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UCP members pass resolution at AGM calling for privately funded health care option

EDMONTON — Members of Alberta’s governing United Conservative Party have narrowly endorsed a resolution at their party’s annual general meeting that supports the option of a privately funded and privately managed health-care system that would operate parallel to the public one.

The policy resolution was one of 30 that members approved during voting on Saturday, but it passed with the slimmest majority.

Just under 53 per cent of the 793 who voted supported the resolution in favour of allowing a privately funded health option.

Premier Jason Kenney and his UCP government have previously proposed privately delivered care for minor procedures, but have said any changes would still be funded publicly.

The resolution says that patients given a choice between public or private service would be able to divert themselves from public waitlists to the benefit of all patients.

Christine Myatt, a spokeswoman in Kenney’s office, says the platform the government was elected on in 2019 states the UCP will maintain a universally accessible, publicly funded health care system.

“It is the 2019 electoral platform which has a direct democratic mandate, since that is what all Albertans were able to vote on,” Myatt said, also saying that platform pledges to maintain or increase health spending.

“Policy resolutions passed this weekend will help inform the development of the 2023 electoral platform. We will of course be consulting with many groups in the development of the 2023 platform.”

Myatt also noted that platform policies must also be consistent with Canadian law, including the Charter and the Canada Health Act. 

Last month, the B.C. Supreme Court ruled against a doctor calling for the right to pay for private health care, saying it validates Canada’s universal health-care system.

Alberta’s Opposition NDP called the weekend resolution “American-style for-profit health care” and said Kenney and Health Minister Tyler Shandro should immediately reject it.

“If Kenney and Shandro won’t denounce this policy, it is because privatizing health care was their plan all along,” the party’s health critic, David Shepherd, said in a news release Sunday.

Shandro announced last week the province’s health delivery agency would cut 11,000 jobs, partly through contracting out of laundry and lab services. He estimated the cuts would save up to $600 million a year, but said no front-line workers or nurses would lose their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

He also said every dollar saved will be reinvested in patient care.

Myatt said the Alberta government’s priority is “improving Albertans’ access to publicly-funded health services.”

The party’s annual general meeting was a “virtual” event and members took part and voted online due to pandemic restrictions.

UCP members passed other resolutions that include a call for the government to make Alberta a right-to-work jurisdiction, so that no worker be required to join a collective bargaining unit in order to be hired. That resolution also included in its rationale that no employer should be compelled to deduct union dues without the prior written confidential consent of the employee.

Other resolutions called for the province to establish its own provincial police force, collect its own taxes, and to improve care for the elderly.

When Kenney ran for leadership of the recently merged UCP in 2017, he made a “grassroots guarantee” to listen to party members on policy decisions. 

But a year later when party members passed a contentious resolution that would have required parents be notified if their children joined gay-straight alliances, he suggested the guarantee was more of a pledge to consult.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 18, 2020.

Rob Drinkwater, The Canadian Press

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