Kenney stands by health minister as doctors’ group votes non-confidence

Kenney stands by health minister as doctors’ group votes non-confidence

EDMONTON — Alberta’s premier says an overwhelming vote of non-confidence from members of the Alberta Medical Association won’t sway him into turfing his health minister.

The group representing doctors and medical students held a referendum this past week on Health Minister Tyler Shandro’s ability to manage the province’s health-care system.

The minister has been embroiled in a bitter dispute with doctors that escalated when he tore up the government’s master pay agreement with the medical association in February.

Many doctors, particularly in rural areas, have said they can no longer afford to work in hospitals and keep up their practices. The medical association has said at least 40 per cent of its members have at least contemplated leaving Alberta, which Shandro has dismissed as a bargaining tactic.

“I think Minister Shandro is doing a fantastic job of getting us through the COVID crisis while also addressing huge challenges that we were elected to address,” Kenney said Wednesday at a news conference touting the 34 bills the United Conservative government passed during the spring legislative sitting.

Of the nearly 9,000 who voted in the association’s survey— two-thirds of the number who were eligible — 98 per cent said they did not have confidence in Shandro.

“Over the past year, Mr. Shandro’s words and actions have created a chaotic state in health care and have alienated most of the people responsible for actually delivering the care in the system,” said association president Dr. Christine Molnar. “It’s a toxic situation, and physicians have clearly had enough of it.”

Kenney said his government is not accountable to members of an “interest group” that make up a quarter of one per cent of Alberta’s population, yet account for up to 10 per cent of the province’s budget.

Opposition NDP health critic David Shepherd said Wednesday that the UCP’s approach to negotiating with doctors has been like “scorched earth warfare.”

“No one’s saying it’s easy to be a cabinet minister, but Tyler Shandro, more than anyone else, shows that he is not capable of and does not deserve this job.”

Contentious health and labour bills passed during an all-night session that ended early Wednesday.

The government says Bill 30, which amends nine pieces of existing legislation, will strengthen Alberta’s health-care system and reduce surgical wait times. The NDP contends it would open the door to American-style health care.

Also Wednesday, Kenney defended sweeping legislation that, among other things, would prevent unions from spending dues on political causes without their member’s consent.

“We believe it is frankly offensive that people should be compelled through their forced union dues to pay for advocacy which violates their most deeply held values or their own economic interests,” he said.

He cited the examples of energy workers’ dues going toward anti-pipeline campaigns, or those of Jewish workers’ funding anti-Israel advocacy.

The NDP has decried Bill 32 as a union-busting strategy that attempts to shut down free speech. The Alberta Federation of Labour has said a coalition of 25 unions plans to challenge the constitutionality of the legislation in court.

Kenney said that his government believes the opt-out provision is “entirely lawful.”

The bill also includes changes that the UCP said are meant to allow for more flexibility in how overtime is calculated and how employers who break the rules are punished.

Labour federation president Gil McGowan called Bill 32 a “noxious, anti-worker piece of legislation.”

“Bill 32 will end overtime as we know it in Alberta and, in the process, vaporize huge chunks of income for many Alberta families,” he said in a statement.

“It will allow employers to essentially opt out of basic workplace protections, making a mockery of the whole notion of minimum workplace standards. And it will deny working Albertans the bargaining power they need to stand up to bad bosses.”

— By Lauren Krugel in Calgary

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on July 29, 2020.

The Canadian Press

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