Horne says province trying to mend relationships with MDs
CALGARY — Alberta Health Minister Fred Horne said he's not aware of political intimidation in the province's medical system — and said the Tory government is trying to mend its relationship with physicians.
Under fire from opposition critics at a health-care town hall Tuesday, Horne acknowledged Alberta's medical system is in a "tumultuous" time, but said there's no crisis and the government is taking steps to improve public health care.
"I do not believe our health-care system as a whole is in crisis in Alberta," Horne said. "There are some relationships in our health-care system that need attention."
About 200 community members, physicians and other health-care professionals attended the forum Tuesday.
With an election call potentially just weeks away — and Alberta's doctors promising to ramp up public advocacy — Horne and representatives from four opposition parties fielded questions on politically charged health-care problems.
Horne fended off accusations from opposition parties that the Redford government has lost the trust of health workers and Albertans over its handling of medical issues in the wake of a scathing Health Quality Council of Alberta report.
Alberta Liberal health critic Dr. David Swann said a "chronic uncertainty" in the system must be resolved.
"The professionals in the system have not seen the kind of changes that would actually build trust, build a sense of solidarity, and a plan going forward they can buy into," he said.
Heather Forsyth of the Wildrose contended the health-care system is "broken," and the government must do a better job managing resources.
The panel, hosted by the Alberta Medical Association, the Canadian Medical Association and the Calgary Herald, also included Alberta Party Leader Glenn Taylor and Alberta NDP candidate Shannon Phillips.
It comes as the government has promised to enact 21 recommendations to improve care following the health quality council report last month that found lengthy emergency-room waits and widespread problems of physicians being bullied.
A judicial inquiry on health care will only examine allegations of queue-jumping in the Alberta medical system.
The health quality council report found stories of physicians who were being intimidated, but didn't identify specific cases.
"If we really want accountability in this system, we need that full judicial inquiry and we need it now, not after the election," Phillips said.
"Why don't we do what Albertans want, instead of what the government wants, in regards to the inquiry?" said Forsyth.
Horne said Tuesday the government has already begun work to build a "just and trusting" culture in health care and an inquiry isn't needed into physician intimidation. Asked whether there are cases of political interference from cabinet or caucus in the instances of intimidation documented in the report, Horne said: "Not to my knowledge."
The forum covered a broad range of issues, including plans for the Redford government's new family care clinics, alternate models of payment for physicians and an increased role for Alberta's pharmacists.
The province's plan for continuing care spaces also came under the microscope. The government has committed to reducing acute care bed occupancy to 95 per cent by Oct. 31, and that means, in part, ensuring more seniors are moved from hospital beds into nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
The health minister said there are 14,600 long-term care beds in Alberta, and as of January, about 325 Albertans waiting in acute care beds for the spaces.
"We're interested in placing people in facility-based care who need it. We are equally interested in facilitating a return to home with appropriate support for people who don't need to be in a facility."
Forsyth noted that in 2010, the government said Alberta had 14,800 long-term care beds and questioned why the number has gone down while the need increases.
Grilled about the new family care clinics, promised by Premier Alison Redford during her Tory leadership bid, Horne said work is underway to open three pilot projects by the end of this month. The centres are supposed to support better primary care in Alberta by having a team of health professionals in one facility with extended hours.
Critics questioned how the centres will be different from existing primary care networks. Horne said the family care clinics will be designed to offer small communities services to meet their unique needs.
Tuesday's forum came as the AMA appealed for an end to political interference in physician advocacy, and promised a "higher level of public advocacy."
The group took out full-page ads in the Calgary Herald and Edmonton Journal, asking, "Just how sick is Alberta's health-care system."
The ads, which were published as doctors have been without a long-term agreement since March 2011, state that advocacy "requires physicians being involved in decisions that really matter surrounding the care of you and your family. It also requires an end to political interference and the creation of a respectful relationship between Alberta's doctors and the government."
Last month the Tory government imposed a one-year salary arrangement on Alberta doctors, including a two per cent increase in fees and a boost to the amount given to primary care networks to $62, up from $50 per enrolled patient.
Negotiations on a long-term deal with doctors are continuing.
Calgary Herald, Wed Mar 7 2012 Byline: Jamie Komarnicki
Processing oilsands output in Alberta will create jobs, ND leader argues
New Democrat Leader Brian Mason would move forward with four upgraders planned for the Industrial Heartland area northeast of Edmonton, saying on Saturday that keeping bitumen in Alberta creates more jobs and stronger communities.
"We need to not just be the exporter of unprocessed raw materials for the rest of the world to create employment, but to create employment right here in our province," Mason said.
This follows Mason's earlier campaign announcement to increase royalties from bitumen production by 25 per cent, a raise the NDP said would bring in $1.4 billion annually and could be used to improve public services.
"It would be a 25 per cent increase in royalties on bitumen as opposed to refined or upgraded synthetic crude oil. That would have the impact of creating the investment here in our province, instead of in other parts of the world, and I think that's what Albertans expect and demand," Mason said on Saturday.
The NDP announcement comes after organizations, including the Alberta Federation of Labour and Alberta's Industrial Heartland Association, called on party leaders to address plans for the province's petrochemical sector.
AFL President Gil McGowan said the question of whether bitumen should be upgraded in the province or exported in its raw form is one of the most important economic issues facing Alberta today.
"More upgrading makes sense because it keeps jobs, profits and tax revenue here in Alberta, instead of sending all of those things to places like the U.S. or China," McGowan said.
He was pleased with Mason's plans to move forward with the upgraders, if the NDP are elected, and noted he has been "profoundly disappointed" that other party leaders have not addressed the question of upgrading. The Alberta Liberals, Tories and Wildrose parties have all said they will not increase oil and gas royalties if they are elected.
Mason targeted both the Progressive Conservative and Wildrose parties in his announcement, noting the Conservatives are allowing an increasing amount of bitumen to be shipped out of the province, while the Wildrose is "bankrolled by oil companies hoping to keep royalties low and profit margins at record highs."
"The Conservative government has allowed bitumen to be exported from this province without being upgraded here, despite the promise made in the last election by former Premier Ed Stelmach, who likened the export of unprocessed bitumen from the province to scraping off the topsoil from your farm and selling it," Mason said.
By moving forward with the four proposed upgraders, which have been stalled since 2008, Mason said 4,000 permanent operations jobs and 12,000 jobs in service and related industries would be created.
Calgary Herald, Sat Apr 14 2012 Byline: Cailynn Klingbeil
EDMONTON — NDP Leader Brian Mason expressed confidence Saturday his party's focus on issues such as health care, education and environment rather than personal attacks is a winning strategy.
"We're staying away from personalities and that seems to be resonating, that's what people are looking for," Mason said as he campaigned at the Old Strathcona Farmers' Market with Edmonton-Strathcona NDP incumbent MLA Rachel Notley for the April 23 provincial election.
"If you personalize it and make it about personal attacks on people's character, their integrity, their commitment to the province, I think it suppresses the vote."
But while Mason was pleased with the reaction other party leaders had to his call on Friday for a return to civility, visitors to the market were less certain the personal attacks will stop.
"It's been too much nitpicking at each other," said 86-year-old Doris Balash of the campaign so far. Balash was at the market with her daughter, Linda, and granddaughter, Leslie.
"I'm tired of listening to them nag about each other rather than give us what they're going to be working on," said 55-yearold Linda Lukasewich.
While Balash is impressed so far with Redford's campaign, Lukasewich said she's still waiting to decide who gets her vote. "I had decided on somebody, but now every time the leaders say something stupid, I think I should just wait," she said.
Mason's letter highlighted the need for political parties to pay attention to ideas, instead of personal attacks and detailed how the heightened negativity of this spring's election campaign risks creating voters who will stay home on April 23.
Notley, who was elected to the Edmonton-Strathcona riding in 2008, is a familiar face at the farmers' market. She said she was excited to take a break from door knocking and join Mason at the market on Saturday, as "he's been a political fixture of standing up for the little guy in Edmonton for 20 years."
