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Docs call health minister liar, liar, scrubs on fire, but their ad fails to persuade

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Michael Giuffre

The Alberta Medical Association, the province's most powerful trade union, has gone back to the familiar ground of buying newspaper advertisements to call Alberta Health Minister Fred Horne and the Progressive Conservative government led by Premier Alison Redford a bunch of liars.

The provincial physicians' association and bargaining agent used slightly more moderate language in their advert -- which showed up in several Alberta daily newspapers yesterday -- but what else can they really mean when they say, "on April 23, 2012, the government of Alberta misled Alberta’s 11,000 physicians, medical residents and medical students"?

In fairness, the government has also been running ads the last few days too, reassuring Albertans that their doctors remain the highest paid in Canada -- and suggesting between the lines that the docs are just whining.

Yesterday's doc workers' union ad goes on to argue that since Horne signed the agreement in principle that covered such things as length of contract and arbitration before the April 23 provincial election, then seemingly pulled the plug on the interminable negotiations more than half a year after the election, he's a dirty, rotten liar.

That's OK based on the facts as presented, I guess. But, really people, you have to ask if the AMA itself changed anything in the period between when the agreement in principle was signed and when the AMA decided to make its incendiary claim. I mean, other than its president, from Dr. Linda Slocombe to Dr. Michael Giuffre.

Such as, for example, throwing its support behind the radical health care commercialization agenda of the Wildrose Party hours before the provincial election and taking out large newspaper ads -- sort of like this one, come to think of it -- that accused the government of dropping the ball on health care. Is that an example of how one ought to set out "to positively support efforts to finalize an agreement"? Just wondering.

Look, it's pretty obvious the AMA would have been happier if Gary Mar were the Progressive Conservative Premier of Alberta. Mar, after all, said during the leadership campaign he favoured privatization of many parts of the health-care system -- and by so doing opened the door to Premier Redford's victory on April 23.

Redford, to her credit, has stuck by her guns on publicly financed, publicly operated health care -- at least when it comes to the active treatment of medical conditions -- which is what Albertans have indicated clearly time and again that they want.

So when Redford beat Mar -- mainly because of his position on health care -- the AMA looked at the public opinion polls and rolled the dice on a Wildrose victory. No doubt they imagined that by now they'd be dealing with Premier Danielle Smith and Health Minister Heather Forsyth to carve out the most potentially profitable parts of the system for private, for-profit clinics.

This ought not to surprise us. Physicians' associations in Canada have rarely acted as friends of public health care -- although the majority of physicians have benefited enormously from the system. But the dice did not roll the way the AMA expected, and thank goodness for that.

If Giuffre and the leadership of the AMA were being completely forthright themselves, wouldn't they have to admit in their ad that the government wasn’t the only party to change the terms of the agreement in principle?

So did Horne and the PC government actually set out to mislead the physicians when he signed the agreement in principle, or did the agreement in principle fell apart when both parties couldn't reach a practical agreement in detail? Sorry, for all my problems with this government, I don't buy the claim made in the docs' advertisement.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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