Protesters seize day

More than 600 protesters marched along city streets Saturday to show their disdain for Progressive Conservative health-care cutbacks in what could be Red Deer’s largest anti-government rally ever.

Shirley Costley of Calgary marches along Gaetz Avenue

More than 600 protesters marched along city streets Saturday to show their disdain for Progressive Conservative health-care cutbacks in what could be Red Deer’s largest anti-government rally ever.

Throngs of people climbed off chartered buses from Calgary and Edmonton in order to attend the Stop the Cuts! rally organized by Public Interest Alberta, Friends of Medicare and other lobby groups.

Organizers believe the protest was the biggest ever in the city.

The province aims to reduce health care costs overall by three per cent and as part of that has called on some nurses and other professionals to take early retirement. Several hundred hospital beds will close in Calgary and Edmonton.

David Eggen, executive director for Friends of Medicare, said their main purpose was to target the 1,200-some delegates attending the two-day Progressive Conservative annual general meeting at the Capri Centre, rather than the party leadership.

“We know there’s a lot of anger,” said Eggen. “We see that from the polls and we see that from the attempts to cut health care and education.”

According to one recent poll, the party’s popularity has dipped to a 16-year low while the upstart right-wing party Wildrose Alliance is gaining ground.

“I am sure that the size of the rally won’t be lost on Mr. (Ed) Stelmach and the whole cabinet,” Eggen said.

The boisterous group chanted “no more cuts!” and banged on pails as they marched towards the hotel. Some carried signs with messages of “Defend Medicare” and “Bye, bye Ed” while members from some of Alberta’s largest unions waved flags.

Traffic was halted for about 10 minutes as the marchers crossed Gaetz Avenue to their destination. Some drivers beeped horns as a sign of solidarity. Several Mounties and security personnel watched while the group paraded peacefully around the hotel parking lot.

Despite their best intentions, the protesters’ pleas were not heard inside the hall where Tory members gave one of two standing ovations to Premier Ed Stelmach on Saturday. He received 77.4 per cent support from party faithful to continue as leader.

Stelmach said later the government will remain a “strong supporter of public health.”

“The ministry of health will not see a reduction in funding,” Stelmach said. “They didn’t see a reduction last year and they won’t this coming year. There will be an increase in that department because our senior population is increasing, we have more people moving into the province, we’re doing more in terms of various surgeries.”

Money must also be set aside for widespread health issues like flu pandemics so there are enough resources to treat sick people, Stelmach added.

Guy Smith, president of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, called Stelmach “a decent man” after meeting him for the first time on Friday.

“The trouble is, he’s got people in his party who are pushing policies that are damaging to Albertans,” Smith said.

Stelmach’s vow to rein in government spending has Smith concerned.

“We haven’t seen an increase in spending in public services,” said Smith, who represents about 76,000 health care, government and municipal workers. “We didn’t get the kind of increases in staff resources even during the good times.”

Chris Leclerc, 18, of Red Deer, protested because he wants “adequate health care for all.”

“You have to try and figure out ways to make it better, and stop screwing up things,” Leclerc said.

Albertans have been outraged over the Calgary Flames getting H1N1 flu shots ahead of others and the province’s general handling of H1N1 vaccination clinics.

“If people are upset about the Calgary Flames, there are people who are jumping the queue all the time,” said Gail Desmoulins of Calgary. “People who have money can jump the queue to get an MRI or CAT scan ahead of those who can’t afford to.”

Just Posted

Man causes mischief with axe in Ponoka

Arson and attempted break and enter charges laid

Red Deer RCMP look for fraud suspect

Red Deer RCMP are looking for public assistance to identify a fraud… Continue reading

Blood donations needed in Central Alberta: Canadian Blood Services

357 donors are needed before Aug. 26 at the Red Deer clinic

WATCH: Red Deer man shaves beard for Mustard Seed

‘I have spent 30 years of my life being addicted to both alcohol and drugs’

Oilpatch fears delays as U.S. judge orders further review of KXL pipeline route

CALGARY — Potential delays in the completion of the Keystone XL pipeline… Continue reading

‘Queen of Soul’ Aretha Franklin dies at 76

NEW YORK — Aretha Franklin, the undisputed “Queen of Soul” who sang… Continue reading

Arrests in Burnaby, B.C., as order against Kinder Morgan protest camp enforced

BURNABY, B.C. — The RCMP arrested protesters Thursday as officers enforced a… Continue reading

‘Hot and dirty work:’ Commander describes fighting massive Ontario wildfire

BRITT, Ont. — From a helicopter flying over a smouldering swath of… Continue reading

Calgary Fire Department logs record opioid overdose calls in July

CALGARY — The Calgary Fire Department says there were a record number… Continue reading

RCMP in Burnaby, B.C., say Kinder Morgan protest camp to be dismantled

BURNABY, B.C. — The RCMP arrested protesters when officers enforced a court… Continue reading

Study: Smokers better off quitting, even with weight gain

NEW YORK — If you quit smoking and gain weight, it may… Continue reading

Italy says death toll will mount in Genoa bridge collapse

GENOA, Italy — The death toll from the collapse of a highway… Continue reading

Most Read

Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month