While the NDP are joined on the centre-left with the Liberals, Alberta Party and Ever-Green Party, Notley is not worried about vote-splitting in her riding and instead predicts it may benefit the NDP.
"In this riding in particular, there is no Alberta Party candidate and the Liberal party candidate was appointed about a week ago," Notley said. "I think that throughout the city the emergence of the Wildrose opens up the opportunity for a vote split on the right."
Also out at Saturday's market was PC Edmonton-Strathcona candidate Emerson Mayers. "Our campaign is moving, things are happening and we'll get things moving much quicker for the second week," he said.
Chad Stewart of Chocolicious, where Mason described the milk chocolate-covered licorice he sampled as "addictive," said he'll continue to watch the campaign before deciding who gets his vote. "I think it will be an interesting battle in the next little bit," he said. "We'll have to wait and see how things go."
Edmonton Journal, Mon Apr 2 2012 Byline: Cailynn Klingbeil
When the business of politics is at its most cutthroat - which is to say during an election campaign - does a politician get what he or she pays for, negotiates or deserves?
The developing case of Gary Mar continues to provide conflicting answers to that question and also affords an opportunity to debate the pros and cons of Alberta's party campaign-finance laws.
The Mar team spent $2.7 million in an attempt to win him the Progressive Conservative leadership race but he finished second and literally out of the money - $260,000 in the hole, to be exact. Premier Ali-son Redford's campaign spent half what Mar's did, yet she will be leading the PCs into a looming election, after first dealing with a number of nagging issues, which is where Mar re-enters the picture.
He has been placed by Redford on unpaid leave as Alberta's envoy to Asia because of concerns the premier had regarding a fundraising dinner held March 1 to pay off Mar's campaign debt. The original invitations to the event alluded to Mar's new posting, possibly leaving the impression that contributors to the fundraiser were supporting a government representative rather than a debt-laden campaign. Though the invitations were amended, it was too late. The ethical questions, and red flags, had already been raised. Alberta's ethics commissioner will investigate.
The incident opens a window into the issue of Alberta's legislation regarding leadership campaign spending. Redford's relatively affordable win over Mar and four other candidates would suggest that a post as important as party leader can-not be bought merely by spending twice as much as a credible rival. The electorate in such elections is highly motivated - they are party members after all - and may be less susceptible than some members of the general public to the influence of costly media campaigns.
Is there a need then to cap the amount that can be raised and spent by a party leadership candidate? Or is the nature of those races different enough from general elections not to worry about it?
Certainly, the current rule that caps an individual's contribution at a generous $30,000 is out of step with the federal party limit of just $1,100. Might donors of $30,000 look at their contribution as an investment that ought to pay dividends? Should the limit be halved? Quartered?
The number can be debated, so too the fact that contributions from corporations and unions are allowed in Alberta races - and capped at $30,000 - but are not allowed federally. There is also a troubling lack of transparency in the process, illustrated by PC leadership candidate Rick Orman who chose to forfeit his $15,000 deposit to the PC Association in lieu of divulging a list of campaign contributors.
It's acceptable practice under cur-rent law. It's also the precise kind of behaviour that has earned politics its reputation as a secretive business and should not be allowed.
Edmonton Journal, Tues Mar 13 2012
EDMONTON - A group of "nervous nellies" within the Tory caucus have told colleagues they want the upcoming spring election pushed back into May to give the party more time to conduct damage control, sources close to Premier Alison Redford's campaign say.
But even as opposition parties pushed for new answers Wednesday on an ethics investigation into a recent Gary Mar fundraiser — one of several controversies that have dogged the Progressive Conservatives this spring — the premier was said to be resolute on sticking with an April 23 voting day.
Redford all but confirmed that date Wednesday following a funding announcement at Edmonton's Telus World of Science. She indicated her government will keep its promise of calling the election as soon as possible after passing the budget, which is expected to happen sometime next week.
If that schedule holds, it's believed the writ will be dropped the following Monday (March 26), kicking off a 28-day campaign that will end on April 23.
"I think you can draw your own conclusions from my statements," Redford said.
The premier said there has been no debate in caucus on election timing, and she has received no pressure from the party to push the date back. "I think people are pretty anxious to get to the polls, as am I."
However, government sources said the election date has been a topic of discussion among some members of caucus. A handful of "nervous nellies" are worried the PCs do not have enough time to fully recover from some recent controversies, one source said.
Opposition MLAs have been attacking the government on a variety of issues, including the terms of an upcoming health-care inquiry, a "bullying" letter sent by Tory MLA Hector Goudreau to a school board, and revelations that several MLAs have been paid for serving on a committee that hasn't met in more than three years.
Members of the government dodged questions about a "caucus divide" over the election call.
"In caucus there's always robust discussions," said Service Alberta Minister Manmeet Bhullar. He would not say whether the election date was up for debate among government members Wednesday.
"It's one of those instances where it's kind of hurry up and wait. I think everybody's been preparing for awhile, we know that other parties have been playing negative parties for years now," Bhullar said. "Whether it happens two weeks from now, three weeks from now, or four weeks from now, I think we're ready to go."
Government MLA Bridget Pastoor — a Liberal until a few months ago — joked Wednesday she is betting on an April 23 election date.
"I think pretty much everything is ready to go," Pastoor said. "Let's just do it and see what shakes down."
Liberal Leader Raj Sherman said Wednesday any waffling on election dates highlights the need for a firm, fixed voting day, so all political parties hit the ground running at the same time.
"I wish the premier was decisive and actually fixed an election date. Only her campaign manager will know, and she will know. But we're operating under the assumption that they're going to call it next week," Sherman said.
He said he expects to have confirmed candidates in 66 of 87 Alberta constituencies by next week; the official opposition party lags behind the Conservatives, Wildrose and NDP in lining up candidates for a "full slate."
Recent polls appear to show Danielle Smith's Wildrose Party may be closing in on Redford's Tories, prompting critics to suggest this week the new premier's "honeymoon is over" since her rise to lead the Progressive Conservatives last fall.
Earlier this week, Redford faced criticism from her own party members over suspending Mar — the government's recently appointed Asian envoy — while an ethics investigation takes place into a recent fundraiser held by his supporters in Edmonton. One Tory organizer charged the suspension was a "stupid move," suggesting there is nothing inappropriate about a $400-a-plate event giving people insight into business opportunities in Asia.
Redford took issue with that view, defending her handling of the Mar situation.
"He's entitled to his opinion, I don't happen to agree with his opinion, and that's the end of the matter from my perspective," she said. "I think Albertans expected us to act quickly, and I did act quickly. I think it was an appropriate step and I still believe that."
The premier said she believes Alberta ethics commissioner Neil Wilkinson has the jurisdiction to look into the matter, even though Wilkinson decided it was outside his purview.
The investigation now goes to the deputy minister of executive council — essentially Redford's deputy — who is expected to appoint an independent investigator and legal counsel to look into the issue. Redford said she does not know how long the investigation will take or whether it will be complete prior to the election.
Pushed to answer questions on the matter Wednesday in the legislature, Human Services Minister Dave Hancock said the investigation will be "open and transparent."
"(The premier) did not say a hanging would take place, she said an investigation would take place, done by the right people," Hancock said. "One does not rush to judgment when people's reputations are at stake ... No court passes sentence before examining the facts."
Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk said he was also upset Mar's reputation was being "smeared" by opposition parties before all the facts are in.
Edmonton Journal, Thurs Mar 15 2012 Byline: Kevin Gerein and Trish Audette
CHESTERMERE - With polls showing a significant possibility of a minority government following the April 23 election, speculation has begun on whether some newly elected MLAs might cross the floor to either the Wildrose party or the Progressive Conservatives.
Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith said Wednesday she's heard some northern Alberta PC candidates have told voters they will switch parties should the Wildrose win the election.
"I can tell you our candidates up there aren't very impressed by that and I don't think voters are going to be impressed by that," said Smith, who did not name the PC candidates in question.
