Strengthening and supporting health care across the province will be one of the top priorities of the UCP government during the new session of the legislature, said Premier Jason Kenney.
Critics, including the official Opposition, say the UCP government will not be doing enough to support students, child care, small businesses or the environment.
The government’s plans were laid out in the speech from the throne released Tuesday.
During a press conference prior to the speech being delivered by Lieutenant Governor Salma Lakhani, Kenney said other priorities will include job creation and regulatory changes to the education system.
“This is a throne speech that focuses on expanding health-care capacity, creating jobs and economic growth while strengthening public and recognizing what is unique about Alberta as we build a stronger province,” said Kenney.
“With a growing population, we know that we will need additional basic hospital capacity and that is why the throne speech and the budget will both speak to critical, historic investments in building and expanding Alberta hospitals.
“One of the things we learned from the COVID-19 situation is the need to expand health-care capacity. Obviously COVID had continued to have a damaging impact on our boarder health-care system, including surgical wait times.”
Specifically regarding health care, Kenney said the province will be investing to increase the baseline number of intensive care unit beds in the province.
The throne speech states: “Despite having one of the best-funded health-care systems in the world, COVID has revealed shortcomings that we simply must address.
“First and foremost, that means building greater capacity while getting more value for our immense health-care spending. To do so, the government will accelerate the Alberta Surgical Initiative, significantly increasing the number of surgeries performed in chartered surgical facilities in order to reduce wait times that have grown during COVID.”
The government is planning “major capital investments” to expand and modernize hospital capacity, including at the Red Deer Regional Hospital and an expansion of Edmonton’s Neuroscience and Mental Health Institute.
“The government will increase health-care capacity by expanding intensive care while training and recruiting more key health-care workers. This will make our system more resilient for potential future waves of COVID-19.”
A new Continuing Care Act will be introduced “implementing recommendations of a recent review to make the system more responsive and sustainable.”
The government plans to introduce a Red Tape Reduction Implementation Act to “enhance our regulatory environment and advance the goal of reducing Alberta’s regulatory burden by one-third to attract more job-creating investment.”
The government also plans to “protect consumers from higher utility costs” by introducing a “natural gas protection program similar to rebate programs used in the past.”
The government will bring forward regulatory improvements to “help create new charter schools and better support existing charters to realize the promise of the Choice in Education Act.
The minister of Alberta Education will introduce legislation to “strengthen protection for school children, ensuring that staff who are found to have engaged in misconduct face the full force of the law.”
A memorial to the victims of residential schools system will be erected on the legislature grounds.
Official opposition leader Rachel Notley says the UCP government is not doing enough to support public health care and education.
“The premier has already indicated he is going to make the largest move towards for-profit health care our province has ever seen,” said Notley. “He has shown a complete disregard for post-secondary (education), cutting more than $600 million from schools since taking office.
"He has left our K-12 classrooms to fend for themselves during an unprecedented health-care crisis. He’s demonized teachers and cut hundreds of millions of dollars from classrooms and imposed a curriculum that no one supports.”
The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE), the province’s largest union, says the throne speech signals plans to cut services and introduce privatization.
“The throne speech did not have anything good to say about public service, and what it did say should alarm all Albertans,” said AUPE vice president Susan Slade. “The last thing we all need in tough times like this is more privatization. This is especially true in for-profit care facilities, where research shows an increased risk of death by COVID-19.”
The 2022 provincial budget will be released Thursday.