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Premier Klein's critics fear health care privatization.
Ryan May/the Gauntlet

Klein announces health-care reform

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Premier Ralph Klein wants to start a new chapter in Alberta health care. Dubbed the "third way," Klein's proposed system, which lies somewhere between the existing one and the privatized American one, has been derided by critics.

Speaking at a Canadian Club luncheon in Calgary on Jan. 11, Klein made the case for his proposed reforms.

"We are about to start a new chapter in Alberta's history," he said. "So this is a good time to propose a new way for Albertans and Canadians to talk about issues, especially important issues like health care."

Opposition parties were notably frustrated with Klein's unwillingness to talk about health care during the provincial election this fall.

"What we have here is a premier with a privatization agenda, looking for justification," said Alberta Liberal Leader Kevin Taft.

Now Klein wants to move past talking.

"You're probably all sick of the debate [on health care]," said Klein. "I've been horribly frustrated and frankly, I'm sick of fighting over the Canada Health Act."

Moving on to say that it's past time to act on recommendations from studies that already exist--specifically the Mazankowski Report--Klein said he's done with commissioning any new reports. He just wants to get on with implementing suggestions about electronic health records and a mandatory wellness curriculum for students.

More generally, he wants to get on with the third way.

"Protectors of the status quo argue that there are only two kinds of health care systems in the world: The publicly funded one that they mistakenly believe is free, and the evil American one that makes you pay," said Klein.

"I totally reject the view that there are only two ways to go," he added. "In between a system that tries to provide all services to all people and a system that denies treatment, there's a third way. The third way combines best approaches from Alberta and Canada and combines them with the best from other countries."

According to Klein, the third way is about creating an innovative system.

"We have good health regions--let's see what they can do to become truly great. I want to take their shackles off, allow them to try new things and see what works and what doesn't. I'm saying to health regions, 'If you've got a good idea, you have this government's support to give it a try.'"

Klein also announced that the government will provide a $500 million investment to the heritage foundation for medical research.

The push for all this innovation, said Klein, is about the third way being open to new ideas, creating the healthiest population in Canada and being the right way to renew Alberta's health care system.

The premier promises that the third way is not about transplanting the U.S. system into Alberta.

"The third way may not necessarily be Canadian as we know it now, but it is certainly not American," said Klein anticipating this concern. "We're not going to take the American system and adopt that model in Alberta. Forget it. It's not going to happen."

However, when asked what he thinks about the fact that Calgarians can already receive medical procedures faster than their less wealthy peers, Klein denied knowledge of that happening: "To me, it's not evil."

Critics remain unconvinced.

"This isn't so much a Third Way as it is a third try at privatization," said Bev Dick, the vice-president of the United Nurses of Alberta.

Klein anticipated these reactions, but counterattacked for his speech's conclusion by returning to the subject of Alberta's 100th birthday.

"The reaction to what I'm saying this afternoon will be negative, I guarantee you," he claimed. "But we've always had the courage to face negative reactions. We've tackled Alberta's problems head-on for the first 100 years and will do that with health care too."

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