She indicated Tories who try to cross the floor after the election may not find a welcoming environment from a Wildrose government.
"We had the door open for a period of time. We had only three former PC MLAs who ended up coming over (Rob Anderson, Heather Forsyth and Guy Boutilier) and so we closed the door and we moved forward with our terrific team. I'm more focused on getting each one of my Wildrose candidates elected."
PC nominees in northern and central Alberta called the rumours of defections ridiculous.
"You've got to be kidding," Bonnyville-Cold Lake candidate Genia Leskiw said. "There are too many things in the Wildrose party I don't believe in, and when a constituency elects you as a member of a certain party, you should stick with it."
To the south in Battle River-Wainwright, candidate Doug Griffiths said the story sounds like a "trial balloon" being floated by Smith in case she winds up in a minority government.
"With her poll numbers going down, I think maybe she's getting desperate," he said. "I don't know any of my PC colleagues who would consider that. There is strong dislike for the Wildrose tactics."
Still, as Mount Royal University professor Duane Bratt notes, politicians are undoubtedly thinking about what the legislature might look like under a minority government. Such a scenario would put Alberta into uncharted political territory, forcing all MLAs and party leaders to make a number of difficult strategic decisions, he said.
Bratt said in a minority regime, it's more likely that PC members would cross the floor to the Wildrose than the other way around.
"If you are a Wildrose guy and you have just brought the PCs down to a minority situation, you will be playing for time to win the next election," Bratt said.
"But I could see PCs leaving a sinking ship," he said. "As a big-tent party, you have people in the PCs because it's power. So if power starts to shift ..."
But even if some PCs offer to cross the floor, Smith must decide whether it is strategically wise to accept them. Bratt said such decisions have to be handled on a case-by-case basis. One condition would likely be that a Tory must have strong conservative credentials to join Smith's team.
Another opening might occur if a Tory is needed to fill a geographic or regional hole in the Wildrose caucus.
"Let's say we have a Wildrose minority with no MLAs from Edmonton, which is a scenario that could happen," Bratt said. "The Wildrose might be willing to take an Edmonton MLA willing to cross the floor."
Bratt said NDP or Liberal bluster about holding the "balance of power" in a minority government is more fiction that reality. He pointed to recent minority governments at the federal level, in which Prime Minister Stephen Harper used an "ad-hoc relationship" approach that saw him stay in power by seeking support from either the Liberals or NDP on different issues.
"If you look at those governments, who would you say was the more powerful leader, Stephen Harper or Jack Layton?" Bratt said. "It wasn't Jack Layton."
In Alberta, the same sort of fate could await NDP Leader Brian Mason or Liberal Leader Raj Sherman, he said. As for a PC opposition in a minority, they, too, would be limited in what they could do.
"You'd get these sort of ultimatums, with the Wildrose daring the Conservatives to go to the polls again when they don't have a leader," said Bratt, suggesting that current PC leader Alison Redford would likely resign if her party loses power.
He said the "ad-hoc relationship" Harper used is the most common form of minority government in Canada, and the one Smith has indicated she will use if elected as a minority premier.
As an alternative, two or more parties could consider forming a fixed coalition, which hasn't happened in Canada since the First World War, Bratt said.
Another possibility would be a formal agreement between a senior and junior party, in which the junior partner does not sit in cabinet but agrees to support the other party on all confidence motions for a set period of time.
A fourth option involves a "loose alliance" in which there is no written agreement but a ruling party could count on backing from an opposition party in exchange for movement on some of that party's issues.
Jeff Johnson, the Tory candidate in Athabasca-Sturgeon-Redwater, said no matter what kind of legislature develops after the election, he knows of no PCs planning to join Smith. He said when Smith won the Wildrose leadership in 2009, there were reports that as many as 12 Tory MLAs would join her party.
"No one crossed then. Two eventually did, but right now I can tell you I am in pretty constant contact with my colleagues in the north, and there is no appetite to join the Wildrose."
Edmonton Journal, Fri Apr 20 2012 Byline: Kevin Gerein
EDMONTON - The spring session of the Alberta legislature moved close to the finish line Tuesday, beginning the countdown to the kickoff of the provincial election.
MLAs debated several pieces of legislation late Tuesday, including the 2012-13 budget, which passed by a vote of 23 to seven.
Premier Alison Redford has said she would call an election shortly after the budget was approved. That is expected to happen next Monday, paving the way for an April 23 vote, though the premier has not confirmed a specific date.
Also expected to pass late Tuesday was legislation creating a new property rights advocate, and a bill that would allow seniors to defer paying the property tax on their homes. Under the program, the province would pay the taxes on a senior's home until it is sold, at which point the taxes would be repaid to the province, with interest.
In addition, MLAs were expected to approve legislation that would provide for non-religious schooling in Morinville.
What is less clear is the fate of the Education Act, which has come under controversy in recent days, particularly from home-schooling parents worried about the inclusion of human rights in the act. Opponents say the legislation will undermine parents' ability to teach children in accordance with their values — a claim Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk has said is unfounded.
Lukaszuk said he hopes the act can still pass, despite the controversy. MLAs continued to debate the Education Act as of press time Tuesday.
During a heated question period, Redford rebuffed demands from the Wildrose to fire Lukaszuk over comments he made about opposition MLA Rob Anderson, who represents Airdrie-Chestermere.
In a conference call with parent councils on Monday evening, Lukaszuk was questioned about school overcrowding in Airdrie.
He suggested the residents "call your MLA and ask him not to oppose me every day on considering new ways on funding infrastructure."
He then spoke about the need to amortize funding of new schools needed across Alberta, an idea the Wildrose opposes.
Anderson, a Wildrose MLA, accused Lukaszuk of "threatening" Airdrie residents that they would only get a new school if he "shut up."
Redford said the education minister's comments were appropriate because he was simply talking about the debate over infrastructure funding, something Anderson called a "spineless answer."
The session could wrap up Wednesday.
Calgary Herald, Wed Mar 21 2012
EDMONTON - With an unemployment rate of 4.9 percent, Alberta currently fares better than any other Canadian province. But despite being fairly insulated from the economic turmoil plaguing the rest of the world, our oil-rich province's economy is not without problems.
Unlike south of the border, though, Alberta's biggest labour worry is that there are actually 114,000 more jobs than people to fill them.
So in an effort to help find solutions to that predicament, the Alberta Coalition for Action on Labour shortage, comprised of 19 groups and businesses, has been formed. Its key message is that it should be easier for people to come and work in our prairie province.
"If you look at the issue of labour shortages, the problem is getting worse, not better," said Tim Shipton of the Alberta Enterprise Group.
"Right now...the governments seem to be talking at each other and not engaging in a conversation about the issues and finding productive, positive ways forward," added Richard Truscott with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.
To reverse that trend, the coalition believes the government should help by easing immigration restrictions.
On the provincial front, they say to write to the Minister of Human Services, Dave Hancock, who tells us he's already in agreement.
"While we need to make sure that every Albertan has an opportunity to get the skills they need to participate in the economy, even with that we're going to need others."
It's a realization that some local businesses can support.
At Edmonton's All-Weather Windows, Paul Taylor said they're really starting to notice the talent pool shrinking as the number of job applications aren't keeping pace with order forms.
"It's just harder to get the right people into the organization," he said.
And while they remember this pattern from the last boom, this time, experts say there's a big difference: this boom isn't expected to be about western Canada's oil industry, but rather, it is due largely to an aging population and too many retirees.
Not everyone agrees with the new coalition's views, though. The Alberta Federation of Labour believes the problem facing Alberta is what it considers to be the government's failure to set a reasonable pace to oilsands development.
"If these employers really want to be able to man these projects, then they should talk to the government about approving 5 or 10 projects at once instead of 65 multi-billion dollar projects going on all at the same time," said the AFL's Gil McGowan.
He considers the coalition's solution of loosening immigration restrictions to be a short-term solution which will have long-term consequences of lowered wages.
