Royal Alex

Anybody who’s been inside the Royal Alexandra Hospital in the past decade knows a major rebuild of the Edmonton region’s crumbling major hospital campus is long overdue.

What’s more, anybody who lives in or near Edmonton has probably noticed there are about a million people living in this metropolitan area, a very large percentage of them crawling morning and night through our pot-holey infrastructure.

So the announcement this week by Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP Government that a $4.5-billion renovation of about 20 buildings on the large health care campus north of the city’s downtown would go ahead — if rather slowly, over 16 years — was viewed positively by people of all political stripes throughout the Capital Region.

But not the Wildrose Opposition. Oh, no! They even found time in their busy schedule campaigning for Prime Minister Stephen Harper and expressing shock that Notley has confessed to being a New Democrat to complain that the massive project would cost too much money.

Wildrose Health Care Critic Drew Barnes, the MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat, complained hyperbolically that the 20-building project “will be the most expensive hospital in the world.”

This is a bit of a stretch when you consider the number of buildings involved and the fact this conflates maintenance and operational costs over a decade and a half with a single construction project. Like, you know, like Calgary’s South Health Campus, which cost $1.3 billion for a single building, or the Royal Adelaide Hospital now under construction in Australia that will cost well over than $2 billion, again for a single building.

Nevertheless, this is admittedly a huge project. Fortunately, it is well timed to keep things ticking along when low commodity prices worldwide have taken the steam out of our resource-based regional economy, and to take advantage of the lower building and borrowing costs symptomatic of such downturns.

As for the Alberta Legislature’s small Progressive Conservative rump, notwithstanding the fact theirs was that party that spent more than a billion dollars on one building in Calgary, its nine members seem to have come around to the Wildrose way of seeing things. So Richard Starke, MLA for Vermilion-Lloydminster, joined the Wildrose chorus, arguing the government should put under-utilized rural hospitals to use instead of building facilities in cities.

Anyway, Starke observed, rural folks really don’t like having to come into the city for medical treatment. (Dr. Starke — no relation to Richard Starkey, MBE, who made a brief appearance at Edmonton’s Jubilee Auditorium on Monday — is a veterinarian, a medical specialty that still makes house calls in rural areas.)

Well, I guess the Tories had to say something, if only to prove they still exist. As for Barnes’s ostentatious bean counting, it’s said here that cost is not really the Wildrose Party’s principal issue, notwithstanding the party’s fixation with balancing budgets at any cost.

Rather, it’s a mischievous opportunity for the party to drive a bogus wedge between Alberta’s cities and its rural regions, which 20 of the party’s 21 MLAs represent. In this, the party adheres to the same strategy as its federal auxiliary, headed by Prime Minister Harper.

Perhaps with an eye to an eventual Wildrose embrace, the Tories seem just to be playing catch-up on this issue. But with most of the caucus’s MLAs in Calgary, it seems unlikely they’d be floating screwball schemes like using rural hospitals for specialized treatment if the multi-year RAH project were anywhere but Edmonton.

The irony of this situation is that with either of the two market-fundamentalist parties in power, the chances of rural hospitals being kept open would be much smaller than they are with the NDP at the helm, and the likelihood of more concentration of medical services happening in the big cities would be significantly larger. After all, that’s where the “markets” are, and where medical specialists tend to want to live.

So if it looks as if the Wildrosers in particular are attacking the wellbeing of Edmonton, that’s probably because they are.

If in the process they make it appear they’ve just fallen off the turnip truck when it comes to things like dealing with the complexities of a large economy in the 21st Century, well, I suppose they must have concluded that works for them — although most rural Albertans seem to get it about the need for public health care and the inevitability that some specialized medical services have to be located in major urban areas.

Wildrosers really should ask themselves how well their opposition went after 2009 to Edmonton City Council’s plans to close of the City Centre Airport and develop housing on the site — coincidentally right next door to the Royal Alexandra Hospital. The NDP backed council, which most Edmontonians supported, and we certainly know who now dominates the provincial political scene in the capital city.

All that said, this is a probably a better issue for the Wildrose Opposition than the party’s cringe-worthy claim the NDP hoodwinked voters by keeping its election promises, which just makes them sound foolish.

My story on that topic Tuesday seems to have struck a chord with readers, having attracted well over 13,000 page views since it was posted just after midnight Tuesday morning, a record for this blog. Well, it was pretty funny, if I may say so myself.

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Derek Fildebrandt, the Wildrose finance critic who came up with this howler, tried to blame the Globe and Mail’s journalist, insultingly Tweeting that her story was the work of a “B-list reporter who wrote an intentionally torqued a story.” [Sic]

Hmmm… I note that the Globe has not published a retraction. I expect Fildebrandt has made an enemy for life in a journalistic venue far from Alberta’s turnip fields where he could have used some a friend.

Some thoughts on this day* in history …

Apropos of nothing in particular, on this day* in 1935, William Lyon Mackenzie King’s Liberals crushed the Conservative Party led by R. B. Bennett in Canada’s 18th general election. King, who had been prime minister before, represented the Saskatchewan riding of Prince Albert, but we all know he was really from Central Canada. Indeed, he used to live just down the block from my room on Beverly Street in Toronto. (For those of you who wondered, we didn’t live in the neighbourhood at the same time.) Bennett, of course, represented a Calgary riding. Doesn’t mean a thing. I’m just sayin’.

And on this day* in 1066, a French army defeated the English on a field seven miles from Hastings on England’s south coast. If memory serves me, this was the last time anyone successfully invaded the British Isles. England’s King Harold met an extremely unpleasant end that day and William, Duke of Normandy, soon took over his job. Thanks to the French, the place has never been the same since, and our language’s spelling still doesn’t make any sense. That said, it’s fair to say this effort at geopolitical regime change can be counted as a relative success over the long term.

*It was still Wednesday when this was filed in Edmonton.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog,

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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...