Tuesday, May 5th is election day in Alberta. What will it mean for the health system?

The journey to this election has been very different for Albertans and it is safe to say, no matter what actually happens at the polls, there will be changes to the government.

Mr. Prentice became Premier as a result of winning the Progressive Conservative leadership race. His tactics from then until now have alienated many who expected a dramatic change from the ways of Premier Redford and even Premiers before her.

The disregard for the normal everyday Albertans forming the electorate, by hand picking and two individuals to be the Health Minister and the Education Minister. His treatment of the floor crossers left a sour taste in their mouths. The cancellation the long planned and promised Tom Baker Cancer Centre at the Foothills Hospital/University of Calgary, and then the surprise expansion of cancer treatment capacity 30+ kilometres away at the South Health Campus is playing politics with the lives of the most vulnerable.

The dramatic oil price drop brought the opportunity to speak of the need for deep cuts in government spending, starting with the public sector, and then be used to justify an early election “seeking a mandate”. Of course the public sees the attempt to catch his opposition less prepared.

The Prentice tactics have been all about keeping the power of the PC style of government, not a different approach to work with and for the people of Alberta. The polls show that a majority of Albertans have had too much of this command and control style.

What does all of this mean for Alberta’s health system after the election?

If Mr. Prentice does form the next government, it will be more of the same.

The NDP’s route to power is to promise more money to fix everything. More money will not address the core command and control problem that exists right from the politician head of the system over all. It is a treatment system not a “care system”.

In contrast, Wildrose with its leader Brian Jean, with the tragic loss of his son fresh in his memory, promises to focus on what is seen to be a bloated management bureaucracy and to seek more efficient and responsive care. Many of the Health Quality Council of Alberta’s Continuity of Care Report recommendations are included in their platform. There is no doubt that changes would occur to AHS as a result.

Dr. David Swann has spoken of a comprehensive program for changing the health system to the health care system. He has made clear that provincial political management must cease. Dr. Swann’s vision obviously is rooted in what he has seen through his experience with the system.

Greg Clark and the Alberta Party list good priorities in its health policy. The broad principles of consultation and accountability along with the intention to establish local decision making are a solid foundation.

This election, just as should be the case with health “care”, is about people versus power. Are politicians elected to rule and to control or are they to consult, collaborate, and work with the Alberta people to build on our strengths. Are elected officials public servants, or is the public expected to serve them?

So on Wednesday morning will we be facing more of the same with existing command and control in place with either less or more money? Or will we see the possibility of fundamental cultural change of the health system toward true patient and family centred care, either through dramatic changes in management in the short term, or through a broader (even minority government) collaborative commitment to move out from political opportunism to a transparent and publicly accountable, patient and family centred care system? This time more than ever, it is up to the people of Alberta to decide.

Dave Price

If you want to read more, an expanded version of this commentary has been posted here.

Alberta Election, Power, People and the Health System