NDP Opposition Leader Rachel Notley ripped into the health care policies of the United Conservative Party (UCP) government in a campaign-style speech at the annual general meeting of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta on May 27 in Edmonton.
The former Alberta premier was forceful, focused on examples of UCP health care policy failures and clear about what the NDP plans to change if it forms the government in 2023 or whenever the next provincial is called.
This included a pledge to hire more full-time paramedics, one of the medical professions represented by HSAA, and another to kill the UCP’s unconstitutional legislative strategy to smother unions in red tape and restrict their ability to communicate with members and the public.
Notley vowed, to the applause of several hundred HSAA members in the room at the Edmonton Convention Centre, to make UCP mismanagement of health care a key issue in the coming election campaign, whenever it gets under way.
“Health care will be on the ballot,” she promised. “My team and I are determined to present a different future for health care, one that cuts the chaos and funds the front line.”
“After two years, front-line workers are exhausted, burnt out, and worried the day is coming when they can’t go on,” she asserted. “You’ve been celebrated for doing your job – and then attacked for doing your job!’
UCP health care strategy ‘a crashing failure’
So while health care workers like HSAA’s 27,000 paramedical, technical, professional and support members in public and private health care “have performed heroically” through the pandemic, Notley said, the UCP has been “a crashing failure.”
“Their incessantly ideological need to hollow out health care left Alberta more vulnerable to COVID-19, and their refusal to take the virus seriously led to a fourth wave that very nearly collapsed the entire health care system,” she said, adding that this resulted in “the highest per-capita hospitalizations in Canada, tens of thousands of surgeries cancelled, and a government more concerned about vacations than vaccinations! Yesterday, they officially shut down the Legislature to go on a months-long exercise in their favorite pastimes – infighting and navel gazing!”
Meanwhile, Notley added, “there are 21 communities where the hospital is partially closed due to staff shortages caused by the UCP. You can’t deliver a baby in Barrhead, St Paul, Sundre, Three Hills, Provost, Wainwright or Whitecourt. There are long wait times for children at the Stollery Children’s Hospital and actual line ups outside the Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary. You can’t find a family doctor in the Bow Valley, and there are 40,000 people with no family doctor in Lethbridge …”
NDP sees health care as a winning issue
While Notley was addressing a health care audience, we can see pretty clearly from this what will be a major theme for the NDP’s upcoming campaign. Unless, of course, the UCP somehow manages to change the channel – which will be difficult with half their cabinet and caucus, by the sound of it, lining up to try to replace Premier Jason Kenney in an upcoming UCP leadership contest, possibly even including Kenney himself.
The NDP will argue, as Notley did yesterday, that “this failure in leadership rests not just with the premier, but the entire UCP Government.
“And they know it, which is why they’re trying to put all the blame squarely on AHS,” she said.
What’s more, she accused, the UCP is “getting ready to pull their biggest trick yet – convincing Albertans that the answer to COVID-19 is to cut and privatize health care.”
Asserting that UCP claims of a funding increase in health care are false, and that in fact the government cut the health care budget by $800 million between last year and this, Notley said the “real truth” is that “they want health care to fail in order to justify dismantling it in a way that Albertans have never seen before.”
“At a time when we need to support front-line workers, they’re accelerating plans to reorganize,” she said. “All that means is chaos, cuts and private health care.”
By contrast, she said, “Alberta’s NDP is going to fight to protect public health care and if we are elected … we will reinvest in front-line health care, building new hospitals, boosting surgical capacity, and increasing access to mental health supports.
“Our health care system will be strong and public,” she went on. “We want stop the plan to privatize health care.”
She added, the NDP will also stop chasing health care professionals away.
More supports for Emergency Medical Services
Notley spent considerable time on the chaos in the provincial ambulance service, a mess she laid at the feet of the UPC. She vowed, if elected, to hire paramedics and ambulance dispatchers “who are full-time, dedicated workers,” a promise obviously popular with the HSAA audience.
“We will reinstate harm-reduction programs that ease the burden on EMS, and better prevent those overdoses,” she said, and the NDP will put more nurses and other staff in Emergency Departments, “so when you pull up at the Emergency doors, there are staff there to take that patient.”
Assailing the government for demanding a 10-per-cent wage cut from some HSAA members in that union’s current round of contract negotiations, Notley mocked the UCP’s “fair deal” talking point in its constant sniping at Ottawa, asking, “does this sound like a fair deal to you?”
She reminded her listeners how the government used the coded language of efficiency in “the idiotic MacKinnon report,” the so-called blue-ribbon panel the UCP assembled in 2019 under former Saskatchewan New Democrat Janice MacKinnon, to justify its pre-COVID plans for massive austerity.
“You know what ‘more efficient’ really means? Lower pay, longer hours, fewer benefits.
“When Jason Kenney says, or any of the new leadership hopefuls say, ‘Alberta is back,’ it’s pretty clear what they really mean. Back to disrespecting workers. Back to avoiding responsibility. And back to under-funding front-line care.
“Our party governs the other way,” she said, promising to restore health and safety rules, “put the ‘worker’ back in Workers’ Compensation,” and respect constitutional rights.
NOTE: As far as I could see, not a single reporter from mainstream media showed up to cover this speech, which is why I’ve devoted as much ink as I have to covering what the woman who may be Alberta’s once and future premier had to say. If media listened to the Internet feed, there’s no evidence anyone wrote a story about it. You can click here to hear the speech for yourself. DJC