Health changes would first need clear public mandate
Although Premier Alison Redford continues to hold a large lead over her opposition party rivals, at least according to recent polls, it would be a mistake for the new Alberta leader to assume she has a free hand to radically modify the province's public health-care system at this point.
While Redford certainly does have the backing of the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party, as evidenced by her recent leadership win, she does not yet have a new mandate from Alberta voters.
And until that happens, Redford should hold back any plans she may or may not have to introduce major health-care reforms until the next provincial election campaign has run its course.
The ever-contentious issue of public versus private health care recently raised its head again when federal Conservative finance minister Jim Flaherty announced a new formula for federal health transfers to the provinces.
In an announcement that caused an immediate stir among premiers from coast to coast, Flaherty said in four years' time federal transfer payments to the provinces will be tied to Gross Domestic Product.
According to some observers, that new system could translate into markedly reduced cash flow into Alberta to pay for hospitals and other health-care services.
Premiers from Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, Manitoba, P.E.I., Newfoundland, Ontario and Quebec all questioned the Flaherty plan.
ìIt will essentially divide the country into wealthier provinces that have a better ability to provide health care and those with lesser ability to be able to provide the same services,î Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter reportedly said.
Alberta Premier Redford, on the other hand, reportedly said her government is willing to cooperate with the federal government to make the new plan work.
In response, Liberal opposition leader Raj Sherman says he believes Redford's positive reaction to the Flaherty plan points to hidden plans to privatized health care in Alberta.
ìOur premier is silent, which suggests to me that she and her old boys' club cabinet are perfectly happy to see health transfers trimmed, because it suits their backroom agenda to privatize public health care,î said Sherman.
Anyone who has followed Alberta politics in recent years knows very well that the opposition parties have played the ìprivatization of health careî card many times, all with little or no impact at the polls.
Yet this time around, Premier Redford would be on dangerous political ground if she uses the announcement of the Flaherty plan as an excuse to move ahead with major health-care reforms before first garnering a new and clear mandate from Alberta voters.