Klein talks health care and hockey

By Joshua Johnson

With the NHL playoffs less than a month away, Premier Ralph Klein couldn’t help but talk a little hockey at this year’s Progressive Conservative fundraising dinner, Thu., Mar. 18. In front of an audience of over 1,400 party faithful, Klein boasted about the success of this year’s Calgary Flames, and took the opportunity to compare their club to his own.

"It’s exciting to have a team that’s working well," he said. "To have a team with the character it takes to create success. It’s also exciting to see how sticking to a game plan can net tangible and lasting results."

Klein outlined his team’s game plan for the next few years, which will focus on health care reform. Claiming health care costs have risen substantially over the past eight years, Klein warned Alberta’s current system isn’t sustainable and major changes will need to be made.

Although the how and when of these changes remains something to be dealt with in the near future, Klein promised immediate funding to expand and redevelop the trauma centre at the Foothills Hospital, as well as funding for the initial planning of a new hospital in southeast Calgary. It may be some time until Calgarians see this new hospital, however, as the Alberta government explores a public-private partnership that would allow the building contracts to be bought by private firms–an agreement Klein said he isn’t prepared to enter "willy-nilly."

"What we try to adjudicate is whether or not a public-private partnership will deliver a quality facility and at the same time save taxpayers dollars," said Klein. "If it doesn’t, we’ll proceed as a government."

When asked why his government didn’t just build the long-awaited hospital now, Klein criticized the notion that Alberta was "swimming in money" and argued surpluses should be spent prudently. Not an easy job, he said, after having received requests for over $9 billion of funding in just the last three weeks.

"It was easier dealing with a deficit back in the early and mid-90S," lamented Klein. "Then we could just say no, absolutely not, because the whole focus was on eliminating the deficit."

Eliminating the provincial debt remains a priority of the PC government, which Klein insisted is necessary to ensure the children of this province inherit the same, if not a better, quality of life as Albertans enjoy now.

"We won’t squander budget surpluses on the first people who walk through the door seeking more funds," said Klein.

While exactly who gets what money remained something to be seen in the government’s budget announcement, Wed., Mar. 24, Klein let Albertans in on one important piece of news.

"The Flames will finish fifth in the [Western Conference], and take out Vancouver in six games in the first round," predicted Klein. "Remem- ber, you heard it here first."


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