McGowan said a better alternative would be for projects to be stretched out over longer periods of time "so that our existing Canadian construction labour force can do the work and then we can have 23 to 30 years of good employment for our trades people as oppposed to 5 years of intense development by temporary foreign workers followed by a bust, because I believe that's where we're headed."
While the groups may disagree on how to achieve change, both agree on that finding political solutions is especially important now, before the problem becomes even more widespread.
Global TV Edmonton, Fri Mar 2 2012
Albertans overwhelmingly want a public inquiry into doctor intimidation - a probe the governing Tories have refused to call - but a slim majority think PC Leader Alison Redford has kept her word on the issue, according to a new poll.
A Leger Marketing telephone survey of 1,215 Albertans, conducted March 22-25 for the Calgary Herald and Edmonton Journal, also found more than half are satisfied with the public health-care system.
Yet, nearly six in 10 Albertans want the option to buy their own coverage from private medical providers.
The survey probed Albertans' attitudes toward health care, a $16-billion provincial system that continues to be the top issue for voters as they head to the polls on April 23.
On the private care question, having the option to pay was more popular among those living in Calgary, or outside the province's two major cities, compared to Edmonton - where just half of voters said people should be able to pay for their own health-care services from private medical providers.
Wildrose party supporters are the most likely to favour private health-care options, followed by PCs. Among those who say they will vote for the Liberals and the NDP, there is significantly less support.
Ian Large, Alberta vice-president for Leger Marketing, said he was surprised by the large number of Albertans who answered in the affirmative. But he noted "we didn't ask 'do you want to pay for private health care,' but 'do you think we should have the freedom to pay for it.'"
John Church, a University of Alberta political scientist who studies health policy, said as the years pass and governments can't satisfy the public over wait lists and access to service, demand will increase for private alternatives.
The private provision of services can be more effective in some instances, Church added. But overall, his research has found a strong public system works best where no one has to produce a credit card to see a doctor.
"That alone is worth any of the other hassles we have to deal with."
Overall, Leger found 57 per cent of Albertans are satisfied with the health-care system - and satisfaction is consistent across the province.
The poll also asked two questions about the public health-care inquiry called by the Redford government last month.
On the heels of a scathing Health Quality Council of Alberta report in February, the Tory government announced a judge-led inquiry will look into "improper preferential access" to publicly funded medical services.
The council's probe found widespread instances of physicians experiencing "intimidation and muzzling" after advocating for patients, but it did not assign blame or identify specifically who did the intimidating.
Concerns about physician intimidation will not be specifically looked at by the panel, unless it is related to queue-jumping. The government is instead setting up two new health task forces, exploring governance issues and the role of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta.
That's not good enough for most Albertans.
According to the Leger poll, 71 per cent of Albertans said the government should hold an inquiry into the intimidation of doctors that was found in the council's report.
At the same time, exactly half of respondents said they believe Redford lived up to her promise to hold an inquiry - given during last year's PC party leadership race - by calling a probe into health care queue-jumping last month. Eighteen per cent say they don't know, while almost onethird say Redford did not live up to her word.
"She probably needs to be concerned about that," Large said. "Enough Albertans don't think we've heard the end of the discussion."
Earlier this month, the Alberta Medical Association took out full-page ads in Alberta newspapers, urging the government to call a full inquiry.
The ads have received hundreds of responses and the issue has gained traction, said AMA president Dr. Linda Slocombe.
"I think we have the public awareness around the issue," Slocombe said.
The Leger poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, although regional margins are higher.
Calgary Herald, Thurs Mar 29 2012 Byline: Kelly Cryderman, with files from Jamie Komarnicki
CALGARY — Tory MLA Hector Goudreau stepped in one huge cow pie when he told a northern school board last month that offending the wrong people could delay funding for a new school.
Which does not mean it wasn't the truth.
Local politicians have known for decades not to criticize the PC government, especially around election time. To speak is to risk the continued free flow of public money.
But Goudreau's Feb. 9 letter was certainly an inconvenient truth, especially when, only days later, Alberta's municipal affairs minister, Doug Griffiths, blasted as slanderous any suggestion that money is distributed for political reasons.
Linda Sloan, president of the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association, who made that point, was told she lied, maliciously, in an infamous public tweet by Stephen Carter, then the premier's chief of staff.
The government's Valentine's Day assault on Sloan wasn't just over the top; it was also a spectacularly stupid invitation to prove the PCs wrong.
It's a big province and if even a few cases were out there, the government was going to look both frightened and mean-spirited.
And Goudreau's letter was already out there.
When the Edmonton Journal revealed it Friday, opposition parties instantly jumped on the Tories.
Wildrose led the charge, alleging a culture of intimidation.
Writing to Betty Turpin of the Holy Family Catholic Regional Division, Goudreau said: "In order for your community to have the opportunity to receive a new school, you and your school board will have to be very diplomatic from here on out. . . . I advise you to be cautious as to how you approach future communications as your comments could be upsetting to some individuals. This could delay the decision on a new school."
What on earth had set off Goudreau, a former minister who's now chair of the cabinet policy committee on community development?
In late January, the Journal ran a story about the Holy Family School in Grimshaw, which sounds grim indeed.
For instance, the library is so cold that students have to wear winter clothes to study. The principal routinely takes carbon monoxide readings in the school.
In the story, Turpin described continuing efforts to deal with the school's many problems while the board waits for a new one.
"It's frustrating and it's concerning and it would be totally unacceptable somewhere else. We can't understand why we're being ignored. We don't know what we have not done for somebody to wake up and see this," she said at the time.
Then Goudreau sent his letter. It can be seen as politically threatening, for sure, but he was also giving good advice on how to get that school.
This is simply how things work in Alberta: be nice, don't embarrass the government, and you might get your reward.
A few days later, Griffiths went on his rampage at criticism — also in a newspaper story — about politics being connected to funding.
And gosh, the very day this uproar was at its peak, Goudreau wrote a second letter to Turpin.
After repeating his support for the school, Goudreau added: "I did not mean to imply that an investment in a new school was contingent on certain actions."
He hadn't implied anything, though — he said it straight out. Upsetting the PC government could delay funding.
The next day, remarkably, Goudreau sent yet another letter by e-mail.
Acknowledging that he'd been displeased by the board's comments about the Grimshaw school, he said: "My e-mail response of Feb. 9 2012, however, was inappropriate.
"I am also concerned that I left you with an inaccurate impression of how the Government of Alberta makes school capital decisions, and I regret that."
But the first impression sounded entirely accurate.
You'll hear about this one in the election campaign, again and again.
Calgary Herald, Sat Mar 3 2012 Byline: Don Braid
For the first time in 91 years, the liberals have won an election in Alberta.
Yeah, sure, the name of the party that won a majority of seats last night is actually called the Progressive Conservative Party. But make no mistake, Alison Redford won last night's election in much the same way she won the leadership of the PC party. She appealed to both big and small-L liberals to back her. Her strategy worked, obviously.
Big public sector unions, like the members of the Alberta Federation of Labour, took out ads and robocalled much of the province urging all "progressive Albertans" to keep the Wildrose Party out by voting strategically for the PCs.
During the last provincial election, the AFL urged its members to vote NDP. My, how things change.
Videos of young people swearing and saying that though they hate to do it, they're voting PC, is another example of the political left throwing their support behind a party that has long been their most hated enemy.
What's interesting about the commentary of this historic election is how many pundits are declaring this a "crushing" defeat for the Wildrose. But that's sophistry. In just a little more than three years, an upstart party with a leader who has never sat in the legislature gave the oldest political dynasty in Canada's history a real fright. That's a huge win in many ways.
As Danielle Smith said last night during her concession speech, "change might take a little longer than we thought."
But as she pointed out, "today I stand at the helm of the official opposition." Not bad for a party that was born out of the anger of the oilpatch because of the changes former Premier Ed Stelmach made to energy royalties.
