You could argue to the Opposition’s 2023 Alberta provincial election campaign started unofficially but in earnest yesterday with the Alberta NDP’s announcement of a plan to ensure that more than a million Albertans will be able to see a family doctor quickly, close to their homes.

The cover of the booklet describing the NDP’s Family Health Teams plan (Image: Alberta NDP).

“Our vision for primary care is called Family Health Teams,” Opposition Leader and former Alberta premier Rachel Notley said at a news conference

She defined Family Health Teams as practice groups including multiple family doctors as well as Nurse Practitioners, Registered Nurses, Licensed Practical Nurses, mental health therapists, pharmacists, social workers, dietitians, community paramedics, community health navigators, physiotherapists, midwives, speech language therapists, and others.

If her party forms the government after this spring’s elections – which most pundits now predict will take place as scheduled on May 29 – the NDP will create a transition fund to immediately begin hiring 1,500 non-physician team members into existing clinics, while work proceeds to open 10 Family Health Clinics across the province by next year.

“We’ll consult with Albertans about where those should be,” Ms. Notley told the news conference, “but Lethbridge, and Red Deer and the Bow Valley are obvious candidates right off the start.” All three are ridings outside Edmonton and Calgary that desperately need health care solutions, but it is also probably no coincidence they are electoral districts where the NDP has a chance to win seats. 

Making this announcement now seems like a sound strategy, although not one free of risk. 

NDP Health Critic David Shepherd at the announcement yesterday (Photo: Alberta NDP).

It reinforces the NDP’s primacy on the health care file and the high level of trust it enjoys on that issue while reminding voters of the UCP’s failures through the pandemic. 

And to beat Premier Danielle Smith in this election, the NDP needs to keep the conversation focused on health care. 

Moreover, just as UCP social media was starting to accuse the Opposition party of just complaining, offering no substantial policies, the announcement provides one – complete with a detailed booklet for voters setting out how the NDP proposes to make it happen. 

The risk is that whenever a political party makes its plans specific, the details are going to draw fire – including from friends, some of whom may not like parts of the plan. 

On the whole, though, this seems likely to work for the NDP.

Just as important, it will probably work against the UCP, whose recent health care announcements focus on the ideologically driven (privatization, detox as the only solution to addiction), the unworkable (recruiting international nurses during a worldwide shortage of nurses) and the meaningless (appointing a new mental health advocate).

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith, one of the targets of Mr. Shepherd’s sharp criticism yesterday. (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

This stream of announcements, often vague, suggests a government is willing to throw money at health care, at least until the election is over, but with no real plan to solve the problems dogging the system. It just wants to look busy.

Before introducing Ms. Notley, NDP Health Critic David Shepherd offered a harsh assessment of the UCP’s performance. 

“Today, access to family medicine is sadly out of reach for hundreds of thousands of Alberta families,” he said. “This loss of access to primary care is driven by two things: First, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. But second, the open hostility of Danielle Smith and the UCP to family doctors and other health care workers.

“It’s almost exactly three years since the UCP launched their war on family doctors,” he reminded listeners. “They tore up their contract, they cut their pay, they bullied them online and in person, forced them to take on mountains of new paperwork just as the pandemic was slamming into Alberta.

“As a result, in the last three years many have chosen to leave our province, retire early, or have left the profession altogether.” 

By contrast, the NDP proposal gives the impression the Opposition party has given serious thought to finding solutions to the health care crisis and has a clearly thought-out plan over to implement them over the next several years.

It would probably be a mistake under these circumstances for the Smith Government to respond reflexively with a claim that anything the NDP proposes will cost too much, but it’ll be hard for them to resist the reflex.

Meanwhile, the NDP’s big announcement for this week contracts nicely with the UCP’s: The RStar scam, in which the UCP would give a $20-billion royalty holiday to reward multi-billion-dollar oil and gas corporations for cleaning up abandoned wells they’re already legally obligated to pay to clean up. 

Getting back to the NDP announcement, Ms. Notley said “the development of Family Health Teams goes hand-in-hand with the Alberta NDP plan to launch the largest health care recruitment campaign Alberta has ever seen.”

