Politicians disagree over the benefits and problems surrounding the use of private health care.
Gauntlet file photo

Penetrating politicians' priorities on health

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From 1992-2006 Ralph Klein's government instituted setbacks in Alberta's health care, despite enjoying a booming economy and a majority government. As Alberta heads into another election and there is uncertainty of future leadership, it's not clear what direction our health care will take. The four main parties pointed out major challenges that the Alberta government and its people face in the fields of health care. Alberta NDP spokesman Lou Arab identified Alberta's largest health issue as the waiting times in Alberta's emergency rooms, pointing to seniors being housed in hospitals and the ER.

"We need more community-based primary care clinics with doctors, nurses, and paramedics to allow more options for people who need health care in a hurry," said Arab.

The NDP would like to implement a prescription drug program to alleviate the burden from Albertans. He noted he hopes the program would be adopted nationally to increase the benefit to individuals. He added that a NDP government would also make more spaces available in hospitals by creating more long-term care facilities.

Whereas the NDP are more focused on primary and long-term care, Progressive Conservative candidate for Calgary-Varsity, Jennifer Diakiw, identified the shortage of health care providers being the biggest challenge facing Alberta.

"It's a national issue, Alberta is competing with the rest of Canada and North America," said Diakiw.

Diakiw added that Alberta leads the country in recruiting more health care professionals from 2003-06. She further explained that the PC focus will be on expanding the workforce. In his throne speech, the Premier announced plans to create 25 new physician training spaces at the U of C and U of A, 350 RN and 220 LPN positions. Diakiw added that they will continue to recruit qualified foreign-trained health care professionals and support them in making the transition through ESL training offered through the medical faculties at the two universities.

But incumbent MLA and Alberta Liberal representative Harry Chase pointed out that modern recruiting drives haven't made up for past health care cuts.

"We are still recovering from the foolishness in the '90s where we lost half our hospitals like the Holy Cross, the General Hospitals, and the Grace Hospital and the personnel that staffed them," said Chase. "There is a lack of infrastructure and a loss of bed capacity."

Chase explained that the Liberal focus is on training more Alberta health care professionals and restoring university seats dedicated to physician and health care training. They would like to regain bed capacities by creating more specialized centers and create clinics and care centers in Southeast and North Calgary. Chase explained that the Liberal Party, who have called for re-regulating the electricity sector since the deregulation of the market in Jan. 2001, also believe that the health care privatization would not be a benefit to Albertan citizens.

"We have been in favour of getting rid of premiums because they are a tax burden to Albertans," said Chase.

Arab had stronger words towards the concept of privatizing health care, pointing out the uniqueness of the NDP's position as the only party that doesn't take corporate funds.

"Privatization will take doctors and nurses out of the health care system," he said. "PC and Liberal parties get donations from private insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies and health care providers that are lobbying for privatization. The NDP doesn't accept donations from these types of groups."

Diakiw added that the PC party, who introduced the concept of privatizing some health care services, understood the delicate balance that must be struck when discussing the concept of privatization of services.

"This issue had been discussed before and we continue to look for a way to ensure that health care will be accessible to all Albertans," said Diakiw.