Smith admitted in her speech in her riding of Highwood in High River last night that she was disappointed. "Am I discouraged?" she asked rhetorically. "Not a chance."
Remember, just a little more than one month ago, predictive website threehundredandeight.com stated that the Wildrose would win only 17 seats — which was considered a healthy gain for the upstart party that was expected to win maybe 10 seats late last year, if they were lucky.
They won more than that last night, but the numbers weren't official at deadline. That some polls had her winning a majority up until Saturday, meant that the Tories should have learned a lesson. But they likely won't.
Had Smith and her advisers spent more time focusing on the cronyism and corruption that plagues the PCs today, it's possible they might have been able to pull off the upset. But another C-word crept into this campaign — clowns — as in bozos.
The so-called "bozo eruptions" by two Wildrose candidates took Smith off message and off her game. But that's not all. Many of the Wildrose policies simply represented too much change, too fast. Smith and her party must now re-examine their platform and make adjustments away from the ones that unsettled too many Albertans.
The Wildrose would have done well to heed the wise words of Dalton Camp when he said: "In my experience, governments are not defeated. They must grab themselves by their own lapels and hurl themselves from office."
The Tories did that to themselves. But the Wildrose hauled them back in, mostly owing to the disgraceful, bigoted comments by those two Wildrose candidates that Albertans simply won't abide.
While Redford may have won the election — and many Tories are relishing this hard-fought win — the Tories should be humbled by what happened last night. But don't count on that. After so many examples of corruption, arrogance, bullying and entitlement, it's likely many in the party will assume it's business as usual. Why change something that's worked for them repeatedly?
So, Redford will proceed with her national energy strategy. Just imagine what a political football that could wind up being — should Quebec's separatist PQ government win the next provincial election in la belle province.
Redford, if she keeps her promises — which thankfully, she doesn't always do — will spend billions more than she budgeted to spend in her deficit budget, which she passed just days before dropping the writ.
Last night in her victory speech, Redford made no mention of the party being humbled at all. Why would she? They won at deadline time 61 of a possible 87 seats. That's less than Ed Stelmach won in 2008, but with voter turnout much higher, it can be viewed as a much stronger mandate.
So, the big unions, the big spenders, the social engineers and the nanny statists finally have won power in Alberta.
The big difference now, compared to years past, is there will be a strong opposition party on the right holding this government to account.
Calgary Herald, Tues Apr 25 2012 Byline: Licia Corbella
Linda Sloan would make one great poker player.
The president of the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association was handed a royal flush late last week, and when given the opportunity to lay down her cards and crow a bit during a Herald editorial board meeting Monday, she betrayed not the least bit of emotion — her lips did not crack into even the slightest grin, and even her eyes did not smile. However did she do it?
To say that the Edmonton councillor and former Alberta Liberal MLA was justified, would be an understatement. The entire, smug Tory government was hoisted on its own petard after Hector Goudreau's now infamous letter that borders on blackmail was made public last Thursday.
The leaked letter was written by Goudreau in response to complaints by Betty Turpin, superintendent of the Holy Family Catholic Regional School Division, with regard to a dilapidated school in Grimshaw that is so cold, students must wear their outdoor gear in the gym and they have troubles holding onto pens in the library because of frozen fingers. Ceilings have collapsed and toilets regularly overflow, turning the principal of Holy Family School, Cora Ostermeier, into a part-time custodian and plumber.
"In order for your community to have the opportunity to receive a new school, you and your school board will have to be very diplomatic from now on out," wrote Goudreau to Turpin in the letter dated Feb. 9.
"I advise you to be cautious as to how you approach future communications as your comments could be upsetting to some individuals."
In case Goudreau didn't make the bullying tactics of his government clear enough, he wrote: "This could delay the decision on a new school."
Goudreau, it's vital to point out, was the Municipal Affairs minister under Ed Stelmach's Tory government. While no longer in cabinet, he was the chair of the cabinet committee on community development, a post he resigned Monday as a result of this letter becoming public.
The Tory government is now trying to claim that the message behind Goudreau's letter is an isolated one. If you believe that, I have a nice, old (cool) school to sell you in Grimshaw.
In short, the release of that bullying letter spells V-I-N-D-I-C-A-T-I-O-N for Sloan, who was accused of lying "maliciously" by Premier Alison Redford's chief of staff, Stephen Carter, in a tweet on Feb. 14.
Carter's tweet, which he has not deleted, but has apologized for, was in response to Sloan alleging that provincial funding was more generous in Tory ridings than in Liberal, NDP or Wildrose ones.
Her allegation that provincial funding to municipalities was doled out on a partisan basis was first made in a Herald column published last December, when she wrote that government grants to municipalities have been: "unpredictable, subject to reductions and political partisanship in their distribution."
That allegation was so vehemently objected to by Alberta's current Municipal Affairs minister, Doug Griffiths, following the provincial budget that the entire Tory caucus voted to not attend the AUMA's breakfast meeting with municipal leaders on Feb. 16.
Griffiths initially insisted that Sloan would have to apologize and retract her statement if Conservative MLAs were going to attend the breakfast. In the end, Griffiths and the other Tories did attend the meeting, but the province's message was clear: If you criticize us, you will be chastened publicly, we will call you names and we will bully you into not criticizing us publicly again.
Sound familiar? Isn't that exactly what Alberta doctors say is going on, only they're threatened with their very jobs when they advocate for their patients. The independent Health Quality Council of Alberta came to that conclusion in its recent report and Premier Redford vowed to hold a judicial inquiry into doctor intimidation, among other issues plaguing Alberta's health system. Something clearly spooked her because Redford has since reneged on that promise.
Numerous town councillors from small municipalities, along with school board officials, have made a habit of making illegal contributions to PC fundraisers with public money presumably to help grease the gears of government in their municipalities' favour.
Now, thanks to Goudreau, we not only have the smoking gun into political intimidation, we have the still-warm corpse with a bullet lodged between its eyes.
In Monday's editorial board meeting, Sloan was flogging the AUMA's new public campaign to seek a funding formula for all of the 277 Alberta municipalities that she speaks for. She made it clear, time and again, that she wants to leave the story about partisan funding behind.
"Our focus and our message is about municipalities. It isn't about the story or the headline associated with the intimidation, whether it is there or not there," said Sloan, who added that the AUMA's relationship is stronger today than it was on Valentine's Day, when Carter's libellous tweet was sent out.
So, is she being intimidated into saying this. She insists that she is not.
She is clearly holding a strong hand close to her chest. Whether it's another royal flush or just a pair of aces remains to be seen. Expect an announcement about the province working to develop a new funding framework for municipalities sometime soon.
Calgary Herald (editorial), Tues Mar 6 2012 Byline: Licia Corbella
Liberals say government is 'hiding abysmal record' until after election
CALGARY — A regular Alberta Health Services three-month report card on wait times and medical data across the province will be delayed several weeks — potentially until after the spring election — as it undergoes government review.
Opposition critics contended the Tory government is holding on to the health superboard's third quarter report on surgery, emergency department and cancer therapy wait times until after the vote to ward off unwanted attention on the heated health care file.
But Health Minister Fred Horne said the government is "absolutely not" stalling on the report — rather is looking at how specific resources in the new provincial budget might improve performance in some problematic health care areas.
"We want to be able to talk about specific things we're trying to do to improve performance in specific areas," Horne said in an interview.
"Taking into account resources we might be able to apply in the budget after it's passed is part of that."
An AHS spokeswoman said the performance report — providing data from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31, 2011 — will likely be on the board's public agenda in May or June.
The reports are generally released roughly every three months. The last quarterly report on performance measures was made public following a Dec. 8 AHS board meeting.
The newest figures on performance measures, however, were "delayed" and weren't ready for approval when the AHS board met in Canmore last week, said AHS communications vice-president Colleen Turner.
The next board meeting isn't until May 3.
With the passing of the provincial budget yesterday. the PC government is expected to drop the election writ by next week and send voters to the polls in late April.
