he is donating to the UPC. We in B.C. have had a private surgical center in Vancouver for years. A patient may remain there for 23 hours

      When I first read the article I was shocked because our hospitals are under staff and full to the brim. Why add to the hours a doctor is non productive by having them fly from Albert to B.C. and back again? Not to mention the stress. this can’t be good for the patients either, being put on a stretcher and sent by plane for no real reason beyond some one in Kenny’s circle is throwing some work to some doctor in the O.K. What is a patient has a crisis while in the air?
      This is just another method of attempting to have a “work around” of the Canada Health Act.

  3. These pretend conservatives and Reformers just don’t care about how their bad policies with healthcare will end up putting people’s lives in jeopardy. It was that way with Ralph Klein, and it’s like that way now, with the UCP. Make cuts to it, and give the false claim that the public healthcare system is broken, and then use this as an excuse to privatize it. Sending people to British Columbia for surgery is as dumb as it gets. As for being fiscally responsible, that is very much lacking in the UCP, and this is another one of their very pricey shenanigans. If Pierre Poliveire gets into power, that will not improve healthcare either, but it will make things worse, as he has the same bad ideas. Sadly, people are falling for his ploys. Albertans are being fooled by these pretend conservatives and Reformers, but they refuse to see that.

    1. Anonymous Especially after they whined about our high cost of health care now they want to put the costs through the roof. You can’t be any dumber than this can you?

      1. Alan K. Spiller: You are right about that. However, if you look at southern Alberta newspaper comment sections, they defend these pretend conservatives and Reformers so much. They think that the NDP are bad, and that the UCP are on the right track with their healthcare plans for Alberta. We all know how detrimental Ralph Klein’s healthcare policies were, and the UCP wants to copy him. There are even people who think a mixed public and private healthcare system would be the solution. It’s not. That’s been established already in places where it’s been tried.

  4. Double-dipping docs in Kelowna! Say it isn’t so. The scheme you mention is beyond bizarre — not sure anyone has invented a word to describe how nuts this scheme of sending patients and docs to another province is. A spell in a loony bin on strong meds is what these UCPers need, in my view. Outrageous nonsense doesn’t begin to describe their complete oafishness.

    As for checking out the UK healthcare “scene” — if one reads the Briish serious press, apparently Blighty is crawling with representatives from American HMOs eager to help Boris the clown turn the place into a regular third world country. Well, he needs a well-paid retirement as consultant and board director while the masses grovel for food and shelter.

    It seems to have escaped the brains of moneybags mouth-breathers in the country to our south, accidentally on purpose, that certain aspects of society need to be run as utilities for the public good. Public infrastructure, gas and electric utilities and of course healthcare. It is both more economically efficient and provides more even service for everyone. But when the
    “I don’t care about anyone but myself” crowd of people who would monetize the very air we breathe if they could figure out how to do it, it seems the forces of social regression are on the move. They’ll tell any lie to get to their ultimate goal. And they have a dumbed down population to clap and cheer for them.

    Not a wonderful future to look forward to.

    Anyway, Happy Canada Day from the East Coast!

      1. I’ve always liked “two members of the same trade cannot meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public.” That’s Adam Smith btw, and if you think he would support the economic system his writings have been used to justify, here’s a couple more: “As soon as the land of any country has all become private property, the landlords, like all other men, love to reap where they never sowed and demand a rent even for its natural produce.” “All for ourselves, and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind.”

  5. Well, good management of health care, or other things for that matter, does not seem to be the UCP’s strength.

    Pushing for sending patients and doctors on such an out of province trip does seem quite bizarre and unnecessary. It certainly warrants someone in the mainstream media asking questions. It would be interesting to hear the UCPs answers. Of course we might have to wait until Mr. Copping is back from his European sojourn to get those answers. Well at least we seem to have some idea where he is, unlike when Premier Kenney mysteriously disappeared during his best COVID summer ever last August.

    While they are at it, it would probably be a good idea for the media to also look into any personal of financial connections the UCP might have with this particular Okanagan clinic. The UCP sure seems to be quite keen on it for reasons that are not clear and for some reason they seem to want to keep this very private by denying anything is going on. Suspicious.

    Its also too bad the UCP can’t explain what happened with the billions of Federal COVID money. I realize he is busy with a leadership race, but I suppose that problem is one for Mr. Toews to address. As Desi used to famously say to Lucy, they’ve got some splainin’ to do!

    As for Mr. Sherman, he could be quite the environmental candidate for our times, a recycled truck and using the same blue shirt too. However, in keeping with the spirit of this new, to him, party, he may want to consider some changes. First of all, I would suggest a big blue truck instead. He might actually be able to get used one cheap, only used previously for occasional out of trips and photo ops at gas stations by our outgoing little old Premier.

  6. When I moved to Thatcherland in 1998, the provincial Liberals were still a thing with very reputable leadership. Now they’re gone like the proverbial breath of a buffalo on a cold prairie morning.

    May I extend to you, DC, and all the readers a very Happy Canada Day.