“Part of our offer to professionals will be stable and rewarding workplaces where you can focus on providing health care and spend less time on paperwork and administration,” she commented. “Family Health Teams will make every single part of Alberta health care a better place to work by helping patients sooner and taking the pressure off of our hospitals and ambulances.”

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  1. “The risk is that whenever a political party makes its plans specific, the details are going to draw fire – including from friends, some of whom may not like parts of the plan. ”

    Worth considering – friendly fire… isn’t.

    We expect A party to attack B party, so when they do part of our brain says, “oh, must be one of those days that end with Y.” But when B party attacks B party, that part of our brain goes wtf and we listen real sharp. We have more credibility when we attack the people we mostly agree with than we do when we attack the people we mostly disagree with. Therefore, we should strive to disagree with our allies quietly and privately whenever possible. …which is impossible nowadays with everyone shouting in upper caps on social media.

    If you agree with one candidate about 60% of the issues and agree with the others on 10% of the issues, it’s worth considering that the more you challenge your candidate over the remaining 40%, the more likely you accidently contribute to an outcome where they lose and you get 10%. Please bear in mind this is NOT good advice in normal times because in normal times you won’t encounter this situation except in your imagination. Except now I’m wondering – did we ever live in normal times? Am I just imagining a yesteryear where people who disagree with one another still cared to make an honest effort to believe true facts, the way Republicans seem to imagine a yesteryear where good people who work hard and have good ideas succeed on their own merits and poverty was caused by bad people making bad decisions they only have themselves to blame for?

    1. Amen! Or people who are mad because their candidacy was not accepted by their party—so they and their friends show how right the party was by making nuisances of themselves. With friends like them and all.

  2. It is probably good for the NDP to try set the agenda a bit at this point. For better and for worse, the UCP and Smith have been getting most of the attention over the last six months or so.

    Of course, as the current government , they have a bit of advantage in that they can announce and implement things immediately, but with incumbency also comes a lot of scrutiny and baggage for the UCP. Their track record on health care over the last few years is terrible and is probably still their achilles heel.

    So the UCP likely wants to avoid talking about health care much, if at all. However, I think to win the NDP will also have to address the issues of economic management and competence.

    I can see this being a two part thing. One part is to show the UCP were and really still are not great economic managers. There is a wide range of material here, from the size of the UCPs past deficits to how expensive auto insurance and power is in Alberta compared to other provinces. However I think the NDP will also need to reassure and convince Albertans they can and will be competent and better economic managers.

    This may be the harder part given some people seem to default to believing Conservatives handle the economy better, even though that is not often true. However, given some of the big economic risks of Smiths separatist ideas and picking many fights with the Federal government, it may not be as hard to seem competent in comparison.

    Given UCP support has recovered somewhat with their new, not yet as tarnished as Kenney, leader, I expect an election may come very soon after the provincial budget. So, in any event, the NDP probably should be ready for the campaign to happen quite quickly.

  3. I’ve been reading about the large amount of time family doctors are spending on administration… running their clinics and billing for services. I haven’t any idea how big this is but it must be significant because other provinces are addressing this by paying the doctors for the time they spend on this. I would suggest that maybe part of the problem is that the doctors clinics are a corporation. Perhaps we could do a few pilots where the health teams are government employees (don’t go cheap on their wages), set them up in a clinic and let them focus on treating patients. NO BILLING. I’m pretty sure you could find healthcare professionals that would gladly give up a lot of paperwork and just go about their business of treating patients and I’m pretty sure they could treat more patients than a “corporate doctor”. Instead of the approach of taking the load off the public system with private clinics, maybe a solution to the family doctor shortage is to take the load off the private clinics with public ones.

    1. Hi Cornell. Yes, family doctors are usually small business owners; many people don’t realize this. Maybe you saw the CBC report of a doctor who said he was overloaded and overregulated (of course I can’t find it now).

      Despite being retired AUPE (35 years of government service), I’m not sure turning doctors into civil servants is necessary, or even desirable. (Cue Con trolls who will say, “Of course not, stupid!”) Part of the NDP proposal is to replace the old fee-for-service model with a “corporate” kind of structure. Whether it would be for-profit or non-profit, I couldn’t say.

