It’s a shocker! But it turns out there is no crisis at Alberta Health Services! 

NDP Seniors and Housing Critic Lori Sigurdson (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

No need to take my word for this. It comes straight from the lips of Dr. John Cowell, the sole Administrator appointed by Premier Danielle Smith back on Nov. 17 to replace the 11-member AHS Board.

Here are Dr. Cowell’s exact words, delivered yesterday during a news conference about what the government calls its 90-day “health care action plan” update, delivered only 102 days after the Official Administrator was called out of retirement:

“When I started at Alberta Health Services in November, I was told that this was a system in crisis and a broken organization, and I didn’t really know what to expect. I am here today, however, to tell you that AHS is not in crisis and is not broken.”

So who told Dr. Cowell and the rest of us that AHS was broken and required the biggest of big fixes to survive?

Why, Danielle Smith, of course. The Danielle Smith, that is, who ran to lead the United Conservative Party and inherited the keys to the office of the premier of Alberta when she emerged the winner. 

Postmedia political columnist Rick Bell (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

After winning, for a long time, Ms. Smith continued to say the same things about AHS quite forcefully. 

Well, that was then. This was one day before the UCP’s do-or-die pre-election budget, the one the Opposition NDP has been cheekily calling Premier Smith’s first and last budget. 

As for whether or not the health care system is still in crisis, the government’s statistic-packed news release claiming reductions in some wait times are the result of UCP policy changes and Dr. Cowell’s even wordier backgrounder notwithstanding, you should really talk to some of Alberta’s front-line nurses, physicians and other health care workers before you make up your mind. 

Most of them will undoubtedly tell you that the system remains in crisis, the result of years of chronic underfunding and intentional understaffing that will not be solved by Dr. Cowell’s promise to move 114 full-time nursing staff into the province’s Emergency Departments.

Since a worldwide shortage of nurses is bedevilling health care systems literally everywhere on the planet, one suspects these nurses are going to have to be drawn from elsewhere in AHS, robbing Peter to pay Paul, as the expression goes.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Photo: Justin Trudeau/Flickr).

As for the Opposition NDP, it took the side of the health care professionals. “There is a crisis in public health care and it has been exacerbated by this UCP government,” said NDP Seniors and Housing Critic Lori Sigurdson, who noted that yesterday 32 hospitals were partly closed in Alberta because of staffing shortages. 

“The truth is the UCP has starved and attacked our health care in Alberta for almost four years and the progress they are claiming in emergency rooms is largely due to the seasonal retreat of respiratory illnesses,” Ms. Sigurdson said.

As for the reporters at yesterday’s news conference – which was just a small part of the Smith Government’s recent frantic effort to look busy with health care, management of which most voters view as an NDP strength – some were clearly skeptical about the claims made by Dr. Cowell, Ms. Smith and Health Minister Jason Copping at the news conference. 

“You were elected in part as leader of the UCP and premier because you were a critic of how the health care system was operating and you were a critic of Alberta Health Services, and a very vocal critic,” said Postmedia’s Rick Bell, noting that “I’ve sat through news conferences like this since the beginning of time. Except no one here is eating a cookie, this time.”

So, he asked the premier: “How do you assure Albertans that this is not just one of the many health care transformation press conferences that have gone on … since I can remember, at least 32 years?”

Opposition Leader and former Alberta premier Rachel Notley (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

In response, Ms. Smith blamed health care professionals for insisting that the system “was on the brink of collapse.”

“This is the language that was being used,” she complained. “It was in crisis. It was going to collapse. So when I came in, we absolutely had to take immediate action. … You heard Dr. Cowell today. The system’s not in crisis. It’s not going to collapse. … 

“People now have confidence and I think that they have confidence in the senior executive team, because the senior executive team has been supported by Dr. Cowell. Dr. Cowell’s been supported by both Mr. Copping and myself. And that was the immediate goal.”


Ms. Smith also spoke at her newser about the need to keep Alberta’s hospitals functioning in case there is another surge of COVID-19 – an observation that, while true enough, is not likely to please the UCP’s anti-vaccination base, which views COVID as a dark conspiracy to rob us of our freedom, not an actual disease that continues to kill people.

Many readers will recall Ms. Smith herself making conspiratorial vaccine-skeptical statements not so long ago. 

Nor can the party base be too pleased with Ms. Smith’s capitulation to the health care deal offered by the federal government, led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is habitually reviled by Alberta Conservatives. The 10-year tentative agreement even includes a plan to share health care information – the topic of another conspiracy theory popular among UCP supporters. 

But, to paraphrase Dr. Johnson, an election in 90 days concentrates a premier’s mind wonderfully.

Which brings us back to today’s budget, at which Alberta’s party of austerity will be promising to spend the province’s for-the-moment-bountiful resource royalties as if cabinet were made up of drunken sailors and money itself were going out of style. 

It should also remind us to be wary of Premier Smith’s newfound caution with words.

It’s almost as if someone sat her down during her recent vacation and told her forcefully that that if she keeps talking about health care user fees, a provincial police force, an Alberta pension severed from the Canada Pension Plan, and that massive RStar well-cleanup boondoggle, she’ll be writing a guaranteed ticket to a second NDP Government led by Rachel Notley. 

But if you’re paying attention, you’ll also note that Ms. Smith is not renouncing those controversial ideas, only staying mum about them. 

So it’s reasonable to assume she hasn’t really changed her mind at all since the day, for example, that she said we should make $5 billion in cuts to health care and impose a provincial sales tax.

Join the Conversation


  1. Budgets and other things governments do and say are about making choices. So we will soon see more clearly what the UCP’s choices are.

