Southern Alberta MLA welcomes AHS shakeup, doesn't endorse provincial sovereignty

Roger Reid, United Conservative Party MLA for Livingstone-MacLeod, welcomes Premier Danielle Smith’s wide-sweeping changes to Alberta’s health-care system, but wants her forthcoming Alberta Sovereignty Act to keep the province squarely within Canada.

Smith fired Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s chief medical officer of health, on Nov. 14. Two days later, she sacked Alberta Health Services’ 11-member board of directors, appointing administrator Dr. John Cowell in their stead.

“Albertans want accountability within AHS and they want to know that a world-class health system and level of care is available when they need it,” Smith said, citing unacceptable wait times for surgeries and at emergency rooms across the province.

Reid said in an interview Friday, Nov. 18, that he’d voted for UCP leadership candidates Rebecca Schulz and Travis Toews in the party’s Oct.6 election, but praised new leader Smith’s subsequent health-care shakeup.

“I really appreciate the decisive decisions she’s made in the last couple of weeks,” he said. “I think it’s nice to finally see some action and some change with Alberta Health Services.”

“Senior management mishandled the pandemic,” he added. “Their inability to actually increase (hospital) capacity over the course of the pandemic was a failure.”

The UCP government under former premier Jason Kenney had committed to a 3.3 per cent increase in health-care spending, on track last March to hit $15.1 billion for 2022-23.

Critics panned that projection for not keeping pace with rampant inflation.

Reid countered that the province nonetheless increased funding, while AHS could have made more intensive-care beds available by moving urban patients to underutilized rural hospitals.

“I don’t think they took enough time to think outside of the box: Unusual, exceptional circumstances call on leadership to look at unusual and exceptional ways to deal with a crisis.”

But the MLA qualified that “There are systematic changes that need to be made, and there’s no substitute for the reality of time.”

Moving to Alberta’s long-fraught relations with the federal government, Reid cautioned that his constituents want fairness from Ottawa — not full sovereignty.

“My understanding of the bill at this point is that the language around sovereignty in the Sovereignty Act tends to be associated with independence and separation. And, what I’ve heard from Albertans this summer is that that’s not something they want on the table,” Reid said.

“They are not interested in separation from Canada, but they certainly are interested in being treated fairly.”

Smith told Reid last spring that she planned to run for the party’s nomination to represent Livingstone-MacLeod in the next provincial election. He was prepared to contest her bid but hadn't seriously considered running for re-election until after her leadership win.

Smith announced the following day that she would enter a byelection race in Brooks-Medicine Hat, rather than seek the nomination in Reid’s riding.

“I’m happy that’s become clear for me,” Reid told Shootin’ the Breeze in mid October. “I'm looking forward to continuing to serve, and hopefully we get an opportunity to do that for another four years.”

However, Reid said Friday that he decided not to stand for re-election about a week before riding nominations closed at the end of October, telling Smith’s staff on Nov. 1 that he’d withdrawn his name.

Reid said he would have decided not to run again whether or not Smith had replaced Kenney, explaining that he wanted to spend more time with his family. He will likely stay in politics in some capacity, but said, but hadn’t resolved any specific plans.

—With files from Sean Oliver

Laurie Tritschler, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Shootin' the Breeze