A photo of Alberta Health Minister Jason Copping.
Alberta Health Minister Jason Copping. Credit: Alberta Newsroom Credit: Alberta Newsroom

Never mind “less is more.” Sometimes more is less. Consider Alberta Premier Danielle Smith’s mandate letter to Health Minister Jason Copping. 

Having boxed herself during her campaign to lead the United Conservative Party (UCP), Ms. Smith had no choice but to promise to decentralize Alberta Health Services (AHS) to appease her base in rural Alberta, which clings to the ridiculous notion that all the world’s problems are caused by people who live in cities.

The largely symbolic and performative list of responsibilities in Mr. Copping’s mandate letter therefore begins: “Develop a series of reforms to the health care system that restore decision making authority to the local level, incentivize regional innovation and competition to provide increased medical services and surgeries, and that attracts health care professionals domestically and internationally.”

At the same time, if Ms. Smith wants to beat the NDP in the next election, she has to promise to fix the woes of the health care system, most seriously under-staffing and the ravages of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, a goal completely at odds with her decentralization mantra.

So, says the fourth point on her list of the minister’s responsibilities: “Address health care staffing challenges, particularly in rural areas, through improving health workforce planning, evaluating retention policies, leveraging the scope of allied health professionals, streamlining immigration and certification processes, and further increasing the number of training seats for health care professionals in Alberta.”

Moreover, Point No. 7: “Work with municipalities, doctors and allied health providers to identify strategies to attract and retain health care workers to rural Alberta.”

As University of Alberta political scientist Jared Wesley, bravely stating the obvious on the foundering Twitter platform, observed: “Bullets 1, 4, and 7 are incompatible. Good luck, Minister Copping.”

Mr. Copping’s mandate letter also includes instructions to implement Ms. Smith’s wacky health spending account idea and lots of privatization buzzwords. It’s not hard to imagine where the premier got those ideas. Spending accounts and health care “choice” are hobbyhorses of many a right-wing think tank, including the Fraser Institute where the premier once toiled as a minor functionary. 

Not mentioned in Mr. Copping’s mandate letter – or in those of Seniors Minister Jeremy Nixon or Mental Health and Addiction Minister Nicholas Milliken – is anything about the respiratory conditions including COVID-19 now sweeping through Alberta’s schools and hospitals. 

However, Mr. Milliken’s letter, as noted by Friends of Medicare Executive Director Chris Galloway, “doubles down on the government’s so-called ‘Recovery Oriented System of Care’ in spite of the ongoing drug poisoning crisis and repeated calls from the community to act to save lives.”

Ms. Smith’s election strategy, pretty clearly, is to promise a lot and pray voters don’t notice the obvious contradictions.

The strategy will include making lots of grandiose announcements, looking busy and dispensing cash – of which, fortunately, there is a reasonable supply on hand at the moment. 

And why not? Nothing’s going to happen before the next election anyway, even if she delays it for another year, as she probably will if her polls remain in the sub-basement, as they probably will. 

If Alberta voters continue to rate health care as their No. 1 concern and keep paying attention. Well, that could turn out badly for the UCP.

Still, Ms. Smith and her ministers can always blame the Trudeau-Singh-Notley-WEF inflation machine for their troubles if things get sticky.

After the election, though, if the UCP manages to get re-elected, watch out! 

‘Albertans should be supported regardless of their choice to mask or not’ – CMOH 

Meanwhile, in other health care announcements, newly appointed interim Chief Medical Officer of Health Mark Joffe was trotted out yesterday to make a statement on the trifecta of respiratory diseases running rampant through the province’s schools: COVID-19, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus, commonly known as RSV. 

Dr. Joffe’s advice on what to do to slow the spread of respiratory viruses was mostly unremarkable and sensible enough – you know, wash your hands, cover your mouth when you sneeze, and don’t touch your face with dirty paws. 

Some of it makes sense but would pretty hard for working folks in a place like Alberta to consider – “stay home when feeling sick,” “avoid close contact with people who are sick.” Good luck with that if you want to get paid!

But one point in particular stood out: “Wearing a well-fitting, high-quality mask can help reduce the risk of becoming sick and help protect others from being exposed. Albertans should be supported regardless of their choice to mask or not.”

That second sentence is the part that reflects actual UCP policy. 

Well, at least no one is saying Albertans should be supported regardless of their choice to drive sober or not. Yet. 

Forget about school mask mandates no matter how many kids get sick

Albertans can also forget about mask mandates in schools, no matter how many kids get sick. 

At a news conference yesterday about funding for mental health, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange made it clear once again that there will be no mask mandates in schools.

After an evidence-free claim in-school masking has contributed to children’s mental-health problems, Ms. LaGrange told reporters, “we have been very clear that we do not anticipate going to a masking mandate.”

School boards, of course, are not permitted to mandate masks themselves.

Better hundreds of sick children, I guess, than an uncomfortably Kenney-like moment of having to explain a reimposed mask mandate for Premier Smith.

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...