  7. To the Reformers privatization of health care has been their mandate since the day the Reform Party was created by Preston Manning and no one should be surprised. It was Preston Manning and former premier of Ontario Mike Harris who travelled Canada promoting an American style health care system and weren’t received very well from what I understand. The article out- lining this piece of stupidity was removed off the internet some time ago.
    Now I think we had better start demanding an RCMP investigation into how this $4 billion went missing, that our Auditor General has pointed out. I wonder if any Reformers benefited from it as a friend and I think they may have? The UCP has a lot of explaining to do and once again have made these ignorant Albertans who are still dumb enough to support them look really stupid.

    1. Alan, while I can’t cite a source anymore, I recall a news item from the bad ol’ days of King Ralph. His first try at destroying Medicare came when a team of American health-care professionals were touring Canada to inspect our system. They said they envied Canada’s system, and wished the US would adopt it.

      The irony is that Klein was, at the same time, trying to Americanize Alberta’s health care. Sadly, Kenney & the Unbelievably Chaotic Party go far beyond irony into bat-sh_t craziness.

      1. Mike. One of my American cousins has been saying for years “ For gods sake don’t let anyone destroy your public health care system, trust me you don’t want ours”. Every American I have ever talked to envy’s ours. Three of my four grandparents were American so I have a lot of American relatives.

    2. Alan K. Spiller: Just imagine what Pierre Poliveire would do to our public healthcare if he were to become Prime Minister. The outcome won’t be good.

      1. Anonymous You can bet he will destroy it. If he thinks the CBC is too expensive you can just imagine what he will do to our Public Health Care System. People in eastern Canada are talking about how dangerous this fool is and to me that’s a great thing.

  8. Shipping patients from Alberta to B.C.for hip and knee replacement surgery? Sounds like a wonderful way to use an existing facility while saving taxpayer money. Google says the distance from Calgary to Kelowna is 375 miles. The Sundre tractor-trailer parade float likely now in storage could be rigged by Kenney’s crew so that doctor and patient can enjoy a healthy outdoor ride to and from the hospital, the surgeon piloting the John Deere while the recipient is prepped for surgery out back. Once the new joint is in place, patient and doctor could share comradeship and funny stories during recovery and the return trip. Hip hip (no pun intended) hooray for efficiency!

  9. Abs comment about the health business and the UCP cabinet minister is interesting and deserves further scrutiny. My first thought, on reading the article, was “who are owners/shareholders of the B.C. private facility?” My second – what are their links to the UCP?

    1. Weaver: I think most of us have had the same thought. I imagine that a number of people are looking into that question quite assiduously right now. Why that surgical facility. Several of the facility’s surgeons appear to be based in Alberta. DJC

  10. “According to the auditors, the government apparently “could not trace” where $1.3 billion in federal safe-restart funds went.”

    This. Is. Astonishing. Remember As per the link, “more than 100 million dollars” was improperly spent, and it brought down a Federal government and ended a bunch of careers, some with good cause, others not so much.

    By contrast, 13 times that amount can go missing in Alberta without it even making the news until well after the fact. Conclusions I’m drawing:

    -The UCP government of Alberta is among the most corrupt in Canadian history
    -The UCP government of Alberta is one of the worst stewards of the public purse in Canadian history
    -If Postmedia and Black Press both choose not to platform a story we won’t know about it until well after the fact, if at all, unless we get lucky.
    -Allowing for-profit corporations to decide which information we do and don’t get to know about is bad for democracy and society, but good for the oligarchy
    -The concept of ‘free speech’ has been very effectively weaponized against the West. Maybe we ought to be talking about ‘fair speech’ – everything I will ever say is going to be drowned out by Rupert Murdoch. Maybe Rupert and I ought to have a more equal opportunity to have our speech heard?

    1. Neil Lore: You are correct. What is wasted here in Alberta, under these pretend conservatives and Reformers is far more greater than what happens in Ottawa. Most will not say anything about it.

  11. I’m noticing that Edmonton in Alberta is looking as out of place as Montreal ever did in Quebec. Only slightly tongue-in-cheek:
    BC trades: The Okanagan area and a third round draft pick
    AB trades: The city of Edmonton

  12. I think that what I detest about the UCP, more than their seemingly limitless organic loathsomeness, is their propensity to demonize people who are trying to do their best in circumstances that would make Jesus weep! I waited seven hours with my older sister at Sturgeon General hospital. The ambulances were lined up. The ER waiting room was full. They were overwhelmed. My sibling was experiencing congestive heart failure. The UCP is killing with political dogma!

    1. St Albertan. I lived in St. Albert for 14 years and during the Klein years , one winter , I waited in the emergency room of the Sturgeon Hospital with my 89 year old mother in-law who had fallen on some ice and broken her wrist and was in terrible pain for 8 and a half hours. A friend broke his leg in two places while water skiing on the Ghost Damn west of Calgary he waited 11 hours. He said the pain was so great he wanted to commit suicide. On one occasion they showed on tv 15 ambulances lined up at the Foothills Hospital in Calgary because of what Klein had done.

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