Alberta’s United Conservative Party Government is about to carve more than 10,000 employees and $1.13 billion out of Alberta Health Services to create what looks like a drug-treatment hobbyhorse for a small group of ideologues in the office of Premier Danielle Smith. 

Soon-to-be Canadian Centre for Recovery Excellence CEO Kym Kaufmann (Photo: Screenshot of Alberta Government video).

Never mind that the hurried and badly thought-out creation of the “Recovery Alberta” mental health care silo announced by Premier Smith and Mental Health and Addiction Minister Dan Williams yesterday morning will sow chaos and inefficiency throughout Alberta Health Services.

Or that the new Canadian Centre for Recovery Excellence, announced at the same news conference yesterday, has been given a contradictory assignment.

“Simply put, CORE will evaluate what works, and what does not work, when it comes to helping individuals with addiction and mental health concerns,” said the Crown corporation’s new CEO, Kym Kaufmann, during the government’s press conference

Moreover, she said right after that, “it will help the Government advance the Alberta Recovery Model.” 

But since the so-called Alberta Recovery Model into which the Premier’s Office is sinking so much political capital isn’t working now and isn’t likely ever to work, this is all but an admission that CORE, its name and purpose seemingly inspired by Jason Kenney’s notorious Canadian Energy Centre, will turn out to be another specialized UCP propaganda operation massaging cherry-picked data. 

Mental Health and Addiction Minister Dan Williams at the same event (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

Similarly, in the government’s press release, Mr. Williams, best known before his appointment to cabinet as an anti-abortion crusader, boasted that “Alberta is leading the country with the development of the Alberta Recovery Model to address mental health and addiction challenges.”

As Alberta Friends of Medicare Director Chris Gallaway put it in perspective yesterday, while the announcement “purportedly reiterated the importance of data and evidence, in reality, this government’s track record shows a repeated refusal to follow the best evidence, and a continued unwillingness to make treatment data available to Albertans.” 

“What remained conspicuously unmentioned,” Mr. Galloway noted, “was the fact that in 2023, Alberta saw our highest ever number of drug poisoning deaths.”

The plans announced yesterday were just in time for the opening today of a national conference in Calgary known for its emphasis on abstinence-based inpatient addiction treatments delivered by private businesses. 

Surely not by chance, one of the keynote speakers this afternoon at the Recovery Capital Conference will be Premier Smith’s chief of staff, Marshall Smith, a controversial advocate of the “recovery movement” and fierce opponent of harm-reduction approaches to addiction. 

Friends of Medicare Director Chris Gallaway (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

The Smith Government bills the hiving off of all of AHS’s mental health services and facilities as part of its effort to “refocus” mental health care. Still, AHS’s chief program officer for addiction and mental health and correction health services, Kerry Bales, will return as the CEO of Recovery Alberta, the news release said. 

It’s said here, the result is likely to blur the vision considerably in many Alberta communities since addictions care will no longer be an integral part of the health care system. 

Recovery Alberta certainly creates an opportunity for the government to direct public funds into a confusing welter of unregulated private-sector contractors that will make it difficult for the public to know where the money has gone. 

Recovery Alberta is to be the first of three new silos that along with the diminished AHS are at the core of the Smith Government’s strategy to break up and fragment public health services in the province. 

Premier Smith’s chief of staff, Marshall Smith (Photo: The Tyee).

Recovery Alberta will be implemented on a very quick timetable, supposedly with affected AHS employees transferred to the new employer by next July. The result, health care unions warned yesterday, will be chaos. 

“Every AHS nursing employee will be impacted directly or indirectly by this decision to hive off mental health and addiction services into a separate organization, and it appears there was a serious lack of in-depth planning,” said United Nurses of Alberta President Heather Smith on the union’s website.

A government Frequently Asked Questions document published on UNA’s website advised unionized employees likely to be impacted by the change of employers that “your current union and collective agreement will transfer unchanged to the new organization.” 

AHS’s chief program officer for addiction and mental health and correction health services, Kerry Bales, will return as the CEO of Recovery Alberta (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

But the UNA statement warned that “it is not clear how this will work and how it can be possible without negotiated changes to the collective agreement or government interference.”

