Alberta NDP says B.C. doctor deal a wake-up call to Smith to knock off pseudo-science

EDMONTON — Alberta’s Opposition NDP leader says a proposed pay deal for B.C. doctors is a wake-up call to Premier Danielle Smith to knock off the pseudo-science and put down the wrecking ball aimed at the province’s health system.

Rachel Notley says the B.C. contract shows the race is on for scarce talent in the health field and that the organizational chaos and anti-science bent of Smith’s government are setting Alberta back.

“People who are trained in health care — whether they are nurses' aides, whether they are neurosurgeons — all understand evidence and science,” Notley said Tuesday.

“And those folks being told they have to work in a health-care system that is being led by a premier who doesn’t believe that vaccines are an important part of any health-care regime, those folks are much more likely to go somewhere else.

“All this at a time when we see other provinces acting quickly to attract health-care professionals to their jurisdictions.”

This week the B.C. government announced a tentative deal that could see a full-time family doctor paid about $385,000 a year – a pay boost of about one-third from the current $250,000.

Notley said it’s hard to make direct comparisons, but the B.C. deal is on par if not better than Alberta’s.

Alberta Health spokesman Steve Buick disputed that.

“More fearmongering by Alberta’s NDP does not change the facts: Alberta full-time family doctors were paid $393,000 in 2019-20, more than the $385,000 B.C.’s new deal would pay them next year. And Alberta’s family doctors will earn more compensation under the new agreement with the Alberta Medical Association,” said Buick in a statement.

“The NDP are once again showing they have nothing to contribute on health care but empty politics.”

Smith became premier three weeks ago, replacing Jason Kenney as United Conservative Party leader and premier.

She campaigned on a platform that blamed Alberta Health Services, the agency tasked with operating front-line care, for what she terms punitive and unnecessary vaccine mandates and rules. She also blames the agency for fumbling the COVID-19 response, leading to hospitals teetering dangerously close to collapse during multiple waves of the pandemic.

Smith said action must be taken immediately to fix jammed emergency wards and ambulance bottlenecks. She has promised to fire the AHS board and revamp the entire system with an eye to decentralizing it by mid-January.

She has also promised to not impose new health restrictions or mask mandates to combat any future COVID-19 outbreak. She is contemplating legal steps to ensure schools can’t impose mask rules, and next month plans to change human rights laws to forbid discrimination, such as banning someone from coming to work because they are not vaccinated against COVID-19.

Smith, on her first day as premier on Oct. 11, said she takes her health cues from documents such as the Great Barrington Declaration. The 2020 open letter from a group of health specialists argues for shielding the vulnerable but otherwise letting COVID-19 run unchecked to create herd immunity and reduce long-term harmful side-effects from isolation, such as drug use and mental health problems.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, publicly rejected the declaration, calling it scientifically flawed and logistically unworkable. Her views echoed other academics and the World Health Organization.

Smith has said Hinshaw will be moved out of her current job.

The premier also said she will not do joint press conferences with Hinshaw, and on Oct. 22 told reporters, “A lot of the bad decisions were made by Alberta Health Services on the basis of bad advice from the chief medical officer of health.”

She has also asserted that allowing health workers to come to work without being vaccinated would be a drawing card, something Notley labelled “an utterly ridiculous, ridiculous assertion.”

Smith, a former journalist, has made headlines for arguments challenging mainstream science. Last year, she pushed for livestock dewormer ivermectin to be used as a COVID-19 treatment – a cure since debunked.

This summer, she apologized after announcing on a livestream interview that people have it within their power to avoid contracting early-stage cancer.

The UCP government has had a fractious relationship with health providers since it tore up the doctors’ master agreement almost three years ago, then fought to roll back nurses’ wages during the pandemic.

The doctors have since agreed to a four-year deal that delivers pay hikes of four per cent or more.

The Alberta Medical Association said it plans to continue suing the province for tearing up the agreement, unless the province follows through on revoking the legislature power it granted itself to tear up the deal in the first place.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 1, 2022.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press