Before the board can approve it, the AHS report card must first be forwarded to the Alberta Health and Wellness (AHW) Department for "review, recommendations, and the joint development of action plans and timelines tied to improving the results," Turner said in an email.
"We want to work with AHW on a closer link between the results and the budget being developed now."
The medical data will be sent the government by the end of the month, she added.
The previous performance report showed the medical system is making improvement in some key areas, but still falling below its own targets in many areas.
Liberal Leader Dr. Raj Sherman accused the Tory government of trying to keep the information from Alberta voters.
"The PCs are desperate. They're hiding an abysmal record on health care from voters," Sherman said.
He said the delayed report is a sign of the "blurred" boundaries between the Health Department and AHS, which provides medical care to Albertans.
Wildrose health critic Heather Forsyth said the government should allow the report to be seen on schedule.
"This government is notorious for hiding things they don't want Albertans to see," she said.
"If they had something to brag about, you can be guaranteed that report would have been released."
Calgary Herald, Mar 21 2012 Byline: Jamie Komarnicki
There have been more than 1,000 confirmed cases of elderly and disabled Albertans being abused in provincially funded facilities over the past seven years and thousands more have filed complaints that were dismissed for lack of proof or other reasons, the Herald has learned.
The province has received an average of 500 abuse complaints a year from facilities housing more than 40,000 seniors and disabled adult residents, according to documents obtained under provincial Freedom of Information legislation.
Less than two per cent are referred to police, government documents show.
Government officials say the figures prove tough new reporting legislation is working, but elder advocates and opposition critics say the system needs major changes to protect Albertans in provincial care from harm.
"It just goes on and on," said Ruth Adria of Elder Advocates of Alberta. "Complaints are usually trivialized or dismissed. There has to be accountability. It has to be known that when there's an assault, someone will be held accountable."
Since the governing Tories proclaimed Protection of Persons in Care legislation in July 2010 to make it against the law not to report abuses, there have been 142 confirmed cases of abuse, documents show.
That data, until the end of January 2012, includes 37 confirmed cases of bodily harm, eight incidents of nonconsensual sexual activity, 67 cases of emotional harm, 22 cases of residents being denied basic necessities, four cases of them being over or under medicated and one case of misappropriating residents' money or property.
Seniors Minister George VanderBurg said he is partly responsible for the high number of abuse complaints because he promotes an abuse hotline number whenever he speaks to seniors or is questioned in the legislature.
"Part of the reason we're getting more concern and more reported incidents is probably my fault," he said. "Every time at question period I'm saying if you have issues of abuse, you're obligated to report it."
He noted most of the cases of abuse reported are emotional, "but that's important, too."
"We're seeing more instances of reporting and I think that's good. It tells us it is working and our message is getting across."
He said the department's contracted investigators do thorough investigations of complaints. "Sometimes they're founded; sometimes they're not."
VanderBurg wasn't concerned 70 per cent of complaints are dismissed and less than two per cent reported to police. "It's a very small number that are criminal in nature," he said.
Since April 2005, there have been 1,021 confirmed cases of abuse, according to government documents.
That includes 549 cases of emotional harm, 216 cases of residents being denied basic necessities, 160 cases of bodily harm, 55 sexual offences, 27 thefts or money or property, and 14 cases of improper medication, according to the Protection of Persons In Care summary of founded complaints.
"We care for a lot of people," said VanderBurg. "I am not downplaying the numbers, but I am telling you one is serious to me."
Wildrose seniors critic Heather Forsyth said many seniors and their families don't want to complain about their treatment in long-term care for fear of retaliation or retribution. She said a former RCMP inspector was "too afraid to complain" and the daughter of a senior delayed filing a complaint until her mother died.
"We're dealing with seniors who are afraid to report incidents and that sends shivers down my spine," she said.
Forsyth said there are not enough inspections of care facilities and not sufficient public reporting of the complaints. The situation cries out for whistleblower protection legislation and a mechanism for anonymous reporting of abuse, she added.
Seniors Department spokesperson Carolyn Gregson said the law puts the onus on the service providers in publicly funded facilities to report any abuse of residents.
"We're making them the front-line watchdog under the act. They are obligated to report anything and everything they see and when it comes to us, it's reviewed and investigated, if warranted."
She said the abuse line receives almost 4,000 calls annually.
"I think this has made a difference," she said. "Any time you actually report it and it is investigated, results and outcomes can happen from that."
Liberal MLA Hugh MacDonald said he was surprised when the Alberta Seniors deputy minister told the Legislature Public Accounts committee he chairs that there were 22 fatal accidents or serious injuries in provincial care facilities last year and refused to elaborate.
But VanderBurg said Tuesday there was only one death and five serious injuries and they were all attributable to falls.
MacDonald said the protection of Persons In Care legislation doesn't seem to be improving the plight of people in care.
"It's good legislation, but it's obviously not being enforced," he said. "It's necessary. It's needed, but it's frightening that it doesn't seem to be making a difference in the number of allegations or incidents where people have been abused and neglected."
But PC MLA Neil Brown, who introduced the legislation, said it make take some time for the law to show positive benefits.
"I believe the changes we made are working," he said.
Abuse reports, by the numbers:
Founded complaints of abuse of elderly and disabled adult Albertans in provincially funded facilities since 2005:
Calgary Herald, Wed Mar 21 2012 Byline: Darcy Henton
Opponents of Alberta's Progressive Conservatives must go to sleep at night thanking the political gods for making life so easy for them. The PCs keep handing an endless supply of ammunition to the New Democrats, the Liberals, the Wildrose, the fledgling Alberta Party and any others that want to sign up for the fight. Through their own missteps, the Tories have allowed the opposition to frame the upcoming spring election around one dominant issue — that the PCs are political bullies.
First came allegations of doctor intimidation, then improper donations by public officials who felt obliged to support the party, then the accusation that municipalities that vote Tory get preferential funding, and now a damning "smoking gun" letter by PC MLA and former cabinet minister Hector Goudreau warning a school district not to be critical of the government or it might not get a new school.
As the Wildrose said in a news release Monday, it all adds up to a "culture of corruption, cronyism, intimidation, bullying, self-dealing and patronage." After 40 years of rule, the Tories may not be drunk with power, but they certainly seem to be borderline impaired.
For many, the letter by Goudreau was perhaps the last straw. It's bad enough for doctors to be muzzled for advocating for patients, but to threaten a school board advocating for a safe and healthy environment for children who are shivering in a cold school with collapsing ceilings and creaky plumbing is beyond offensive.
On Monday, Goudreau, the Peace River-area MLA for Dunvegan-Central Peace, informed the Tory caucus that he would step down as head of a cabinet policy committee on community development. Late last week, it was revealed that he had written a letter to the Holy Family Catholic School Division that suggested criticism of the government could hamper the district's chances of funding for a new school in Grimshaw.
"In order for your community to have the opportunity to receive a new school, you and your school board will have to be very diplomatic from here on out," Goudreau told district superintendent Betty Turpin. "I advise you to be cautious as to how you approach future communications as your comments could be upsetting to some individuals. This could delay the decision on a new school."
The Tories have been criticized by former PC MLA and now Liberal party Leader Raj Sherman for looking after "their buddies." Linda Sloan, president of the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association, faced a vicious, two-pronged attack from Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths and Alison Redford's chief of staff, Stephen Carter, when she said towns and cities that vote Tory get preferential funding.
Redford, who promised change, may be the fresh face of the PC party, but the culture of Tory entitlement is looking so ingrained that it appears all the PCs' opponents need do is line up to shoot fish in a barrel.
Calgary Herald (editorial), Tues Mar 6 2012
But seat projections for Danielle Smith Wildrose majority come with big caveat
The Wildrose party would win a healthy majority government with 50 to 60 seats, based on the results of the latest public opinion poll, says an analyst renowned for the accuracy of her seat projections.
But Janet Brown, a public opinion research consultant, said her prediction comes with a big caveat.
The model she uses to do seat projections shows half the province's 87 ridings have a margin of victory of less than 10 per cent.