      The main advantage of the health teams model is reducing paperwork by funding on a contract basis per patient; there’s lots of information in the NDP proposal. They also propose enabling doctors to hire more administrative help; an obvious way to reduce the burden on GPs. The same could be said of hospitals. I talked to one nurse at the U of A hospital who said they couldn’t hire a unit clerk—so the RNs and LPNs had to do routine paperwork instead. Imagine what it’s been like for the last three years, with overloaded wards, burnt-out nursing staff and constant understaffing. Just increasing the funds for admin support would be beneficial in both family practice and hospitals.

      1. Another radical solution, would be to have unionized staff, paid for by each of us via AHS, working at primary care clinics, so that physicians don’t have to pay them, and then just pay the physicians less. Either way, the money has to come out of the pot, at least this way people have proper wages, not saying that physicians don’t pay proper wages, but they don’t always pay staff benefits, and that’s part of a wage. So it’s better if people are unionized employees, and just pay the physicians less! So that way the physicians’ budget also looks like less because right now everyone gets annoyed at physicians because we’re a big part of the healthcare budget. As far for hospitals is concerned, I agree, we need more nurses. We don’t need more doctors in the hospitals, we need more nurses though. The optimal ratio is like 1:4 if no total Cres and 1:3.5 if total cares. AHS is trying to introduce some stupid plans to change nursing so that the ratio is even thinner, it’s going to implode. We’re already bleeding nurses they’re just going to leave the profession and go into management. They don’t want to feel like they’re doing a crappy job. In order to look after people you need people. Sorry for being so colloquially dense, am voicing text in a hurry.

    2. I love this comment, and I’m a physician. I’ve even said this to the NDP health critic, that most physicians, including myself, would be willing to take a pay cut in order to get out of doing paperwork.

      1. Hana: I remain convinced the War Room is a money laundering operation that turns public money into partisan UCP campaign funds. As such, no UCP premier will change anything, or even mention it. The shitty pro-oil website the War Room operates probably doesn’t cost much more than this blog’s site, which I pay for myself with the help of donations from readers and a few dollars from ads. The big question is what will the NDP do if the “corporation’s” directors refuse to relinquish the company to be closed down if the NDP wins the election? DJC

        1. I’d threaten to audit them. Would be interesting to see how much cash they got from where, and what they spent it on. I’m guessing they would really like to avoid disclosing that, and will probably play nice once they understand it’s “play ball or get a bat suppository.” JMO

        2. Twas created thru legislation. Thus it should subject to definding, finance auditing , and disbandenment thru the same authority/process. Anyone in gov care to set me straight if I’m wrong?

  4. A change in government to reverse the UCP’s disastrous health care policies can’t come soon enough.

    Until recently I was a patient at the East Edmonton Health Centre (EEHC). When the doctor I was seeing there moved to a different practice I was not able to remain a patient at EEHC. Despite being designated as a community health centre, the East Edmonton Health Centre has not received funding to expand it’s multidisciplinary health care services since the UCP came into power. It’s been several years since EEHC has accepted new patients even from nearby neighbourhoods. I’m really excited that the proposed Family Health Teams could give new life to existing yet underutilized facilities like the East Edmonton Health Centre.

  5. If, and I do mean IF, there is an election this Spring then Notley better be prepared to bring her A-game, drop the gloves and fight just as dirty as the UCP undoubtedly will. She might take some flak from her own side that she would be sacrificing her own personal integrity by doing so but the time to worry about such things is over. Notley isn’t just fighting for her own political survival but indeed the future and very soul of Alberta itself.

    Dark times, indeed.

  6. A very smart move. Combined with an aggressive response to R-Star, the NDP can point to a better option in use of royalty income. And perhaps they could be a bit more aggressive in suggesting that DS should have gotten more from the feds in health care transfers. As evidence that an NDP government could have gotten more, they can point to the multi-billion dollar TMX pipeline. With the UCP irrespossibly willing to pay polluters its time to be a bit more aggressive in showing how Alberta resources should be used for Albertans. Any howls of protest from the UCP will only highlight their bad judgment in use of taxpayer’s money.

