Premier challenged on health-care spending

EDMONTON — Premier Ed Stelmach’s experiment with spreading his government’s message through social media is being labelled by the opposition parties as an attempt to mislead Albertans on health-care spending.

EDMONTON — Premier Ed Stelmach’s experiment with spreading his government’s message through social media is being labelled by the opposition parties as an attempt to mislead Albertans on health-care spending.

A 20-minute Ask Premier Ed video was posted on YouTube Monday morning in which Stelmach answers questions that people had posted on Twitter.

At one point in the video, Stelmach flatly rejects a suggestion that Alberta has been cutting health dollars.

“We are not cutting health budgets,” the premier said. “Budgets will keeping increasing . . . but not at the same rate as they did in previous years.”

Stelmach makes no mention of Alberta’s health-care delivery agency and its struggles with a deficit that could reach $2 billion next year.

The Liberals said the response flies in the face of reality because hundreds of nursing jobs haven’t been filled and hundreds of hospital beds are closing across Alberta.

“There are fewer beds available, there’s longer waiting lists, there’s huge numbers of nursing positions not getting filled,” said Liberal health critic Kevin Taft.

“Frankly, it doesn’t matter what Ed Stelmach claims. People aren’t believing him.”

Taft said one of his party’s websites has drawn 500 responses from voters unsatisfied with the province’s health care.

“My 84-year-old father was admitted to the Grey Nuns Hospital, but had to stay in the emergency department for nearly four days before he could get a proper hospital bed, because the hospital was full,” says one posting.

“The emergency staff are being run ragged. We should be adding beds and staff to our system, not cutting it back!”

Another posting talks about spending cuts in long-term care facilities, where even snacks are considered extras after recent cost-cutting measures.

“Long-term care residents have now been cut off their peanut butter, creamers, and are now paying for napkins and plastic cutlery,” says the posting.

“Why not let them trade places with the inmates of our provincial prisons? If our seniors were in the prisons, they would get better benefits and care.”

NDP Leader Brian Mason said Stelmach is using social media to give Albertans “the same old spin.”

“The misleading information being provided by the government remains the same,” said Mason. “When you’re closing beds and reducing the number of nurses, you’re cutting health care.”

Mason accused the premier of playing with numbers by focusing his message on the actual increase in the government’s budget, while ignoring the cuts that Alberta Health Services is being forced to make.

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