More than 3,200 Registered Nurses and Registered Psychiatric Nurses will be impacted by the change of employers, UNA said.

Health Sciences Association of Alberta President Mike Parker said in a statement that “we were shocked to hear the premier and minister of mental health and addictions announcing these sweeping changes this morning.

Mr. Parker told HSAA members that “when the plans to restructure health care were first announced, this government and AHS assured us that your union would be consulted and informed throughout the process.” But, “despite previous promises from the minister of health and the premier your union was not informed in advance of this significant change.”

About 3,400 HSAA members will have to transfer to the new employer.

Alberta Union of Provincial Employees Vice-President Sandra Azocar (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees said the changes announced yesterday will impact 3,500 of its members, about 2,000 in nursing care and 1,500 in general support services.

“It’s crystal clear from today’s announcement that the government feels it does not need to consult with front-line workers before doing what it already decided to do,” said AUPE Vice-President Sandra Azocar. “These are ideologically driven decisions, not evidence-based decisions.”

It’s reasonable to predict that the labour relations structure of Recovery Alberta will not be in place by July 2024.

The government says virtual engagement sessions for AHS staff and service providers will be held on April 11, 16, 17 and 22.

NOTE: This story has been edited to include the number of HSAA members impacted.

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  1. Alberta Recovery Model ..??

    So did someone from Marlaina’s (seemingly incompetent and or unexperiened) staff ,pull a Rudy Giuliani ???
    Alberta Recovery Motel..???
    Is that why Mr Nixon was running around with his Visa Card trying to clear things up?

    It’s another one of those seemingly silly situations, that you think probably couldn’t or shouldn’t happen, but yet –here we are. Especially with the other Smith involved, ie Marshall. His middle name wouldn’t by any chance be Norton, would it? I couldn’t a definitive answer. Also, does this mean the Red Deer one is already full of ‘clients’ ? And did we ever hear what happened to other 5 Marlaina & Marshall were talking about building; and where?
    One in each of the four districts with an extra one in Edmonton and Calgary, sounds about right.
    And again Jason Stefan comes into the picture, but that’s surely just my imagination.

  2. I don’t know the exact language in the contract, and many a government pass laws allowing them to break their own laws, but….it’s very clear that the government’s plan is a unilateral change to a negotiated agreement. If you have any insight into the union leadership, do you know if they’ve had the lawyers look at into the court cases to challenge? Has the union investigated the potential for job action in response to the employer breaking the contract? How clear is their PR campaign to point out how this “reorganization” looks like union busting action? And are they leveraging all these concerns as weapons in the current round of negotiations?

  3. In the land before time, the Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission provided treatment services, a great deal of which were contracted out to unqualified private entities.

    AADAC reported only to the premier. Very handy for managing the statistics for the impact of substance use and gambling disorder while obfuscating the benefit of the sin taxes.

    “The way” back then based on the 12 step model, with no validated scientific evidence base underpinning the claim to be the best in the world. AADAC rejected the “medical medical” was adversarial with medical services and those who were not “motivated” found doors to service closed. Those with moderate severe disorders “fell through the cracks” until they found an acute care bed.

    In 2010, AADAC was integrated within AHS and finally the body found the head. Seems like this organzational dis-integration takes Alberta back to the future with a slight nod to medical professionals, regulated workers and service delivery standards this time around. Interesting how all is in place prior to the legislation being passed. Even more interesting is the figure of 8000 Albertans receiving safe treatment for opiate use disorder. That’s about 1 in 600 and as the Minister pointed out yesterday, even prescription drugs are not safe.

    The history of the mental health system is just as checkered. Take care Albertans.

  4. It is hard to sort out here what is ideological certainty, just over glib confidence and political spin, but this already has all these hallmarks of Smith’s gang political style. So it does remind us of the certainty that the previous UCP Kenney regime had when it set up the Canadian Energy Centre, which then turned out to be both ineffective and a comedy of errors. In this case it could be worse, because individuals well being and health will be more directly affected by this. Unlike the Energy Centre, this is not just a somewhat abstract battle intended mostly against external political forces that the UCP misunderstood.

