Wednesday, January 10, 2007


There's good news today in the fight for effective public health care, as Alberta Health Minister Dave Hancock says that the Stelmach government will focus on improving the public system rather than continuing Ralph Klein's efforts to undermine it:
The days of Alberta igniting controversies over health care privatization are done, said Dave Hancock.

"As far as I'm concerned the whole public/private delivery question has had more heat than light," Mr. Hancock said. "Public/private was about choice but didn't really help with the sustainability. Sustainability has got to be the focus."

Under former premier Ralph Klein, Mr. Hancock said, the province's Conservative government had been led "astray" by proposals such as Mr. Klein's "Third Way" -- a European-style mixture of private and public health care delivery...

(T)he damage inflicted by Mr. Klein's bumbling public relations strategy has left Alberta less prepared to modernize its health care system than other provinces, said Faron Ellis, a political science professor at Lethbridge Community College.

"Not only are we falling behind on innovation and reforms," he said, "we seem to have completely stalled the process."
This being a National Post article, the rest of the text consists of efforts to pressure Hancock away from his sensible decision, as well as predictions that provinces won't have any choice but to privatize. But while the Post may want to claim that there's no room for debate with future moves toward privatization, Hancock's message signals that the debate may be close to resolved in the other direction. If Alberta is now looking to put its efforts behind innovation and improvement within a public structure, that will have two major effects which could prove decisive.

First, it will remove the loudest pro-privatization voice from the ongoing health care discussion. And once other provinces lose the excuse that their own privatization pushes aren't as bad as Klein's, it'll be far more difficult for them to privatize quietly.

Second, the announcement presumably signals that Alberta will be removing resources from its past privatization efforts, and putting them into public-system improvements instead. Which should both make Alberta's own system more effective, and result in the development of better practices which can be applied in other provinces as well. And those improvements in turn should undermine the case for privatization as being the only way in which health care can evolve.

Of course, one can't take Hancock's devotion to the public system for granted, and it may be that he simply sees some positive PR now as more likely to enable his department to make its own quiet changes later on. But for the moment, Canada no longer has a single provincial government willing to explicitly defend a plan to move health care into private hands. And that can only help the cause of preserving and improving the public system.

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