  7. I think Premieres and their immediate family should not be allowed to leave their jurisdiction to receive health care for 5 years after they stop serving. I’m guessing the Smiths, Kenneys and Fords of Canada would not deliberately destroy their own health care system if they knew they were going to have to use it.

  8. Keep in mind that the healthcare system was deteriorating long before Smith came to office. The governments of Kenney, Notley and a few others that preceded them must take some responsibility. When the NDs were in power, they should have implemented much of what they are proposing now. I’m surprised they didn’t.

  9. Considering the UCP have never been ones for the details, I suspect that their response to the ABNDP’s policy announcement on health care will be that it’s medicine for commies and FreeDUMB. And to follow up, the UCP will ask “what about guns, huh?!” before yelling FreeDUMB again.

    Being the adult in the room however does have its risks, among them making the UCP base throw themselves into a frenzy. I have been following some of the chatter from the FreeDUMB crowd and they are pretty confident that the vast majority of the voters are with them because of PMJT and FreeDUMB. It does come up, the what-if part of the matter. What if the voters don’t love FreeDUMB as much as we do? Time to save Alberta from going commie. Laugh at Kudatah as much as you want, but the reality is that what was comical then could be a harbinger of worse things to come. Violence? It has not been ruled out, and considering the sort of crowd that was at the Coutts blockade, it’s on their minds. At this point, the FreeDUMB fighters expect Danielle Smith to join them in common struggle. And if she chickens out, like Kenney, oust her and replace her with someone more to their liking.

    The thinking is thus: the UCP wins or else.

  10. Congratulations to Ms. Notley and the NDP communications team. This is a very well-written plan with measurable outcomes and a realistic time-line.

    Rather than the unsuccessful and very costly UCP “whack-a-mole” activities, this plan delivers new vision for primary care. It is an important and visible step toward slaying this multi-headed dragon called “health-care” that is the result of decades of tinkering rather than solving, moving all records to an electronic system without changing the billing system, and open hostility toward doctors and nurses.

    The usual suspects will run some ridiculous extrapolations of the numbers to tell us that we can’t afford such luxuries. They will conveniently forget about the billions of boondoggles created by the UCP.

    Former and future premier Notley has described a primary care network that I support 100%. My own doctor will be retiring in a few years and tells me there is nobody interested in taking over his practice and that the billing system no longer addresses the real costs of running a medical practice.

    I expect and demand a primary care network as the NDP has described.

  11. At coffee this morning we had a good laugh at the UCP attack add. How many stupid seniors are going to believe the lies they are spreading? Even this should wake some of them up, but I doubt it. Notley increased taxes 97 times, destroyed 138,000 jobs and created the Carbon Tax. It proves how desperate these fools are, but that’s all they know and you can bet their pal Poilievre will be right there supporting it.

  12. The idea of health teams is a welcome and overdue update of the Medicare system. It’s a step away from the old fee-for-service, check-the-boxes model which has outlived its usefulness. That, plus cuts to funding for family doctors, have buried GPs in paperwork. The NDP plan looks feasible and could be implemented fast. (How much resistance they’ll meet is another question, but hey….)

    A plan for positive improvements to health care delivery is exactly what Albertans need. Much better than the UCP “plan” of throwing money into recruiting drives to replace the doctors they chased out.

  13. This plan is highly reminiscent of the “Family Care Clinics” proposal that the PC Government of “She Who Shall Not Be Named” came out with back in, oh, when was it, 2013? But unlike the FCCs, which were initially announced as a three-site pilot project, this is a proposal that would implement the model right across the province, with up to 10 new clinics built in the first term of their putative new government, and other existing medical clinics converted to this new model.

    Of note, I had the privilege & opportunity to visit one of the existing clinics they are using as a template for this model, at Crowfoot Family Practice in Calgary, a few years ago while in a governance role in my profession.

  14. Just imagine how much better off Alberta would be, if only stupid Albertans hadn’t voted out Rachel Notley.

    Next election, maybe stupid Albertans will have learned their lesson? Yeah, right!

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