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Two Alberta Parties, One Guv'nor: In 2015, the only way to protect health care is to vote NDP

Danielle Smith

In case you missed it amidst all the excitement over Progressive Conservative Premier Jim Prentice's literal bus wreck of a campaign, the leader of Austerity Party 2 has been recycling old campaign promises from the 2012 Wildrose Party campaign.

To wit, on Monday, Wildrose Leader Brian Jean pledged "waiting time guarantees" for five medical procedures associated with treatment delays, like hip and knee replacements and cataract surgeries.

"If a Wildrose government fails to meet its own targets, Albertans can go to a private clinic or out of province for the procedures and be reimbursed by the public system," one local newspaper enthusiastically reported, taking an awful long time to get to the fine print.

The fine print is that they’d only reimburse you the Alberta Health Services cost, and you'd be on your own to come up with the difference to have the procedure done in the for-profit private sector on either side of the world's longest undefended Medicine Line.

So this allows for the instant creation of a two-tier system on this side of the border, with better care for people who can afford it and all the costly problems dumped on the public system, leading to less efficiency and longer wait times for the rest of us.

Not so oddly, Wildrose leader (ret.) Danielle Smith trotted out exactly the same policy in almost the same words in April 2012. Gee, I wonder how that coincidence came about?

Ever since the retirement of premier Peter Lougheed, who from the vantage point of the early 21st Century is starting to look a lot like Alberta's first New Democrat premier, the Progressive Conservative Party now led by Prentice has been playing the game of strategically starving the health care system for funds in hopes of creating public demand for private sector "solutions."

This has never worked as well as intended because voters actually seem to understand what it would do to the system, but the PCs and their ideological twins in the Wildrose Camp keep trying, and the Smith-Jean wait-list proposal in 2012 and 2015 is just another kick at the same old can.

Ironically, unlike 2012, the media did a slightly better job of explaining what's wrong with this notion -- although only because Health Minister Stephen Mandel, a PC who has apparently been reading the polling results just like the rest of us, spelled it out for them.

Well, good on Mandel on that specific issue, but as the Alberta New Democrats pointed out a couple of days before, the same PCs have opened the door to pretty much the same practice by allowing a private health care clinic continue to operate in Calgary.

Despite "serious concerns" raised by the province’s own senior health officials about the legality of the clinic, the PCs, including the Prentice PCs, have refused to do anything about it.

"The truth is, the PCs are just as intent on keeping the door open to private medicine as the Wildrose," the NDP said in a news release on Monday, the same day Jean was re-announcing Smith's two-tier medicine scheme.

Which brings us back to Smith, who seems to be getting over the funk caused by the refusal of Prentice's PCs to endorse her as a candidate, despite her efforts last December to move the entire Wildrose caucus over to the Tory side of the Legislature.

"Remember that time I said conservatives needed to reunite or the left would gain from a vote split?" she Tweeted last week, linking to an Edmonton Journal story praising NDP Leader Rachel Notley.

And -- Holy Cow! -- Don Braid, the Calgary Herald's normally government-friendly columnist was soon opining about just that, how polls showing a three-way NDP-Wildrose-PC statistical tie and the spectre of an Orange Wave, Alberta style, could force a marriage between Austerity Party 1 and Austerity Party 2.

Could a minority situation in the Legislature finally show the PCs and Wildrose 2.0 that Smith and Preston Manning were right, and the two parties must unite to save Alberta from the horror of an NDP with real power?

Well, they do believe in pretty much the same things, as their constant yearning for two-tier health care demonstrates. But then again, nowadays Wildrosers and Tories hate each other as only Liberals could hate New Democrats in the Alberta of yore.

You know what they say: In a civil war you know who the real villains are!

Smith's pleadings notwithstanding, one of the Austerity parties and the New Democrats are as likely to find a way to work together as are the PCs and Wildrose. Stranger things have happened.

Just the same, her real point is a fair one: The two right-wing parties have one guv'nor and will do whatever they can to undermine public health care, so the only safe way to protect it in 2015 is to vote NDP.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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