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Analysis

5 Times Jason Kenney’s UCP Government Picked Fights With Alberta’s Frontline Healthcare Workers

Jason Kenney's UCP government has been picking fights with doctors and sabotaging Alberta's healthcare system

Just how badly is Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party mismanaging Alberta’s healthcare system?

Things have gotten so bad that Alberta’s frontline healthcare workers — the same people who Kenney himself described as “heroes” earlier in the pandemic — have been left with no other option than to stage wildcat strikes across Alberta.

In a statement, the Alberta Union of Public Employees said frontline healthcare workers are taking the action to protect Albertans from the Kenney government’s “dangerous cuts in the midst of pandemic.”

“Nursing-care and support workers decided today that there was no other option but to fight to protect Albertans at risk, especially during the deadliest pandemic in a century,” said AUPE president Guy Smith.

“By constantly short-staffing public health care, this government is pushing our members to the breaking point exactly when Albertans need them most.”

Kenney’s government responded by attacking frontline healthcare workers, describing their actions as “shameful.”

Why are frontline healthcare workers saying enough is enough? Here are five recent incidents where Kenney’s government picked fights with healthcare workers and undermined Alberta’s healthcare system in the middle of a pandemic.

Laying off 11,000 hospital support staff in the middle of a pandemic

Frontline healthcare workers have taken their labour action just weeks after UCP Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced Alberta Health Services would be cutting 11,000 jobs, including administrators, lab technicians and hospital laundry and cafeteria workers

These positions, Shandro said, would be outsourced to private contractors, some of which could begin as early as next April. Critics say the plan would create “chaos” and undermine conditions in hospitals.

Running doctors out of Alberta by changing the deal on how they’re paid

Rural Alberta is losing doctors under Kenney’s UCP — in July the Alberta Medical Association warned of a “looming exodus” of physicians from the province after Shandro unilaterally changed the rules on how they bill the province.

Shandro aggressively denied the possibility this would happen, reportedly showing up to doctors’ homes late at night and arguing about it in their driveways,  until an internal AHS document revealed 163 doctor’s positions were considered “high risk” to leave the province, a claim supported by a surge of job vacancies in rural Alberta communities.

Shandro responded by writing to the Alberta College of Physicians and Surgeons asking them to force doctors to stay put.

Allowing private companies to oversee doctors compensation

Kenney’s Bill 30 further aggravated the UCP’s relationship with doctors by opening the door to private, for-profit companies overseeing how doctors are paid, replacing the traditional model where doctors bill the government directly.

Writing in the Edmonton Journal, University of Calgary Political Analyst Lorian Hardcastle called the bill “a gateway to cronyism” because the bill “allows for the proliferation of private operators, the government may be transferring responsibility for physician compensation to private corporations”:

“Bill 30 adds momentum to this shift towards privatization by enabling the ‘government to contract with a range of organizations to operate medical clinics’ and streamlining the approval process for private surgical facilities. The government’s stated goal is to have 30 per cent of surgeries delivered in private facilities, which it claims will reduce wait times in the public system. In reality, without an influx of health professionals, these private facilities will likely skim off the least complex cases, thereby leaving those who are sicker to wait longer for care in the public system.”


Accusing nurses of taking advantage of the pandemic

Finance Minister Travis Toews accused nurses of “rejecting stability during a pandemic” after the United Nurses of Alberta rejected a government request to delay collective bargaining.

In fact, the nurses simply asked that a letter of understanding guaranteeing “no layoffs” remain in place until a new agreement with the province.

UNA says Kenney’s government is trying to eliminate 750 nursing positions.

Voting to privatize Alberta’s healthcare system

Kenney’s United Conservatives continued picking fights with frontline healthcare workers at the party’s Annual General Meeting last week, voting to adopt a policy resolution calling for the privatization of Alberta’s healthcare system.

The policy resolution, which passed with the support of 52% of UCP delegates, calls on the party to “support the option of a privately-funded and privately-managed healthcare system.”

That plan may already be in the works — over the summer, CBC News reported on a leaked audio recording from a meeting between lobbyists and developers about a proposed $200 million private surgical facility, a project the attendees said Shandro “tentatively supports.”

 

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