Danielle Smith Health Care
Danielle Smith Health Care This article is more than 1 year old

Danielle Smith Has Spent Decades Pushing To Privatize Alberta’s Health System

The UCP Leader’s comments on private health care are well documented.

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United Conservative Party Leader Danielle Smith claims no Albertan “will ever have to pay” for healthcare—but her own history of advocacy for privatized healthcare tells a different story.

On the campaign trail, the UCP leader said, “The UCP is committed, to all Albertans, that under no circumstances will any Albertan ever have to pay out of pocket for access to their family doctor or to get the medical treatment that they need.”

In April, Smith also signed a Public Health Guarantee” vowing to make further progress towards “improving publicly funded health care in Alberta.”

But even a cursory review of Smith’s statements finds she has spent decades advocating for the system to be privatized.

In a March 2003 op-ed titled Market-based reforms are the only real health guarantee, Smith argued that “service guarantees” and wait time targets “aren’t enough to fix health care.”

Instead, Smith said Albertans should be forced to pay thousands in user-fees “toward the cost of medical treatment.”

“This new source of revenue would create the much-needed incentive to increase the number of facilities in the province and get more patients in for treatment,” Smith wrote.

In a June 2003 op-ed, Smith lamented that Canada’s right-wing politicians lack the will to privatize healthcare. 

“Politicians simply don’t have the stomach to reform public health care so it will actually work, such as adopting internal markets, allowing private health care providers to proliferate, charging user fees and implementing co-payment systems.”

In a 2004 op-ed titled Blueprint for a fairer health premiums, Smith complained that the elderly and others who are sickest do not pay more for health services.

Current funding for the health-care system is neither fair nor efficient…Those who use more services are not expected to pay more, and service providers have no incentive to streamline because they are not accountable for the costs. Switching to a system of co-payments based on income would remedy both these problems.”

That same year, Smith hosted a series of TV broadcasts on The Medicare Myth, to “explode the myth that private delivery and public universality can’t exist in the same health system.”

In it, Smith said “the real tragedy is that ideology has taken over the debate in this country and patients are suffering for it.”

In 2006, Smith wrote an op-ed praising Copeman Healthcare’s infamous private surgical clinic in BC for providing user-fee funded services.

“Copeman’s centre allows family physicians the opportunity to work for a good income in a relaxed environment, providing world-class medicine and personalized care, which is what good medicine is all about. Fortunately, there are health-care entrepreneurs willing to wade through all the government red tape in pursuit of better medicine. Health-care innovations can be stalled, but they can’t be stopped.”

Soon after, however, the company was investigated by the B.C. Medical Services Commission for violating the Canada Health Act.

That same year, Smith said Alberta should expand private healthcare just as it expanded private charter schools.

“Charter schools may be a model for restructured health care,” Smith wrote. “ I think most Albertans are delighted to have the full spectrum of choice in education. I bet they are ready for a similar approach in health care, too.”

In 2010, Smith wrote an op-ed titled Health care theatrics costing lives in which she complained that Canada’s health system is doomed because governments “cling to the idea that government-run institutions have to deliver health care.”

After claiming “Canada resembles Cuba and North Korea more than western Europe,” Smith argued for a tiered health system where those who can pay for care do so.

“When you allow funding to follow the patient, you create competition. Public hospitals will compete alongside private facilities for patients looking for the best possible health care.”

In a 2021 article for the University of Calgary’s school of public policy, Smith pitched a “spending account,” as a way to normalize healthcare user fees: “Once people get used to the concept of paying out of pocket for more things themselves then we can change the conversation on health care.”

Smith wrote further, “Where this model has the opportunity to make a major difference is health care. There should be similar options.” 

These, according to Smith, included “charter hospitals that are publicly funded and privately delivered,” and “private hospitals that can receive contracts for publicly paid services as well as serve paid customers.”

Health policy researcher Andrew Longhurst says this drive to privatize the healthcare system has been seen in the UCP’s policies.

Research from the Parkland Institute finds the UCP’s Alberta Surgical Initiative , which has moved hip and knee and other surgeries out of hospitals and into for-profit “chartered surgical facilities,” has led to a drop in total surgeries across the province.

“We’re seeing, I think a quite clear policy focus on bolstering and entrenching the private sector at the expense of public hospitals,” Longhurst said. “It’s really creating harm in terms of the public sector’s capacity to deliver.


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Mitchell Thompson
Mitchell Thompson is PressProgress’ Ontario reporter. His reporting has a special focus on workers and communities, and public services and privatization, and public accountability.

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