    I wonder if the primarily rural UCP really understands addictions problems. Of course it doesn’t have too many real urban MLA’s left, so perhaps Minister Williams from a fairly isolated, far northern small town will have to do. However, I suppose Premier Smith will leave most of the details and the real management to the other Smith, who may be this government’s Rasputin.

    It has been said before a number of times that Smith leaves chaos in her wake. However, I get the sense this gang is not prepared for the choppy waters they are creating and will be ill equipped to deal with the results of the all the disruption and the negative effects of their poorly thought out plans.

  5. What a joke the UCP is. Watch for “recovery centres” owned by UCP insiders filling their pockets with those sweet taxpayer dollars.

  6. What could possibly go wrong? The ideologically driven privatized blood services changeover worked so well. No doubt, before every Alberta Recovery meeting, management stands to sing, “Give Me That Old Time Religion”.

    As an aside, I notice the Premier neglected to enact the Critical Infrastructure Act when the usual suspects were blocking roads while protesting the carbon price increase.

  7. Service providers like Dave Kenney and Contentment Social Services? And the TBA loons wonder why Alberta is Canada’s laughing stock.

  8. Does anyone else feel like they’re standing at the rail of the Titanic, watching the waves coming closer and closer and closer?

  9. On another topic (sorry David), as an Albertan who does care about the environment my grand babies will grow old in and someone who thinks we need to throw everything we have at the problem of the climate crisis……can I make a suggestion that all of you who feel the same way, take a moment to send the following link to Danielle Smith’s office? Remind her that she’s being watched and we see the hypocrisy! I think this video says it all about Conservative integrity… Smith goes from honesty then, to lying today…..

    That woman and her TBA/UCP government are doing great damage in so many ways to the future of Albertan’s and the environment. Whether it’s our health care (that she so obviously wants to privatize) or the environment that sustains us or the provinces future economy (through her inability to prepare for a changed energy system), she obviously intends to leave a mark. Sort of like cancer leaves a mark. Maybe our reminders are like a bit of chemo applied where needed?

  10. “In a ruined and toxic future, a community exists in a giant underground silo that plunges hundreds of stories deep; there, people live in a society full of regulations they believe are meant to protect them.”

    That’s IMDb’s description of the TV series Silo. Unfortunately, it seems to be a description of the future of Alberta’s health care, too.

  11. 1. “A role-playing game (sometimes spelled roleplaying game, or abbreviated as RPG) is a game in which players assume the roles of characters in a fictional setting. Players take responsibility for acting out these roles within a narrative, either through literal acting or through a process of structured decision-making regarding character development. Actions taken within many games succeed or fail according to a formal system of rules and guidelines.”

    2. It is assumed that, the delusions and illusions of the political role playing game requires frequent and calculated deception designed to mislead and manipulate the audience (as the means) to achieve desired self interested ‘ends’.

    3. Lying and deception as behaviors are not viewed as unethical, but simply as additional tools in the toolbox to be used as needed, or required.


    5. According to the radio talk show host/lobbyist, “Since 2021, deaths from alcohol are down 60 per cent, deaths from methamphetamine are down 41 per cent, deaths from cocaine are down 61 per cent,” Smith said, adding that deaths from other drugs are also down.”

    6. Yet, “More than 1,700 people died from toxic drugs between January and November last year, making it the worst year since the province’s substance use surveillance system was made publicly available in 2016. That is 24.07 per cent higher compared with the same time period in 2022, 28.46 per cent higher compared with the same time period in 2021 and 69.08 per cent higher compared with the same time period in 2020.”

  12. *Note: Last-minute name change from “Ralph Klein” to “Canadian” Centre for Recovery Excellence, due to merciless April 1 mocking. Also for placing blame on Trudeau when this thing goes sideways.

