Why should we care about a dubious $7,000 out-of-country expense approved by a senior Alberta Health administrator for a work colleague six years ago?
Alberta Health, after all, will spend $7,000 every 13 seconds, every minute of every day this year.
We should care because the same Alberta Progressive Conservative Party that managed all that spending has been in power since 1971.
It’s under new leadership but has an enduring sense of entitlement borne of 12 consecutive majority governments in the past 41 years.
This government takes pains to care for its friends.
We should care because initial government response to the news — uncovered by the Wildrose Party through freedom-of-information requests — was demeaning and dismissive.
We should care because the bottom-line message is that one the one hand the Alberta health system of the day was deemed wholly sufficient for sick Albertans.
On the other hand, the system was judged suspect, if not second-rate, for Albertans with power, influence and deep inside knowledge of its strengths and flaws.
The incident arose in 2007 after Michele Lahey, then chief executive officer and vice-president of Capital Health, had a cancer scare.
She was tested locally and nothing was found.
Lahey then travelled to Minnesota for a second cancer test.
She did so on the advice of her boss, Sheila Weatherill, who said the Alberta government would pick up the tab.
The second Mayo Clinic test, which cost Albertans $7,725, confirmed the first one in Alberta.
Any private Albertans with the money, abundance of caution and fear of cancer could have made the same expensive trek to allay their worst fears.
But it’s not the same for a private citizen to act on worries about the quality of care offered in Alberta than for a one of its most senior managers to imply a second, out-of-province test was needed.
Nor is it the same for a worried civilian to pay the steep cost of an expensive American diagnosis than for the head of a provincial health region to put the tab for her subordinate on the taxpayers’ bill.
This news is bound to damage the Progressive Conservative government brand and the sinking fortunes of Premier Alison Redford.
A public opinion poll released by the respected Angus Reid agency last week shows Redford’s personal popularity among Albertans is crashing.
Eight months ago, she was soaring in the polls, garnering a 55 per cent approval rating.
The new poll shows a stunning nosedive: only 29 per cent of respondents rated her favourably.
Even worse, Redford’s personal numbers are barely half those of Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith (53 per cent).
They also lag behind ratings for NDP Leader Brian Mason and Liberal Leader Raj Sherman (both at 34 per cent), whose parties each captured only one in 10 votes cast in the 2012 provincial election.
Redford’s precipitous tumble in the poll comes hard on the heels of her budget last month.
It featured deep cuts in every provincial spending envelope and longstanding promises broken for certain Albertans (i.e. Michener Centre closure.)
News about the double standard for health care that was in play under Redford’s predecessor will fold into the growing narrative about abandoned Tory commitments.
With at least three more years in power, the Alberta government has time before the next election to improve its performance and image.
The premier does not have that same luxury of time.
She faces a leadership review by Progressive Conservative party members in November.
History shows they have little patience.
It’s instructive to contrast the outpouring of heartfelt comments for the beloved late Premier Ralph Klein last month and the brutal way he was ditched by rank and file Alberta Conservatives.
Previous to the 2006 convention, Klein consistently got votes from more than 90 per cent of delegates and that was the benchmark he set for himself.
That year, his long political career ended abysmally when he captured only 55 per cent of votes from party members.
That’s the same mark Redford scored in the latest Angus Reid poll.
Tuesday marks the first anniversary of her stunning 2012 election victory.
Now she faces a remarkable battle to survive a second year.
Fifty-five per cent didn’t cut it for Klein seven years ago.
Anything close to that number in future public opinion polls leading to the November party convention will doom Redford to a similar fate.
It may not be fair, but Alberta politics are bruising where it really counts, inside the Progressive Conservative Party.
They can be quick and merciless with the scalpel.
Joe McLaughlin is a retired former managing editor of the Red Deer Advocate.