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Raj Sherman must've nailed it, or Fred Horne would've walked from talks with docs

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Raj Sherman

Lost last week in all the shouting about how much Alberta Premier Alison Redford had to do with that tobacco lawsuit work her ex-husband's legal firm picked up was Liberalberta Leader Raj Sherman's argument Health Minister Fred Horne broke the Canada Health Act when he imposed a pay formula on the Alberta Medical Association.

This may actually turn out to be the more significant story for Albertans, at least in terms of dollars spent. At any rate, it seems as if Sherman nailed it in the letter he sent to Ottawa last Thursday demanding the feds step in and make the province submit its dispute with the powerful physicians' union to binding arbitration, as the docs desire.

How else can we explain Horne's sudden change of heart with the AMA -- telling the association on Nov. 16 that Alberta's 7,200 physicians could like the deal he was imposing or lump it, then dropping the whole matter like the proverbial hot potato last Thursday?

Sherman, occasional Emergency Room physician that he still is, was presumably privy to the same physicians' shoptalk as AMA President Michael Giuffre. To wit, that the Canada Health Act requires provinces to use either conciliation or binding arbitration to settle a pay dispute with its physicians.

"Failing to so means that the province isn't meeting the accessibility provisions of the Act and could result in the federal government imposing penalties," the former PC MLA turned Liberal leader said in a news release that was significantly underplayed by media.

Sherman also complained that Horne's decision to stuff the pay deal up the docs' noses didn’t exactly send the right message from a government that's "trying to shake off allegations of physician bullying and intimidation," but here's a guess that this wasn't the part of his message that lit the fire under Horne.

Regardless of how it came about, Horne and Giuffre emerged from Government House Thursday evening to announce that, lo and behold, it was all a misunderstanding, nothing was ever imposed, surely everyone understood that, and the talks were back on again, even though they'd never really been off … etc., etc.

In fairness to Horne, his original letter laying down the law to the AMA was cleverly written, and never really completely slammed the door on the resumption of bargaining.

Whatever transpired, pay negotiations between the Alberta Government and the AMA are now on again, and it seems likely Canada's best-paid physicians will get more in the end than they would have from Hornes seemingly arbitrarily imposed deal.

Perhaps the government can save a little money for the physicians' by cancelling what's left of its radio and newspaper ad campaign explaining to Albertans why imposing a deal on the docs was a righteous policy.

Horne must be hoping that the AMA has learned its lesson about the wisdom of buying advertisements attacking he government just hours before a hotly contested election, which is what they did last April. It's not impossible, however, to conclude that this turn of events might have the opposite effect on the AMA's strategic brain trust.

Meanwhile, with that hurdle out of the way, tout le monde political Alberta, gauche et droite, can get back to the business of excoriating the Redford Government for conflicts of interest, real and imagined.

It is said here that the CBC's revelations about Premier Redford's role in the choice of ex-hubby Robert Hawke's law firm to do some of the legal work in the government's massive lawsuit against Big Tobacco is just the opening act of the Opposition's plan to paint the PC Government as corrupt all the way from now to the next election in 2015.

Bet on it that the spotlight will soon return to the role of the premier's sister, a senior official of Alberta Health Services who as an employee of the old Capital Health Region improperly charged expenses to her employer that were directly used to support the PC Party.

One can only hope for the premier's sake that no more Redford relatives are lurking on or near the government payroll in any capacity.

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

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