Health Minister Tyler Shandro must step down after doctors reject agreement, Opposition says

·3 min read
Health Minister Tyler Shandro is facing calls to be moved out of his portfolio after the physicians rejected a tentative deal between the government and the Alberta Medical Association.  (Manuel Carrillos/CBC - image credit)
Health Minister Tyler Shandro is facing calls to be moved out of his portfolio after the physicians rejected a tentative deal between the government and the Alberta Medical Association. (Manuel Carrillos/CBC - image credit)

The Opposition NDP is calling on Premier Jason Kenney to remove Tyler Shandro as minister of health after a slim majority of Alberta physicians voted against a tentative deal with the Alberta government.

But Kenney said on Tuesday that Shandro has his "full, 100-per-cent confidence."

The agreement was rejected by 53 per cent of physicians who voted. The Alberta Medical Association said 59 per cent of eligible members weighed in on the deal.

Edmonton-City Centre MLA David Shepherd, the NDP critic for health, said at a news conference Wednesday that physicians have lost faith in a health minister as "volatile" as Shandro.

Shepherd said Kenney needs to name a new minister of health who can reach an agreement with the AMA.

"Tyler Shandro has burned so much goodwill," Shepherd said. "He has lost trust of physicians across this province. I do not believe he is the one to take this forward."

Shandro and AMA president Dr. Paul Boucher did not make themselves available for questions on Wednesday.

"Being the minister of health is always the toughest job in any provincial government," Kenney said Tuesday at an unrelated news conference in Lethbridge. "That is particularly the case during an historic pandemic of this nature.

"He's made tremendous efforts to demonstrate flexibility."

Kenney said both sides will take time to reflect on the outcome of the vote before talking again.

'Dangerous precedent'

Binding arbitration was included in the master agreement with the AMA that was unilaterally ended by Shandro in February 2020. Instead, the proposed agreement said disagreements could be resolved by one of four government-appointed mediators but the decisions would not be binding on either side.

Dr. Christine Gibson, a family physician in Calgary, said she voted against the deal because she was concerned about privatization and the sustainability of family medical practices like her own.

Gibson is also concerned about the absence of the right to binding arbitration. She said agreeing to a deal without that measure would hurt other public sector unions.

"For us to agree that we didn't need (binding arbitration) would have set a precedent that no union required binding arbitration," she said. "And that's a dangerous precedent."

Dr. Scott Beach, president of the Calgary and Area Medical Staff Society, said the government's choice to go with mediation over binding arbitration was a factor in his decision to vote against the deal.

He said binding arbitration is an important tool for essential workers like physicians who can't go on strike.

Acrimony with Shandro and the government was less of a factor in the rejection of the deal, he said, than the terms physicians were asked to examine.

"For some individuals, their wounds were deep and perhaps the emotion was something was difficult to reconcile with, and rightly so," Beach said.

"But for the majority that I spoke to, they were able to set that aside and really examine the document for what it had."

Health policy expert Lorian Hardcastle, an associate professor of law at the University of Calgary, said the government could still reach an agreement with physicians.

While negotiations with a new minister of health would remove the acrimony between doctors and the province, Hardcastle said Shandro could reach a deal if he demonstrated a more collaborative approach.

She said the minister's contrite actions over the past two weeks, which included an open letter to the AMA membership, could help if they continue.

"If he maintains that attitude and that approach going into the next round of negotiation, and has both an improved attitude and perhaps improved terms in the agreement, I think we could actually see an agreement get done," Hardcastle said.