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MORGAN: COVID has shown the need to overhaul Canada’s health care system

“We need to stop pretending the American and Canadian models of health provision are the only ones on earth. In fact, only two other countries on the planet explicitly ban private health care insurance: Cuba and North Korea.”

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After his retirement, Ralph Klein was quoted expressing regret for having backed down on his “third-way” health care reform plan. We are paying the price today for the government’s lack of will of yesteryear.

Canada’s health care system has long been considered a sacred cow. We have been taught since childhood that it’s the best health care system on the planet; it’s the very thing that defines what it means to be Canadian. Any efforts to reform the system are immediately framed as potentially moving us towards the dreaded American system.

The most politically expedient way to deal with health care challenges has been to blindly toss more money into the system without changing how anything is being done. Government reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic has devastated our finances and exposed massive shortcomings in the health care system. Both these problems are good cause to undertake a serious overhaul of the status quo.

Alberta has 11,120 physicians and 32,000 nurses. We have 161 hospitals and spend more per capita on health care than most other provinces. At the peak of the pandemic, the number of COVID-19 patients in hospital beds was just over 500 people. Why did this volume of patients seemingly bring our system to the brink of collapse? If we don’t ask ourselves some tough questions and begin to make some serious changes to our system, we could find ourselves vulnerable to a true systemic meltdown if a more serious pandemic hits us down the road.

In the event of a widespread medical crisis, a system needs to be able to pivot in order to meet sudden new pressures. Our socialized system has led us into centralizing our treatments and procedures into hospitals. Many services and procedures are being performed in hospitals when they could have been done in outside, specialized clinics. When something like a pandemic occurs, entire wings of hospitals can be closed off while large blocks of staff are placed under quarantine. This leads to procedures deemed as being non-essential being deferred which leads to long backlogs of medical procedures which could take months, or years, to catch up on. If we had more health facilities outside conventional hospitals, our hospitals could focus on acute health care needs while elective and non-urgent procedures continue unhindered in clinics.

In order to get these specialized clinics, we will need to allow more private investment into health care provision. We have to set aside that ingrained prejudice against profit-based models in health care provision. Private clinics for general practitioners haven’t crushed the system. Private facilities for everything from hip replacements to dialysis won’t either. This is not a matter of reinventing the wheel. Most European nations allow for private health provision within a publicly funded, universal model. Entire private hospitals are integrated within public systems. We need to stop pretending the American and Canadian models of health provision are the only ones on earth. In fact, only two other countries on the planet explicitly ban private health care insurance: Cuba and North Korea.

Many other systems are outperforming Canada’s in both outcomes and in cost. It does not deserve the status of sacred cow.

We will also need to take on the public sector unions. Organized labour has traditionally battled every form of health care reform every step of the way. How many years have we battled back and forth over something as simple as the outsourcing of hospital laundry services?

How many stories have we heard about nurses who game an incredibly generous overtime system to the point where some have earned over $200,000 per year? Alberta’s nurses are the highest paid in Canada yet they immediately started rumbling about striking when the Kenney government proposed a modest 3% pay reduction. We are in an economic crisis as well as a pandemic. If we can’t even get modest concessions from unions in times like these, we won’t be able to sustain our service levels for much longer. Seniority systems and contract clauses make it difficult to schedule staff based on surges leading to sporadic shortages and over staffing at times. It’s going to take some strong will and it will take some labour disruptions, but the union stranglehold on health care provision needs to be ended.

We need to look beyond the politics of envy and let people pay out of pocket for enhanced services. They wouldn’t be jumping the queue. They should be jumping out of one queue, and into another, allowing both to receive quality services faster.

Let’s face it, people have been leaving the country in order to “jump the queue” for decades. These people aren’t always rich, but they are desperate. If a person is given a choice between suffering or potentially dying on a waiting list for treatment or selling their home and seeking treatment in another country, most will sell the house. Let’s keep those dollars here and have regulated pay-for-service models that allow for private insurance. It will lead to shorter wait times for all. Don’t look at it as if it is a person cutting the line ahead of you, look at it as if a person wants to spend their own money in order to shorten the line for all of us.

Canada’s health care system is rigid and obsolete. The pandemic has shown us we are always teetering on the brink of overrunning our capacity despite constant increases in health care spending. Our economy is in shambles and government deficits are unsustainable. If we want to have a strong, universal health care system we can rely upon during times of crisis, we need to dramatically reform our current one. There’s no better time than right now to begin that process. Let’s hope our political leadership can find the will and courage to take on this difficult but essential task.

If they can’t stand their ground on a modest wage reduction for nurses, they won’t be able to do what really needs to be done in the long term.

