MacBeth visits campus in health town hall

By Roman Zakaluzny

While cold winds and snow began to blow outside on Wednesday evening, it was all hot air inside as provincial Liberal leader Nancy MacBeth spoke to a Town Hall meeting on health care. If Premier Ralph Klein has his way, she argued, the only winds in Alberta are those of change–to a privatized system of healthcare.

Speaking beneath Liberal posters to a strongly partisan crowd of over 100 in ST 140, MacBeth responded to the flurry of healthcare announcements from Klein’s office over the last three days.

"I call it a ‘frenzy’," said MacBeth, describing Klein’s activities since the start of the week. "He in effect buried what he wanted buried: the fact that he wants to bring in a privatized system."

On Monday, Klein announced a six-point plan on healthcare, promising an injection of $1 billion. He also announced that some medical procedures, like overnight surgeries, could be contracted out to private companies which could perform them more efficiently. This issue has raised the ire of provincial and federal Liberals who fear the possibility of a two-tiered system.

"We’re committed to public healthcare universal to all," said U of C Liberal Association President Michael Jensen. "On the one hand, Mr. Klein says it does not violate the Canada Health Act to ‘contract out.’ Yet last week, he failed to get the other nine premiers to call on Ottawa to ‘relax’ the act. Why would you need to relax the act if contracting out is not in violation of it?"

"There are waiting lists for heart surgeries and hip replacements," responded U of C Progressive Conservative Association President Lanny Westersund. "Contracting out is the quickest and most efficient way to get the job done."

The Canada Health Act is a federal measure that ensures all provinces comply with a minimum standard in providing healthcare.

"There are principles to the Canada Health Act that would always remain in effect," explained Westersund. "For example, universality and no jumping the queue."

Westersund doesn’t buy the view that the Tories are bringing about a two-tiered system.

"When Premier Klein holds up his provincial health care card and says that Alberta will remain in line with the spirit of the Canada Health Act, he will stay in line with the Canada Health Act," he said.

MacBeth spoke for 45 minutes to the mainly older crowd, which often broke out in spontaneous applause to MacBeth’s stronger criticisms of Klein’s politics. But not all students there agreed with her views.

"I’m personally for private healthcare," said fifth-year political science student Bryce Currie. "Public healthcare just doesn’t have the means to support itself. People with money already go to Mexico or the US for treatment. Why not have that money spent here in Alberta, instead?"

Third-year nursing student Joy Haldane said her choice of faculty brought her to the Town Hall and agreed with MacBeth on some points.

"The wool’s being pulled over our eyes," she said. "I think it’s pretty alarming what’s going on in terms of privatization."

The Town Hall came after the news that vocal provincial New Democrat leader Pam Barrett had resigned earlier in the day. MacBeth did not know any details of Barrett’s resignation, but seemed surprised by the news.

"We lost a good person in the fight for healthcare today," she said.

Shortly before she took questions from the audience, MacBeth wished for one thing from the Klein government.

"This is the Tories’ third time at bat to try and bring in privatization," she said. "I hope it’s three strikes, they’re out."

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