EDMONTON — Alberta Health Minister Sarah Hoffman says she plans to introduce legislation to strengthen public health care.
Hoffman says she’s been considering it for awhile and she’s not trying to deepen a policy wedge between the NDP government and Opposition Leader Jason Kenney’s United Conservatives.
“It’s something I’ve been grappling with for a few years in how we could find ways to improve and strengthen the public health-care system here in Alberta. I think, why not today?” Hoffman said at the legislature Wednesday.
She could not give details on her intended bill because parliamentary rules dictate the contents must be given to legislators before the public.
Sources have told The Canadian Press that the proposed law will be the government’s signature bill of the new session, which begins Monday with a throne speech. Hoffman said she could not confirm that.
A bill could be introduced and debated or it could be abandoned altogether should Premier Rachel Notley decide to call an election after the throne speech. A vote must be held, by law, by May 31.
Health care is expected to be a key dividing issue in the upcoming campaign.
The New Democrats, who say slashing critical services during an economic downturn is cruel and counterproductive, have continued to fund growth in health care and education. But that has come at the cost of multibillion-dollar budget deficits.
Kenney has promised that a United Conservative government would honour the basics of universal, publicly funded health care, but would explore more private delivery options under a public umbrella if that would improve services and wait times.
He has also promised to roll back the NDP’s plan to reorganize medical lab services under government control. He says there’s evidence they can be handled by the private sector.
Speaking in Calgary, Kenney dismissed Hoffman’s bill as a political prop in an NDP campaign to frighten voters into believing his party poses a threat to publicly funded care.
“They love trying to scare patients and seniors but it won’t work,” said Kenney.
Political scientist Duane Bratt said health care and health-care privatization have been core issues in previous campaigns, but not this time around.
“(In) all the polling data I have seen about issues, health care isn’t even in the Top 5 anymore. It’s all economic issues,” said Bratt of Mount Royal University in Calgary.
Kenney also announced Wednesday that a UCP government would privatize laundry and linen services in hospitals to save taxpayers millions of dollars.
He said some other provinces have already outsourced the work because they understand “that competition gets more bang for the taxpayers’ buck than monopolies.”
Bonnie Gostola, vice-president with the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, said privatization does not mean equality of results.
“After hospital laundry services were privatized in Saskatchewan, news reports described incidents where medical sharps and other debris were found in so-called ‘clean’ laundry returned by the private contractor,” she said in a statement.