Cory Morgan is the Alberta Political Columnist for the Western Standard and Host of the Cory Morgan Show

Cory Morgan the Alberta Political Columnist and Host of the Cory Morgan show for the Western Standard. cmorgan@westernstandardonline.com

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6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Left Coast

    August 4, 2021 at 10:08 am

    “We have 161 hospitals and spend more per capita on health care than most other provinces. At the peak of the pandemic, the number of COVID-19 patients in hospital beds was just over 500 people.”

    So 3.7 people per Hospital in Alberta causes a crisis? How friggin INSANE is that?

    Dopy Canooks are proud of their 30 something in the world Cuba Style HC System.
    Hospitals are paid in Block Grants, so treating patients is not connected to the way they are funded. Intelligent people like Dr. Day have said for decades that Hospitals should be paid for Procedures Performed & Private Sector Competition is a good thing.

    But don’t expect our worthless Political Class to ever figure it out . . .

  2. Steven

    August 3, 2021 at 3:32 pm

    I agree with Declan Carroll, Canada sure has that smell of socialism after five year of Trudeau. The Prime Minister’s power is absolute in Canada. There are no checks or balances on the power of the PM. That should alarm most freedom loving people. SNC-L obstruction of justice comes to mind.

    Canada’s coming Chief Censor has the smell of Cuba & North Korea also. How about our State run Media CBC now including the Main Stream Media (on the Gov payroll).

    Alberta’s Health Care System is as Socialist as it gets. Bigger now after former NDP Premier Notley got her claws into it and increased the size of the AHS Management bureaucracy. The UCP were to afraid to challenge AHS Management in any meaningful way.

    Nothing is going to change in Alberta, unless Albertans elect a Party like Wildrose. Alberta needs autonomy & to find it’s own way out of this mess called the Federation.

  3. David Heinze

    August 3, 2021 at 11:18 am

    When the Country is Broke: http://heinzegroup.com/insight.htm#26

  4. Penny4YourThouhts

    July 31, 2021 at 8:50 am

    There are far bigger problems with the health care system than no access to private care. #1 – it’s corrupt. 2/3 of Health Canada’s budget comes from Big Pharma so their primary interests are to protect the patents held by various pharma companies. This was a statement made in court by an upper Health Canada employee if you want to validate my statement. The patents – drugs, vaccines, and the new gene therapy injections – yield trillions for all who invest in them, and the love of money fuels the need to control the entire industry. It boils down to greed. Good luck overhauling anything and as far as regulations go – well guess who is in charge of regulating? The same greedy f*cks who are interested solely in selling more drugs and more vaccines. Why do you think they go to such extremes to demean, vilify, and condemn natural health? There’s no money in healthy people.

  5. Kelly Carter

    July 31, 2021 at 8:00 am

    100% agree with you Cory. Another problem is senior’s taking up beds in our hospitals while waiting for a spot in a nursing home. This has been a problem for decades, and has some easy solutions. Access to a wait list is not health care, and bandaid medicine is not quality medicine. Personally right now I would gladly pay out of pocket if it meant I could get more time with a doctor willing to listen to all my symptoms instead of being able to complain about 1 symptom in 10min of time with a GP, and walk out with a treatment for that 1 symptom but no idea of the actual underlying isssue that may be causing all the symptoms. When I last went to emergency I waited 5 hrs to see a doctor. There were lots of empty beds and nothing to explain why it took so long. At least when the ER was busy and they were stacking people in hallways and you waited 5hrs you could say there was good reason. And the bureaucracy that is AHS…. They all need to be fired. Their managment of our hospitals and procurement of supplies, etc was disgustingly incompetent over the last year. Not one of them deserves to keep their job!

  6. Declan Carroll

    July 31, 2021 at 7:45 am

    Maybe we need to stop lying to ourselves about the nature of Canadian society. After what has happened here over the last year and a half how are we any different then Cuba or North Korea? Their methods may be more brutal but the end results are they same. All this as Ottawa prepares to install a chief censor to shut this newspaper we are reading down.

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Opinion

McCAFFREY: Don’t let Calgary ruin the region

Central planning doesn’t work and the current government should reverse this mistake as soon as possible by abolishing the Calgary Metropolitan Region Board and allowing municipalities to return to cooperating on a voluntary basis.

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The Calgary Metropolitan Region Board (CMRB) was created in 2015 by the NDP government to control planning and development for the entirety of the Calgary region. 

Since then, this unelected body has been working on creating a new growth plan for the region that contains some of the most radical changes to development and planning rules ever proposed in Alberta.

With the enactment of this growth plan, the CMRB is set to become what will effectively be a fourth level of government for citizens of the Calgary region and will allow Calgary to export its bad policies across all the other municipalities of the region.

Yet barely anyone in the Calgary region has even heard of the board.

How is it possible a new level of government could be introduced without anyone noticing?

