Health-care inquiry becomes war of words

Alberta’s opposition Wildrose party cranked the heat up to full boil on Premier Alison Redford Wednesday, calling her a liar over her handling of an inquiry into health-care misdeeds.

EDMONTON — Alberta’s opposition Wildrose party cranked the heat up to full boil on Premier Alison Redford Wednesday, calling her a liar over her handling of an inquiry into health-care misdeeds.

The accusation was the focal point of a pitched partisan pre-election fight between the two parties, waged on the airwaves and on social media. The row featured references to corruption, the Bible and Wildrose critic Rob Anderson’s mother.

Wildrose leader Danielle Smith accused Redford of deliberately deceiving the public about what the new inquiry can and cannot legally look into.

“She’s just not telling the truth,” said Smith.

“This is a woman that can’t be trusted. She will say anything to get into power and, once she is there, her promises are not worth the paper they are written on.”

Redford — following up on a scathing Health Quality Council report of abuse and mismanagement in the system — promised as late as last week that the inquiry would further explore evidence doctors had been bullied and sanctioned for speaking out.

But on Tuesday, Health Minister Fred Horne said the inquiry will be given a mandate to look only into allegations that some patients were being allowed to jump the line for treatments and surgeries.

Redford told a radio show Wednesday that while those are the marching orders, if the panel uncovers information of doctor bullying while exploring the queue-jumping issue, it can go anywhere it wants.

“If (queue-jumping) has happened — and that’s the point of the inquiry — we’re probably going to find as a result of that, there were connections to doctor intimidation,” said Redford.

She said they’re taking the advice of the Health Quality Council, which said the bully issue has been fully investigated and future money would be better spent fixing the problem.

“When I decided to run for leader, I talked about doing things differently, being transparent and being open. There are many suggestions that’s not the case. It’s simply not true,” said Redford.

Smith, however, said inquiries are not free to roam outside their mandates.

Those mandates, she said, are critical legal fences to keep inquiries on track and, more importantly, to prevent them from abusing their subpoena powers and pulling in anyone for questioning on any subject they want.

Smith and other critics note the Health Quality Council report focused on doctors being bullied for speaking out on patient care, not on queue-jumping, and did not dig deep enough to find out if politicians were involved.

One politician accused of intimidation is Horne. As an associate minister a year ago, he called the head of the Alberta Medical Association to express concern about the mental state of Raj Sherman, who at the time was a fellow Tory colleague and emergency room doctor. Sherman was expelled from caucus for speaking out on health care.

Sherman, who has since crossed the floor to become Liberal leader, said it was a smear call. And he added it was “a joke” that Fred Horne could announce there will be, in effect, no further inquiry into the actions of Fred Horne.

Smith said the issue puts Redford’s credibility as a leader front and centre in the upcoming election. Redford is expected to drop the writ in three weeks. Early polls have her Tories in a comfortable lead, but with the Wildrose in second spot and rising.

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