"At this point, unexpected events can have a big impact and the get-out-the-vote efforts of individual parties could have a big impact," Brown said in an interview Wednesday.
"So I'm sort of prepared to say that it looks like it's going to be a Wildrose majority, but I'm not necessarily prepared to say it's definitely going to be a Wildrose majority," Brown said.
A Leger Marketing poll, commissioned by the Calgary Herald and Edmonton Journal, shows Wildrose with 42 per cent support among decided voters while the Progressive Conservatives are at 36 per cent.
The survey, conducted between last Friday and Monday, shows 10 per cent support for the NDP, nine per cent for the Liberals and two per cent for the Alberta Party.
Brown's seat projection ranges would indicate a fundamental reshaping of Alberta politics.
The Tories - in power continuously since 1971 - would be reduced to somewhere between 23 and 33 seats. The Liberals, the official Opposition in the last legislature, face the possibility of being wiped out with a range of zero to three seats.
The NDP stands to win somewhere between two and five ridings.
Brown, who accurately predicted the 72-seat Tory win in 2008 and was a couple seats off in 2004, said she's less confident in her forecasts this time around because the provincial political scene is "a whole different kettle of fish" compared to the years of the Tory dynasty.
Wildrose - which won no seats in the 2008 election though it held four in the last legislature because of defections and a byelection win - has essentially risen from obscurity, she said. As well, three of the four parties have rookie leaders.
The Leger telephone survey of 1,200 Albertans has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points 19 times out of 20.
The timing - the survey was conducted between April 13 and 16 - means some respondents would have been aware of the furor over an Edmonton Wildrose candidate's anti-gay blog.
But the polling was completed before CalgaryGreenway candidate Ron Leech landed in hot water after saying he had an advantage because he was Caucasian.
Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith said her party is staying focused on winning a majority government in the final days leading up to the April 23 vote.
"We are wanting to win 44 plus seats but it is very, very close," she told reporters in Chestermere Wednesday.
"I think we've identified 23 constituencies where it's very, very close and we want to make sure that we want to give that last-minute support to our candidates. We want to do what we can to be able to help people make up their mind," said Smith, adding that she would travel over the coming days to seats where she can help push candidates over the top.
An e-mail sent to Tory supporters from the PC campaign said the Leger poll was good news for the Tories because of the tightness of the race, especially in Edmonton and Calgary and the large number of undecided voters still left in the latter days of the campaign.
PC Leader Alison Redford said she wouldn't comment on the numbers, but the final four days of the campaign will be crucial.
"What we're talking about right now . . . is Albertans looking at the people they think they want to lead their province, how they want their province to be represented in Canada and how they want their province represented in the world," she said.
The Liberals may be lacking the funds of the two larger parties but are undaunted by poll numbers and ready for election day, said Leader Raj Sherman. "We have local teams that have identified a lot of local voters and they are going to get the vote out," he said.
New Democrat Brian Mason said Wednesday he still expects some voter intentions to change in the time between the poll and election day. "Just taking a brief snapshot in time, it's interesting, but it's not going to reflect the final result," he said.
Calgary Herald, Thurs Apr 19 2012 Byline: James Wood
For years, every health-care expert in Alberta has said that one of the main solutions for better emergency room access is more long-term care beds. The government has said it, Alberta Health Services has said it, doctors and advocacy groups have pushed for it, but the situation never improves. In fact, it has gotten worse.
The province currently has 14,574 nursing home beds — at least 50 fewer than in early 2008 and an inconsequential increase from the 14,500 that existed in 1992. The paralysis on this critical issue is one of the great failings of the ruling Tories. Former premier Ed Stelmach vowed to build 1,000 long-term beds per year. But facility operators say new spaces frequently replace aging capacity that's being closed down. Of the 511 beds announced by the Redford government in December, only 30 are 24-hour nursing home spaces, with the remainder being supported living beds for residents without complex medical needs.
The government's failure to deliver more long-term care beds is a key reason behind the excessive waits in the province's emergency rooms, according to Dr. Paul Parks, past president of the Alberta Medical Association's emergency medical section. The recent Alberta Health Quality Council report on the province's health-care system said that six to eight per cent of hospital beds are occupied by patients waiting for access to supportive living and long-term care facilities, calling it "an inefficient use of a critically limited resource that further contributes to high in-patient occupancy bed rates."
Chloe Atkins, an associate professor at the University of Calgary who specializes in medical ethics, recently wrote on these pages that she is one of the "bed blockers." With a chronic illness that occasionally keeps her hospitalized for long periods, she blocks the move of patients from the emergency ward, causing a backup in the system. Atkins says she does not require a long-term care bed, simply better federal tax breaks that would allow her to make her house more accessible. It is another simple solution that governments at two levels fail to grasp, let alone resolve.
In its 2012 budget, the provincial government announced $25 million for three home-care initiatives for seniors. Among them is a new program, Destination Home, designed to help seniors return home as quickly as possible after a hospital stay and avoid unnecessary hospital visits. Specifics were thin, with the government saying it was developing the program for gradual implementation over the next three years. Also announced were new adult day program spaces for 440 home care and better access to 24-hour on-call registered nurses for home care.
Considering the inability of the province to resolve this issue over the years, we won't be holding our breath.
Calgary Herald, Mon Mar 12 2012 Editorial
EDMONTON - The Alberta Federation of Labour says energy companies exploited a loophole in the province's drilling stimulus programs, forcing the province to spend about $2.9 billion, more than double the projected cost.
Government officials, however, say the incentive programs worked to stimulate the economy during the economic downturn and created jobs during the recession.
Federation spokesman Gil McGowan said Wednesday that documents obtained under access to information laws show it is clear the energy companies were squeezing as much out of the program as possible, at Albertans' expense.
"The governments' own staff knew that certain energy companies were gaming the system," McGowan said. "They presented that evidence to senior decision-makers within the government bureaucracy who have the ear of cabinet ministers.
"They could have taken action. They didn't."
McGowan said the federation is not against incentive programs that put people to work but that "there has to be some performance measures, there has to be some oversight.
"These foregone royalties represent the lion's share of the deficit, which the government has used to justify massive cuts to social services and public infrastructure," McGowan said.
"The government is telling Albertans the cupboard is bare for public services, but it's bare in large measure because of this irresponsible and out-of-control corporate giveaway."
Alberta's Drilling Incentive Program was announced in March 2009 to stimulate the economy during the recession.
It included three programs: the Drilling Royalty Credit, the New Well Incentive and the $30-million Orphan Well Fund.
The government originally said the incentives would cost about $1.6 billion in foregone royalty revenue over two years.
Budget documents show that in 2009, costs ballooned to $1.2 billion from the estimated $842 million. In 2010, costs surged to $1.8 billion from the original $732 million estimate.
The final price tag for the Drilling Incentive Programs was about $2.9 billion, roughly $1.3 billion over the budget.
Of that spending, the Drilling Royalty Credit accounted for $1.7 billion, more than triple the original estimated of $466 million. The New Well Incentive program cost for $1.2 billion, just over the initial estimated of $1 billion.
The documents released by the federation suggest bureaucrats knew the Drilling Royalty Credit program was going over-budget because energy companies were swapping credits on a "grey market" to increase the incentives they received.
Energy Minister Ted Morton said he was aware of the credit swapping.
"I was aware of the fact that the program was costing more than we anticipated. We looked at it, and we were getting good pick up and it was creating more jobs," Morton said.
"At the time we thought that if it gets the rigs back working again, then it's achieving its effect."
In 2009, fewer than one in five drilling rigs were working in Alberta. By 2010, that figure had climbed to one in three, due in part to the stimulus programs, Morton said.
Similarly, the number of rigs working had dropped to 141 in 2009 as a result of the recession. In 2010, 237 rigs were up and working.
Gary Leach, executive director of Small Explorers and Producers Association of Canada, said governments around the world launched stimulus packages at the time.