Well, in part, that’s thanks to a very deliberate effort by the former NDP government, and the board itself, to keep the powers and potential wide-ranging influence of the board as below the radar as possible for as long as possible.

The board, at least according to its designers, is simply meant to help manage planning and development issues, in order to help manage the significant population growth that the Calgary region is expected to experience in the coming decades.

Make no mistake about it, though, the CMRB and its growth plan do much more than this.

The entire growth plan is based on the philosophy that a small group of people, in this case, bureaucrats and city planners—particularly in Calgary—can do a better job planning and managing population and employment growth than the free market can.

The central planners believe the challenges of growth are better addressed by forcing the municipalities in the Calgary region to cooperate rather than compete to provide these services and facilities.

Rather than merely permitting cooperation between municipalities as claimed, however, the creation of the CMRB and the implementation of the growth plan actually forces Calgary and the surrounding municipalities to cooperate on many issues, even when this goes against the wishes of the municipalities and their residents.

Requiring municipalities to cooperate even if they believe it’s against their and their residents’ interests to do so is bound to lead to less fair and less equitable outcomes for the whole of the Calgary region.

Even worse, the forced co-operation doesn’t go both ways.

Despite claims the board is based on cooperation, the 10-member municipalities are being forced to participate in the organization, they cannot leave, and the voting system of the board effectively gives a veto to the Calgary on every issue.

In effect, this puts Calgary politicians and bureaucrats in charge of planning and development for the entire region, as without Calgary’s approval, no plan or development can go ahead.

This is no accident, the board was very deliberately created to do exactly this.

For years, Calgary has pursued bad public policies that have increased rules, regulations, red tape, and taxes on businesses and residents of Calgary.

The situation has become so dire that now many businesses and residents are leaving Calgary entirely and setting up their operations and family lives outside of the city in one of the many surrounding municipalities, where regulations and taxes are lighter.

Essentially, Calgary has become noncompetitive with other municipalities in the region, but planners in Calgary don’t see this as a problem, rather they see it as an opportunity.

But Calgary didn’t want to fix the problem by cutting red tape, getting taxes and spending under control, and working to become competitive again.

Rather, the city lobbied the provincial government to help them out by giving Calgary the power to impose the same high levels of regulations across the entire region—essentially killing off the competition.

It was perhaps not surprising that the former NDP government was willing to give Calgary this power, as the NDP government do not understand or believe in the benefits of free market competition to begin with.

But the current Alberta government has repeatedly stated its core focus is on reducing red tape and unleashing Alberta’s economy. They have put significant effort into achieving this goal in many other policy areas.

Yet, when it comes to regional planning they have, so far at least, permitted the exact opposite to continue.

Rather than reducing red tape and regulation to get the Calgary region’s economy going, in almost every policy area the growth plan goes in completely the other direction and essentially centralizes planning decisions for the entire region.

All types of development—single family houses, row houses, apartments, shopping malls, retail stores, manufacturing, warehouses, agricultural services, and more—will now have to be approved not only by the local municipality but also by an unelected board dominated by Calgary.

Thrown out the window is any concept of the free market, individual choice, property rights, competition and, frankly, basic economics.

This dramatic centralization will impose a series of significant direct and indirect costs on the economy of the Calgary region, none of which are considered by the CMRB in its growth plan.

These costs include the millions of dollars spent creating and operating what is effectively a fourth level of government, the significant costs to Calgary businesses, residents, and the economy as a result of this extra bureaucracy, the dramatic costs that would be incurred by projects being reduced, relocated, or cancelled under the growth plan, as well as indirect and intangible costs.

The plan also runs roughshod over local democracy in the member municipalities, and over the property rights of the residents of those municipalities.

What, exactly, is the point of electing a local council in your district or town, if planning and development rules—until now one of the most important tasks of a local government—will now be controlled centrally by an unelected board?

Worse yet, this move from voluntary cooperation to forced cooperation will not solve the very problems the CMRB and the growth plan were designed to fix.

The end result of a growth plan that replaces voluntary cooperation and competition with forced collaboration will be higher taxes and higher fees, more regulation and red tape, increased housing and infrastructure costs, less efficient delivery of utilities and services, and worse environmental outcomes for the entire region.

There are far better ways to accommodate future population growth in the Calgary region than via a top-down, centrally controlled regional growth plan that violates the values that made Alberta what it is today: individual freedom, personal choice, fiscal responsibility, property rights, and a free market built on competition rather than government diktat.

The proposed growth plan would block billions of dollars of investment, redirect billions more out of the Calgary region, and cost tens of thousands of jobs. This is the exact opposite of what the Calgary region needs right now.

