If you wonder what the United Conservative Party really thinks about how health care ought to be run in Alberta, perhaps you should ask Miranda Rosin instead of Jason Kenney.
Rosin is the UCP's candidate in the new Banff-Kananaskis riding. Kenney is the party's leader, of course, and as we now know, its Decider as well.
In a Canadian Taxpayers Federation-style stunt last week, Kenney publicly signed a "Public Health Care Guarantee" on a large sheet of plastic saying his party is committed to "maintain a universally accessible, publicly funded health-care system."
Taking the pledge resulted in a certain amount of derision, owing to the fact Kenney's "Grassroots Guarantee," wherein he promised always to listen to what the grassroots members of his party had to say, became defunct the instant it became inconvenient.
By contrast, Rosin is just one of the troops -- who in the UCP are expected to mind their Ps and Qs and do whatever the leader tells them to do.
Her suddenly controversial words were spoken at a UCP nomination-candidates' meeting in Canmore back on October 17, before what was by definition a friendly crowd. Alas for her, one of those ubiquitous smartphone recorders was running somewhere in the room and her words were duly taken down to be used against her.
This is as it should be. No politician of any party should doubt in the early years of the 21st century that a digital recorder is running somewhere in the room, and not just at public meetings. If you're going to run for public office, as the old lawyers' advice goes, you really need to "govern yourself accordingly."
The key part of what Rosin said about health care was this: … "we need to look at a two-tiered system, so that we can get those who have worked hard for their money to get out of the system if they would like to." (Emphasis added.)
When the recording started appearing on social media yesterday morning, tweeted by Banff-Cochrane NDP MLA Cameron Westhead, who is a registered nurse and will be running in the new riding in the spring, the reaction was immediate and harsh. Rosin's remarks and her selection as the UCP's candidate led to the inevitable conclusion that party insiders do in fact want to allow the wealthy to opt out of our public health-care system. What's more, it would seem they don't really put much stock in the idea that not everyone in Alberta who works hard for their money necessarily makes a lot of the stuff.
The second thought may be more offensive, but the policy question is more serious, because as any health-care expert will tell you, that way disaster lies. Whatever Rosin believes, and whatever Kenney really thinks, and whatever the Fraser Institute keeps telling us, the result of allowing the wealthy to opt out or just opt upward for some nice extra fees will result in longer wait times and worse outcomes for the rest of us.
The audio clip in circulation is very short, only seven seconds. However, a longer and more contextual clip of Rosin's response to her questioners, who went on to choose her as their candidate, is no more reassuring.
In the less tightly edited version, she begins by saying that Alberta has "one of the highest funded health cares in Canada, if not the world, and our service is not up to par, we have long wait times, there's so many gaps in the system."
"So," she continues, "I think that there's two big things we need to look at. One of them, we are very bureaucracy run. I think we need to look at reducing our administration so we can get more front-line workers out there."
"But also, I think we need to look at a two-tiered system, so we can get those who work hard for their money to get out of the system if they would like to. To remove* themselves so that we can decrease the wait times for those who are still in the public system. Because this allows those who work for their money and who want to spend it how they can on health care if that's what they need. And it also hopes those who are in the public system get shorter wait times."
(The word marked with an asterisk is almost inaudible. It sounds to me like "remove." Then again, maybe not. Regardless, Rosin's thought is clear.)
It is a common misconception about public health care to conclude that removing some patients from the public system will shorten wait times for the rest.
Experience in Europe and the United States, however, shows that private hospitals and clinics cherry pick the easiest cases, dumping the more complex ones on the public system -- in other words, on taxpayers and the sick themselves.
People who make this argument also act as if physicians are an unlimited resource. As is well understood, however, they are not, and if some of them choose to cherry pick well-off or easy patients, those who remain in the public system will soon be overwhelmed, degrading the public system further. In some cases, fatally so.
It is also worth remembering, when comparing systems, that health care in the United States, which much more closely approaches the pure market ideal espoused by Kenney and his supporters than does Canada's public health insurance, costs taxpayers vastly more and yet still, even with Obamacare, leaves millions uninsured and millions more desperately under-insured.
Finally, it turns out it is utterly false to say as Kenney does, apparently taking his cue from the old Wildrose Party, that management at Alberta Health Services is bureaucratic and inefficient. In fact, it has the lowest health service administrative costs in Canada.
But that Rosin's understanding of health economics is flawed is only a small part of the story here. That her misconceptions pass muster with her constituency association is more troubling, and that they undoubtedly reflect what the party's leadership would like to do is even more so.
She has done us all a service, though, by leaving us a hint of what her party really thinks -- which was certainly not the impression she was aiming for on February 20, when she spoke in a Facebook post about Kenney's public health-care guarantee. "The NDP's vitriolic, fear-mongering attacks that a new UCP government will slash health-care spending and privatize the entire system can officially be put to rest," she said then.
Well, apparently not. Too bad about that old recording!
The UCP all-candidates' meeting was covered by the Rocky Mountain Outlook, a community news site in the area, but for some reason no mention was made in the story of Rosin's newsworthy thoughts on public health care.
Jagmeet Singh victorious in Burnaby South
Jagmeet Singh cruised to victory in the Burnaby South byelection last night, which as noted in this space yesterday is about half the battle for the NDP leader. He still needs to show he can lead the party effectively from the floor of the House of Commons, lest the Orange Wave of 2011 go out with the tide in the fall of 2019.
Arguably, that would be a worse fate for the NDP -- or at least a bigger disappointment -- than seeing a leader falter in a West Coast byelection. And there was a sign last night the tide may indeed be receding, given the Liberal victory in former leader Tom Mulcair's old Quebec riding, Outremont.
In York-Simcoe, north of Toronto, the Conservative candidate won handily.
But despite that victory, the showing by the far-right People's Party of Canada in Burnaby South, with about 10 per cent of the vote to the Conservatives' 22 per cent could be a troubling augury for the Conservatives if Maxime Bernier's Tea Party North maintains that kind of momentum into the fall.
David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Toronto Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.
Photo: Screenshot of UCP video
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