      1. Before you show yourself out, I am going to ‘steal’ this … sorry ‘borrow’ this!’

  13. Dual. Diagnosis. AADAC. AA. NA. Sorry LONG comment. I always feel I am the last one to the show I wonder if I am ever read as my comments are usually the last. But with the hope someone will read this Here I go. I am an addict. I became addicted to perscription drugs in my 40 s I was hospitalized in acute psychiatric bed for severe depression and sent to dual diagnosis in Ponoka by my psychiatrist. It did not matter that I did not want to go. Remember who signs your cheque. the leader was a Buddhist so any talks lectures were infiltrated with his beliefs. Then we were put in front of Tv to watch video then we were to discuss among our specific patient. Client. group This did not occur as no supervision so patients drifted off to smoke Lye in their bed Etc. There were lovely pool and workshop but we never got there except seeing from a window. This dual diagnos was the IN thing and I guess the min of health at time was fr ponoka so it got built there There was a lot of paperwork. Which many patients who were so damaged mentally were unable to do. On discharge. You were to make your own discharge plans. Many young men on weed who were admitted. homeless when deemed discharged and completed dual diagnosis program were put on then a greyhound bus on discharge with some chit or paper to cover some costs i don’t know were they ended up in Edmonton.i know AADAC. At that Time was downtown Edmonton and had various groups. I can’t remember the length of DD program maybe 8 wks to 12 wks. Say Up to 3 months. The 12 step program was emphasized a lot and as most were addicted to alcohol AA. However those weed perscription Narcotic. Attended. As there was no NA We met x times a wk. nurses say in emergency and units with high access to narcotics like morphaine could end up in this program. Discharge follow up was for you to make appointment with dr or psychiatrist. To attend AA or NA meetings. To be clear there was no individual therapy no 1 to 1 therapy with a psychologist. A RPN. A social worker You were assigned a leader and did group therapy of say 5 to 6 people all with different psychiatric diagnoses from all aspects of scociety homeless to suburbs I can’t remember any specific topic. This took place once a day for maybe 1 hr to 1/2 a psychologist did an intake but it was all paper. He did not talk to you. All different types of tests I asked to have a copy of my psychologist tests when I was to be discharged. That was not allowed. I asked if I could have a RPN to let me read the tests That was another no. On discharge I wrote I would see make an appt my psychologist And make appt for psychiatrist We had to do our own discharge plan I don’t know if others were told to try to get into AADAC for therapy. Individual or group And to go to 12 step program. AA or. NA. Rural addicts I met later in NA in downtown Edmonton as they did not want there communities to know These are ones who had transportation Regarding. Psychologist. At that time I was paying 175 hr and had work insurance If you check around today. It can be up to 260 hr the only way to know if you click is to go You can ask friends family but their psychologist may not work for you. Also some insurance allow MSW make sure you know the amt covered and max reached We had to buy extra blue cross insurance for my therapy Also research . look on rate md psychoigist and rate Md psychiatrist. Plus check the college they are registered at for discipline hearings etc Some psychologists now see you actually 40 min as they write their notes last 10 min While in DD. You have your own room but No Lock There is no womens side or men’s side. Bathrooms have locks removed. So get another trusted women to sit and guard you while having bath. Meals poor. Heavy on starch hamburger meat No snacks unless diabetic so our DD we all became diabetic. The grounds are beautiful but not allowed We had a small section off the DD unit. With concrete blocks and wired curled fencing on top. Remember Hogans Hero’s So that’s it. If they build these units throughout alberta away in the boondocks will it have some of these above features of DD At least we had field trips to polka movie and red deer again look and see no actual doing. Because of this program I missed my only sons graduation ‍ as I could not be trusted overnight with my husband of 20 yrs and with no suicidal attempts or ideation. The DD bldg was too far to drive 4 hrs there and 4 hrs back. Results of program given evaluation form useless as really could only tick or circle positive type comment Tragic result after 3 mts from discharge A suicide of mid age women overdose pills and alcohol. After she was fired from her job. This I believe was partly due to all the positive crap in group by the so called therapist RPN we’re the world is a safe supportive and forgiving place Last Note in acute care hospitals at least psychiatric patients have their local pastor to visit them But in the wilds no visiting from local pastor. Regarding ADAC in smaller cities like mine. Only give you x number of appts. I was told it was like a bandage to deal with a crisis. Not for long term therapy the place was so busy the answering machine was blocked That’s my little story on addiction Ucp may use aspects of the DDP dual diagnosis program and AADAC. And have AA and NA meetings after hrs They May cut and paste and reconstruct other programs However Alberta is in a different addiction place now with the new drugs quicker deaths and need new methods not regurgitation I guess we have to see what they will dig up

    1. Gerri, thank you for outlining your experience with the mental health system in Alberta. The 12 step program works for many, but not for every one. There are programs which do not follow the 12 step program and those programs ought to be also available to people.

