The Alberta New Democratic Party will address a 1,500 long-term care bed shortage instead of bringing in two-tiered health care as the Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties are planning to do, party leader Brian Mason said on Monday.
Mason, speaking to the Red Deer Advocate, said the party’s plan is to strengthen public health care if it was elected to power on April 23.
“We’re strong defenders of that,” said Mason. “And we believe passionately that that’s the only way we can truly have an excellent world class health system that’s cost-effective and has good outcomes.”
Mason has been watching closely what his right-wing competitors are saying about health care as the campaign trail heads towards the provincial election.
He said the Wildrose Party plans for more private health care, which he believes ultimately results in two-tiered health care where “people with money can go to private clinics and get superior access.”
“The Wildrose are at least honest on this, but the Conservatives in the last two elections have hidden their plans from voters until after the election,” said Mason.
“And we think the same thing is happening again.”
Mason referred to a document presented to the Tory caucus in July 2010, indicating a number of proposals such as delisting of health services and creation of private health insurance options. A briefing note for former health minister Gene Zwozdesky suggests the same changes, said Mason.
“(Premier and Progressive Conservative leader) Alison Redford has been careful to say (her party) supports publicly funded health care,” said Mason. “It doesn’t mean it would be publicly delivered health care.”
Mason said his party would add 1,500 long-term care beds to meet a shortage because currently those patients requiring long-term care are ending up in hospital acute care beds.
“Academic experts will say the big problem with emergency room wait times is the lack of long-term care beds,” said Mason.
The Natural Health Practitioners of Canada is pressing parties to find out if they would accept a $1,500 holistic health and fitness tax credit where people could take advantage if they used things reflexology and naturopathy.
“It’s not our favoured approach — if these things should be covered, they should be covered,” said Mason. “You have to have a certain amount of money coming in to take advantage of tax credits to get any benefit from that, so it’s kind of an upper middle class solution to things.”
Mason, a former Edmonton city councillor, said it’s important to properly finance municipalities.
“Municipalities have to have access to adequate revenues to cover their responsibilities, and that they’re responsible to their own citizens for how they spend that money and not to other orders of government,” said Mason.
Some form of revenue sharing is very desirable, Mason said.
The Central Alberta Aquatics Centre is seeking provincial dollars for its $89-million complex in Red Deer because the City of Red Deer says it doesn’t have the resources to fund such a project for many years.
“I wouldn’t pick and choose projects for the city. I think we need to find a way to make sure they have enough money on the operating and capital side, and let them make their own decisions.”
Mason said he would favour Red Deer College receiving university status. He said he would bring in tuition fee reductions, starting next fall where institutions would receive a 10 per cent cut across in tuition, followed by a freeze and ban on ancillary (non-instructional) fees. The NDP would give $100 million to offset these changes next September, he said.
Mason would also reintroduce regulation of electricity prices if his party gets elected.
He’s also encouraged by what could take place in Red Deer on April 23, thanks to a couple of “good and enthusiastic candidates”, former Red Deer city councillor Lorna Watkinson-Zimmer running in Red Deer South and Derrek Seelinger in Red Deer North.
“Red Deer usually gets a good opposition vote and we think that’s coming our way,” said Mason.