Jason Kenney appears to be continuing on the campaign trail for the 2019 general election in Alberta. Kenney launched his campaign to become the leader of the United Conservative Party, a merger of the former Wildrose Party and Progressive Conservative Party, in 2016. A year away from the election, Albertans can only assume an increase in similar campaign-style stops throughout the province.
The important take away from the stop is the power of the conservative organizing wing to challenge other parties in the province, and the risk of inaccurate information being disseminated through appearing legitimate means. Kenney’s campaign stop on February 12, 2018, was hosted in the council hall at Whitecourt city council. The location of the speech from Kenney is significant. The Mayor of Whitecourt, Maryann Chichak, was a major contributor to the Wildrose Party who donated $7,800 between 2011 and 2012, a year before her first term in office, which is when her donation records stop.¹ The event’s location highlights the ability of conservatives to utilize their connections and the professional title of their connections to legitimize what is being said in their speech, this is an appeal to authority. In the subconscious mind, this means whatever Kenney is saying is legitimized because he is using the symbolism of being supported by well-liked municipal politicians. Using the appeal of local politicians to legitimize inaccurate information for this political gain only hurts the general public, here’s why. During his speech Kenney said,
I do not think it’s a coincidence that BC and QC have the lowest per capita health expenditures in Canada, and also the shortest surgical wait times. They also happen to be the two provinces that allow for the most private clinics operating in their systems. Often doing things more efficient than state-run hospitals. They aren’t afraid to contract out to private providers. Don’t get me wrong, no one has to take out a credit card to get health care.
Here’s my view. If a hospital could set up in Alberta to do joint surgery for 25% less than state hospitals, then why would we block them. Why wouldn’t we contract them to do the joint surgeries? That means fewer people living in pain. Access to a waiting list is not access to health care. And you know what happens, the wealthy and the desperate end up going elsewhere. Whether it’s the Cambie clinic in Vancouver, or to the states, or Mexico.²
The problem with Kenney statements is that he isn’t correct. The latest report on joint surgical wait times in Canada from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) sets a benchmark for surgery at 182-days for hip and knee surgeries, and hip fracture repairs. By comparison, Alberta leads British Columbia in both hip and knee surgeries. The statistics show that Albertans receive knee surgeries in 182-days in 82% of cases, whereas British Columbians only meet the 182-day benchmark in 61% of cases. The difference for knee replacements is greater with Alberta at 77% and British Columbia at 41%.³
Kenney goes on to state he supports the idea of a privatizing health care delivery (meaning hospitals and other facilities), similar to British Columbia and Quebec, but maintain universal healthcare insurance, claiming that setup will relieve pressure on the system. He uses the statistics mentioned earlier to justify the switch. But what he fails to mention is the fact that in existing two-tiered systems, the public system suffers and remains pressured. This is due to the effect of doctors leaving publicly funded hospitals for private facilities, which often offer better hours and higher earnings. This effect fails to reduce the pressure on the public system, sometimes worsening it for those who can’t afford private hospitals or clinics. Further to the point, provincial governments often refuse to cover operations performed in a private hospital due to the increased cost.
Kenney isn’t necessarily incorrect in highlighting problems in the healthcare system. Without a doubt, each province’s healthcare system faces the immense challenge of providing care to millions of citizens while maximizing each dollar alotted from the provincial budget. Where Kenney is wrong is using the appeal of municipal politicians, who support his ideology, to further a narrative of incorrect information leading to a worsening condition for the people who need the health care system the most. The people that he claims to be protecting.
¹ Elections Alberta. “Financial Disclosure — Contributor Search.” Accessed March 29, 2018. http://efpublic.elections.ab.ca/efCTACSSearch.cfm?MODE=BROWSE&MID=CT_ACS.
² Jason Kenney. Speech in Whitecourt, Alberta, February 12, 2018
³ “Benchmarks for treatment and wait time trending across Canada.” Canadian Institute for Health Information. [Accessed March 29, 2018] http://waittimes.cihi.ca/