"I don't believe that companies were gaming the system," he said. "This wasn't a loophole. The program was designed to make sure the companies spent the money because the government wanted to make sure the companies were investing. ... These credits were designed to be transferred."
Leach said most of the money was spent in rural Alberta where "it gets turned into jobs, it gets turned into property taxes for rural areas, and it turns into royalty streams for the government.
"Two years later, I think it was a success. Nobody is looking for another one."
Edmonton Journal, Wed Mar 7 2012 Byline: Karen Kleiss
Personal views don't reflect policy: Smith
With a week to go in the most hard fought Alberta election campaign in decades, hot-button moral issues again put the front-running Wildrose party on the hot seat.
All four major party leaders were in Calgary on Sunday - a key battleground of the race - fanning out in visits to ethnic and religious communities, making new announcements and hammering home key points of their platform.
But it was Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith who attracted the most attention, refusing to condemn an online posting by one of her candidates decrying tolerance toward gays and lesbians, but reiterating that her party won't legislate on contentious moral issues.
In a June 2011 blog post, Edmonton-South West candidate Allan Hunsperger, a pastor with The House church in Tofield, referenced the Lady Gaga hit song Born this Way and said gay people can choose "to not live the way they were born."
"You can live the way you were born, and if you die the way you were born, then you will suffer the rest of eternity in the lake of fire, hell, a place of eternal suffering," he wrote, adding that "accepting people the way they are is cruel and not loving."
In the post, Hunsperger condemns the Edmonton Public School Board's policy calling for a safe and welcoming environment for all students, including those who identify as lesbian, gay and transgender.
Asked about the writing, Smith noted the party won't legislate on such social issues but said Hunsperger was free to hold his personal views.
"When a person is making personal statements in their capacity as a pastor, which he was, I don't think anybody should be surprised that they're expressing certain viewpoints," she said to reporters outside the Calgary Hindu Society's temple.
"We've communicated on this, that we will not be legislating on contentious social issues. He understands that. He accepts that."
When asked if there are personal opinions beyond the pale for the party, Smith did not directly answer.
"Look at our party platform. The things that we focus on are the things on which we agree," said Smith, who a day earlier had accused the media of being upset there had been no "bozo eruptions" among Wildrose candidates.
"We accept that people have a broad diversity of viewpoints but the way we get along is that we focus on the things on which we can agree."
By mid-afternoon, the blog post had been removed and Hunsperger had written a new entry addressing the issue, saying he had been speaking as a pastor about his personal religious viewpoints.
"I fully support equality for all people, and condemn any intolerance based on sexual orientation or any other personal characteristic," wrote Hunsperger.
Robyn Haugen, Hunsperger's campaign manager, said he was unable to talk Sunday.
Progressive Conservative Leader Alison Redford said Hunsperger's original comments were "shocking."
"I think that it's absolutely wrong. Of course I disagree with it, and the fact that these are people who think that that's a legitimate perspective just absolutely blows my mind," she told reporters at an event at Calgary's Sikh temple.
Redford said the situation speaks to who would make up a Wildrose government. "Take a look at who you want to represent you. What do they believe?"
Liberal Leader Raj Sherman said he would not allow a Liberal candidate with Hunsperger's views to run for the party.
"I'm shocked and disappointed that a man of the cloth would make these comments," Sherman said at the McDougall Centre, where he proposed a revamp of the province's election system. "Jesus would not make these comments."
NDP Leader Brian Mason - in Calgary to talk about electricity regulation - said Smith had to answer for Hunsperger's statement.
"Do those comments by that candidate constitute an embarrassment to the Wildrose party and to her?" he said.
Since the writ was dropped, Smith - who describes herself as prochoice and pro-gay marriage - has had to fend off accusations the social conservative component within Wildrose would lead the party to wade into areas such as abortion and gay rights.
Faron Ellis, a political scientist at Lethbridge College, said Smith has done a skilful job with what have been "generic responses to generic situations."
But the tangible nature of Hunsperger's comments - and the fact they touch upon an area of provincial jurisdiction - may make it a lightning rod in the last week of the campaign, he said.
"She has to go further in some kind of condemnation of that type of statement," said Ellis, who noted Smith also does not want to alienate social conservative voters.
Meanwhile, Redford was supposed to hold an event Sunday afternoon with Alberta PC icon Peter Lougheed - who strongly backed Redford publicly two days earlier - but it had to be rescheduled.
Redford said she was touched by Lougheed's public endorsement and the party had not asked him to weigh in.
But Smith said it was "tragic that it was considered news for a former leader of the PC party to endorse the current leader of the PC party."
"We've put forward a positive campaign, talking about the issues that matter to Albertans. We're going to continue that in the last week."
Calgary Herald, Mon Apr 16 2012 Byline: James Wood, with files from Chris Varcoe and Bryan Weismiller and Sheila Pratt
Alberta Liberal candidate describes Wildrose candidates as 'homophobic,' PCs as 'corrupt/incompetent/bullying'
Wildrose candidates are "homophobic, climate change deniers" and "bigots" while the PCs are "corrupt/incompetent/bullying" and "senior neglecting," Liberal Leader Raj Sherman shot out to the Twitterverse this week.
His comments, re-tweeted by dozens of supporters but decried by others as feckless and overly negative, are the latest in an increasingly rough-and-tumble campaign that has other party leaders calling for a return to civility.
"It's really just silly and it's beneath Raj to do something like that," Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith said Wednesday.
"We need to ratchet down some of the rhetoric and focus on what this campaign is supposed to be about. It's supposed to be a robust discussion about ideas and a big-picture discussion about where our province is headed."
No one from the Progressive Conservatives was available to comment on Sherman's tweet. But the Liberal leader did not back down from his 140-character assessments of both the Wildrose and PC parties, who he also said are hell-bent on privatizing education and health care.
"I could have written those tweets more eloquently," he acknowledged in an interview. But "do you think Raj Sherman has ever been one to mince words?"
"I challenge anyone to say what I said wasn't true."
Sherman's tweet comes the same week Edmonton Wildrose candidate Allan Hunsperger made headlines when a blog he wrote last year warned homosexuals they will suffer for eternity in a "lake of fire."
Calgary Wildrose candidate Ron Leech was in the spotlight for stating during a weekend radio interview he thinks he has an electoral advantage because he is "Caucasian" (he later apologized, saying the comment didn't reflect his true feelings on the matter).
Sherman has also criticized Smith for saying the science on climate change has yet to be settled, and has attacked the Tory government for its decision not to hold a full inquiry into physician intimidation.
His tweet is not unusual in the lawless world of Twitter, it's just not language usually heard from a party leader.
But with his party polling between nine per cent and 12 per cent in Calgary and Edmonton - traditionally strong centres of support - Rebecca Sullivan, a professor of cultural studies at the University of Calgary, said Sherman's comments are a "Hail Mary" pass.
"It's very unusual for the political leader to get their hands dirty," she said. "They usually have operatives do that for them."
Sullivan said as use of Twitter and other quick-moving social media in-creases, so will concerns about civility in political discourse. But she added Sherman's words will speak to some Alberta voters.
"This wasn't a 3 a.m. tweet that he then has to turn around and apologize for. It's a Hail Mary pass, and it's one that's grounded in a series of headlines," she said. "He may actually get some votes out of it."
Sherman's tweet follows Mayor Naheed Nenshi saying on Tuesday he was disappointed by Leech's comments. On Wednesday, Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel also called on the Wildrose leader to "clearly refute" comments by her party's candidates about race and homosexuality.
"It's not representative of Alberta or Albertans," Mandel said.
In Calgary on Wednesday, Calgary Chamber of Commerce CEO Adam Legge said it's important the city be seen "as an open, welcoming com-munity."
"Anytime you exhibit or have a portrayal of yourself as being less tolerant, you have a potential to jeopardize economic competitiveness," Legge added. "We need to do everything we can to position Alberta in a positive light."
Calgary Herald, Thurs Apr 19 2012 Byline: Kelly Cryderman