    Some of them are already evident as some people don’t get $100 per month, while others with a much higher income do. Of course, I doubt anyone will get the $100 per month, regardless of continuing inflation, much after the election.

    However, happy days are here for the UCP, at least for the next 90 days. Smith even seems to have stopped her relentless war against the Federal government, at least long enough to take the increased health care money they offered. As for all those hospitals closed due to staff shortages, perhaps the new AHS administrator doesn’t get out very much. More likely he has been told his bosses want to hear nothing but good things for the next 90 days or do. After that, if they win the UCP will likely be back to one of the things it does best – destroying the health care system and using any crisises created as a result as an excuse for more privatization.

  2. The UCP are good at lying. Pseudo conservatives and Reformers are good at that. They also destroy jobs, and do the most priciest shenanigans, which cost us so much money. We never saw this stupidity under Peter Lougheed.

  3. So fun in the sun….nice sun glow,and not natural highlights, and yes I would know (smirk) .. so was she doing a Ted Cruz visit to warmer places, is that where she met with the US Ambassador to Canada ( and what was that all about anyway that it got no media coverage ????) and does this mean she missed the big event in Calgary with Christine Anderson, you know, the topic that everyone is NOT talking about…hmmm
    With Skippy’s latest fiasco, the conservative party is taking alot of flack and not in the way one would expect, the breakaway party in Saskatchewan*, because Moe is not being far enough right; Doug getting grilled over the farm coals , maybe the new do is the “softer, saner ” Danielle = see I listened, and I fixed it, and since the report card isn’t due for a couple of months, you’ll just have to take my word for it, and if it’s a D- , well it’ll be too late..
    Maybe another secret signing in a foreign country that will come back to haunt Albertans/ and the rest of Canada , which makes me wonder just what exactly are Rahjan and Brian doing in the ” Republic of Korea ” also known as South Korea….but then IMHO, I have a suspicious mind when it comes to Dani’s cast of characters…
    The things that make you go hmmm…???
    * I find it ironic that the ” breakaway” parties , call themselves the “United ” party,
    more of that imprecise language I guess??

  4. Perhaps tomorrow you can share your views on the mess caused by the recent visit to Canada of Ms. Anderson, her white-hatting by that infamous pastor Pawlowski, and related embarrassments. Or perhaps your take on the incredible $$$$ being raised by right-wing PACs.

  5. Cue the singing! Cue the dancing! Cue La La Land, Alberta edition!

    Speaking of robbing Peter to pay Paul, there’s gossip today on Twitter that private surgery centres have what amounts to a sweet take-or-pay contract with the UCP government. The rumor goes that there is a shortage of anesthesiologists, so private surgery centres cannot perform all the surgeries they were contracted to do. The rumor states that the government is going to limit surgeries at hospitals in order to send anaesthesiologist to private centres.

    Also, patients at the private orthopedic clinics cannot have comorbidities, so the clinics will run out of patients soon. However, they will continue to be paid whether the surgeries are done or not. Take-or-pay: sweet!

    All rumor for now. Let’s see what happens today in crisis-free Alberta. La, la, la.

    1. I believe there was once an unfortunate Alberta politician whose famous last words were “screwed the pooch”. Indeed, sir, that is what your party has done to this province. The UCP has “screwed the pooch” with its take-or-pay sweetheart deal with private surgery centres.

  6. I have to say, that I am super worried that with all the money being thrown around before the election, people will forget all the damage, pain and suffering the UCP, either under Jason Kenney or Danielle Smith, caused to so many Albertans. And vote them back in.

  7. She won’t be able to stay silent. Smith has obviously not read Mark Twain, “Better to be thought an idiot than open your mouth and confirm it”.

    Her other problem is she forgets she is not on her talk show. Half baked wild ideas generate ratings for her show.

    In real life, when real people are affected, her policy brain farts are more likely to cause negative poll ratings.

  8. It looks like there will be a May 29 election after all—May29, 2023, that is.

    I’ve often said that Smith’s counterintuitive political torpor would lead her to spurn democratic principles (once again) and extend the the fixed term because the NDP is polling in the victory zone. That was assuming she’d remain deaf to more reasonable advice because it comes form the ProgCon half of the UCP caucus which didn’t vote for her leadership, and whose members were so worried about her spate of clueless nostrums that many considered throwing in the towel—as indeed some have.

    Apparently she did get sat down and made to listen to listen to more temperate voices as the the sound of the Guillotine-blade rings upon the grindstone to the rhythm of shrouds a-knitting. As of this writing, there are 89 days until the scheduled election—slightly less than the gestation period of the puma and slow loris. That leaves about two months to get any legislation done before the parliament is dissolved for the campaign—about the gestation period of the weasel and the skunk.

    How can we tell? Well, Smith has been uncharacteristically quiet lately, neither spouting nor mopping up verbal spillage which comes to her tongue straight from her medulla, without any detour through the cerebral cortex, doubling the text while halving the context. Somebody musta stopped her.

    Secondly, her usual lank, hash-slingin’ doo got a makeover (she’d certainly correct any pundit’s or news reporter’s misinterpretation or mistaken punctuation: the makeover is ‘like Preston Manning,’ not ‘like Preston Manning’s.’ Anyway, we hope it’s as effective).

    The UCP is up front about avoiding any bothersome detour of explanation in response to charges of ineptitude and ideologically-blinkered perfidy concerning its healthcare record, even as they come from multiple qualified sources: the previous administration’s Health Ministry, doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers, all levels of epidemiological expertise, and of course patients and their loved ones. A broken crisis?—it simply says it ain’t so. Well played!

    It’s short and simple—which is perfect for the next 12 weeks and 5 days because it will certainly have to be said a lot. A real lot.

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