The CMRB, and the requirement for them to create a growth plan to control development in the region, were an ideological creation of the former provincial government, based on the idea that top-down central planning is the best way to run an economy.

Central planning doesn’t work and the current government should reverse this mistake as soon as possible by abolishing the CMRB and allowing municipalities to return to cooperating on a voluntary basis.

Peter McCaffrey is the President of the Alberta Institute, an independent, libertarian-minded, public policy think tank that aims to advance personal freedom and choice in Alberta.

The Alberta Institute has prepared an academic research paper outlining the history of regional planning in the Calgary Region, and looking at the implications of the Calgary Metropolitan Region Board on jobs, investment and democracy for Alberta.

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Krahnicle’s Cartoon: September 17, 2021

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Opinion

MORGAN: It’s time for Kenney to resign

“I say this regretfully, but it’s time for Jason Kenney to resign as premier of Alberta and as the leader of the United Conservative Party. I wish things had ended differently.”

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Premier Jason Kenney gambled and lost.

His move to declare Alberta as being permanently open for business was a hail-Mary pass for a beleaguered government and it has failed in the worst possible way.

Alberta is in the midst of a health care crisis, deaths are on the rise and we are entering a new period of mandatory vaccine passports, lockdowns, and other restrictions.

I say this regretfully, but it’s time for Jason Kenney to resign as premier of Alberta and as the leader of the United Conservative Party.

I had the highest of hopes for Kenney. I was enthusiastic as he won multiple leadership races and merged the previously intransigent Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties. I was thrilled when Rachel Notley’s NDP government was trounced in the general election. I thought we’d be looking forward to some steady, competent, conservative governance for at least a couple of election cycles.

I was wrong. Boy, was I ever wrong.

Love him or hate him, Jason Kenney is undeniably one of the brightest and hardest working politicians in Canada. He worked his way from advocacy into elected office and then became a respected cabinet minister in a number of portfolios. It appears Kenney met his match when it comes to the party and provincial leadership. He has managed to alienate both the left and the right within the province and I don’t see how he can recover from this.

Kenney’s leadership woes were already appearing well before the COVID-19 pandemic appeared on the scene. The shotgun marriage of the Wildrose Party and the Progressive Conservatives was showing cracks as caucus infighting began to smolder. The pandemic crisis exacerbated the issue and Kenney is now heading up a deeply divided caucus with multiple members having been tossed out of the party or disciplined. This inability to manage his own caucus has shaken the confidence Albertans had in Kenney to manage the province.

The Kenney government has been noteworthy for setting high targets and then failing to move toward them. The Fair Deal panel appeared to be an act of deferral, rather than an exercise to build a stronger, more independent province.

Kenney refused to take strong actions against Ottawa despite the open hostility shown to Alberta by the Trudeau government. This has fed the theory Kenney is using Alberta as a stepping stone towards pursuing a federal run. We can safely say Kenney’s federal career is finished at this point.

It seems that everything Kenney has touches turns to scheiße. The energy “war room” has turned into a running joke and with long and constant delays on its launch. The Allen Report examining groups that attack Alberta’s energy sector has been a waste of time. Energy producers seeking a sense of confidence in Alberta have been left disappointed.

In picking a battle with Alberta’s doctors and nurses, Kenney has drawn fire from all sides of the political spectrum. While there certainly is room to reexamine the agreements with health care providers, it has to be done carefully and with strong leadership. The UCP has appeared ham-handed and virtually leaderless on the issue.

The Kenney government has become election fodder used to hammer the O’Toole Conservatives on the federal front. The UCP looks so inept and unpopular that Trudeau is using it to attack O’Toole, and O’Toole hides from any association with Kenney.

Politicians are by nature self-interested beings. Caucus members within the UCP are surely weighing their options as the Kenney government continues to crash and burn in public opinion. With less than two years to go before the next provincial election comes, they know the window for getting rid of Kenney is closing quickly. The only hope the UCP has of winning the next election is to get a new leader and show some sign of new direction, and soon.

Rumblings from caucus are soon going to become a roar.

There are two options for the UCP right now. They can keep Kenney into the next election and most likely hand Rachel Notley a second NDP term, or they can get on with finding a new leader and reconnecting with Albertans. The UCP now is simply too wildly unpopular to regain the trust of the electorate under Kenney’s leadership.

I still respect Jason Kenney and appreciate what he did on the federal front, along with his efforts to unite conservatives in Alberta. I would like to see Kenney retain what dignity he can by resigning for the sake of Alberta and his party. It would hurt his pride, but it still would be a better end to a political career than being kicked out by his own caucus, or by the electorate in a general election. His “best summer ever” strategy failed and it’s time to face the music.

I wish things had ended differently.

Cory Morgan is the Alberta Political Columnist for the Western Standard and Host of the Cory Morgan Show

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