    2. You don’t have to worry about typos! I read it, and I hear you! I’m currently back in Alberta caring for a family member near end of life that my so called “family” rejected on religious grounds. I can tell you that care for seniors is equally atrocious, unless of course, you have lot’s of money. I hope for your continuing recovery!

    3. Thank you for sharing your experience with us, I hope you have managed to find supports better suited to your needs in the community. I agree with you that times have changed, I read books written by Dr. Gabor Mate and he has opened my eyes to a better understanding of addiction. Best wishes going forward.

  14. Don’t think Smith and her gang are going to be able to have this work, except for those who may set up companies to warehouse people with mental health and addiction issues.
    Taking mental health out of the health care dept. is just plain stupid. Many mental illnesses are the result of how people’s bodies function. Some perceived mental illnesses may come about from allergies, brain tumours, brain not wired properly while a fetus, etc.
    It does seem rather odd that Smith has decided this is suddenly going to be a thing, but there doesn’t appear to be any real plan for how this is going to work. If a new government dept. is being set up and the plan to transfer staff there, if they don’t negotiate with the Union, they may find no staff goes to the new dept. Where are the buildings going to be? Exactly what will the working conditions be. Where will all the shrinks come from to handle the case load.
    What if people aren’t interested in the programs the government provides because they maybe unsafe, won’t work, are faith based. Here on Vancouver Island there is private clinic which treats alcoholics. Its expensive, so is Alberta going to spend that type of money to provide quality care, accomodation, qualified staff, food, etc. According to people who’ve gone there, its a good program and successful for many. One of the things I believe makes it successful is the year of after care. Smith going to provide that? If the government plans on having people just quit the drugs and booze, good luck with that one. Not many become addicts over night and getting better is a long game.
    Smith might want to look at providing more mental health help at the beginning of problems, you know in school when children are identified as having issues.
    Back in the latter 80s the Vancouver Sun ran an series of articles on homelessness. One man said, if you weren’t crazy when you hit the streets you would be after a year of living on the streets.
    I suspect this is driven by people who have religious ideas and see addictions as weakness and needs to be “cured”, ditto with mental health–just pray. people with mental health and addiction issues first of all need a clean, safe, secure home of their own. That can be an apartment or a room in facility but they have to be secure hence the need for locks on all doors and their own bathrooms. Their diets need to be adequate because some times its the food people eat which causes problems. Proper diets do improve people’s health. It is doubtful Smith will be willing to provide any of this.
    Once Smith’s gang has established their idea of centers, don’t be surprised if she implements laws which force people into these centers

  15. Not a comment but a question. I understand that there are 11 Dream Centres that are contracted to provide rehab services. According to the Calgary Dream Centre this is faith (Christian) based. do you have any information on this group?

    1. Gail: I’ve never heard of them until just now. Looked them up online. You have to dig a bit to find it, but there does seem to be a connection with something called First Assembly Church. From its website, I would infer that this is a Pentecostal church. At this time, I know nothing more than that. DJC

        1. Dream centers???? I thought those were malls and Costco or in Vancouver, any number of designer goods shops.
          So what do these people think; they’re going to dream people to health or sanity? OMG, what a scam. The government giving money to churches which run businesses. Wonder if there will be medical staff or just a bunch of lay people praying…..Hey what about those who are not of that faith? The law suits will be lining up when people commit suicide

  16. Any word on whether Kenney’s brother and sister-in-law have set up their treatment centre in AB, after having been literally run out of BC a few years back? The timing of their arrival in AB seems to align with the UCP’s move to a treatment-based approach that I initially interpreted as an act of compassion by this government, I can’t remember when I’ve been so wrong. With these clowns it’s all about the Franklins, or Bordens, as the case may be.

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