Sunday, September 23, 2007

What Are Alberta's Priorities?

Alberta, land of the "pseudo-Texan" and "minimalist government" in Canada...right?

Well - that depends on just whose priorities you are talking about. Albertans - and especially the conservative backers - love to spout off about how much less tax we pay, or how much less intrusive our governments are.

But, recent events really do have to make you wonder just what the Stelmach government's priorities are, and just how "minimal" the government really is.

Consider - Ted Morton's decision to allow seismic exploration on Marie Lake (a decision which Premier Stelmach subsequently had to overturn after residents continued to object). One could almost understand Morton's thinking here - after all why would he want to stand in the way of the "goose that laid the golden egg" in Alberta? Wouldn't that be undue government interference?

Then we encounter Alberta Hunting Day - another Ted Morton sponsored bit of stupidity. So, in Ted's mind, it's a bad thing for government to interfere with industry (at all, apparently), but the government should be telling us how we should spend our recreation time? WTF? I don't much care if somebody hunts - as long as they actually live on the meat they "bag", and only catch enough for their own needs for a year. I object to trophy hunting - if you want to brag about an animal, shoot them with a camera.

But, more egregious is Bill 41, quietly introduced to the Legislature just before it stood for summer recess. It's a tedious bit of reading - mostly a rather lengthy series of amendments to the Alberta Health Profession Statutes legislation. (I hope I've linked to the correct document here - the Queen's printer isn't exactly the most helpfully designed I've ever seen). This little turd of legislative "wisdom" appears to put our politicians smack in the midst of the complexities of the Alberta College of Physicians - the body which regulates the activities of our Doctors. Quite rightly, our doctors should be worried about this - The Alberta Con$ervatives have a long track record of taking control out of the hands of various groups and leaving them with untenable obligations.

For example, in the mid-90s, Ralph Klein's government took over gathering municipal and educational property taxes, and have subsequently proceeded to choke the access of those agencies to the funds involved. As a result, school boards are left with the responsibility for reaching salary agreements with teachers, and repairing schools - but are unable to levy the funds necessary to do so. Even worse, the government has taken it upon itself to impose settlements that are unfunded and then tell the school boards to "get creative" about it.

If I was the AMA, I'd be very worried about letting this bunch of ham-fisted lunks have more direct control than they already do over a regulatory body that has to date done its job quite reasonably. Allowing politicians to dictate who should be at the helm of these organizations, or control over policies and directives is extremely dangerous indeed. A reasoned regulatory framework must exist for good reasons, but at the same time, that framework must be held separate from direct interference from politicians (who are seldom qualified to speak to the ethical particulars of disciplines such as medicine).

There is a grand irony in this. Alberta has the most secretive government in the country, and the minister introducing the bill claims it will provide for greater accountability. Coming from this government, that's almost funny. In the greater picture of things, it really does make one wonder just what this government's priorities really are.

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