Premier critical of severance deal that could hit $30 million
EDMONTON - Twenty-two Alberta MLAs not planning to run in the upcoming spring election will walk away with $10.6 million to help them adjust to life outside politics.
Representatives of all parties, including Premier Alison Redford, have criticized a platinum-plated severance package that will see Speaker Ken Kowalski, first elected in 1979, walk off with $1.2 million, and former premier Ed Stelmach leave with $991,000.
Departing MLAs Cindy Ady and Ray Prins will take away $784,000 between them, according to estimates Thursday from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
The spending watchdog says the total cost to Albertans if all 83 MLAs quit or were voted out of office would be almost $30 million.
"It's been a travesty," said Wildrose MLA Rob Anderson.
"It's a joke, and everyone knows it's a joke."
The governing Tories, who gave themselves 30-per-cent raises after the last election, haven't addressed the issue because it would divide their caucus, he said.
Critics say the lucrative severance package - called MLA transition pay - likely won't sit well with Albertans already angry over revelations 21 members of a legislature all-party committee were each paid at least $1,000 a month while serving on a committee that hasn't met since 2008.
Redford said she hasn't heard from Albertans on the issue, but she expects it will be addressed in an MLA compensation review she appointed former justice John Major to undertake early this year.
"I always presumed that it would be," she said. "I would be surprised if it wasn't."
Redford told reporters she didn't think the current method of paying MLAs was a good system or very transparent.
"All of the benefits that MLAs receive need to be clarified," she said. "They need to be put together in a way Albertans can understand, and I think that has to be part of it."
The premier didn't know when Major will deliver his report. His office said it won't likely be until the end of April, which could put off its public release until after the coming election.
Liberal Leader Raj Sherman called the transition allowance "obscene."
His party wants it reduced to one month per year of service - instead of the current three months - with a maximum payout of eight years.
New Democrat MLA Rachel Notley called it "the most egregious payment out there.
"I would rather see all MLAs have access to some sort of pension fund - not some ridiculous gold-plated rich one, but something Albertans think is fair."
Edmonton Journal, Fri Mar 23 2012
Byline: Darcy Henton with files from Kelly Cryderman
Critics predict increasing backlog in ERs
New figures from the province's health authority show the wait for nursing home beds has worsened this year despite the fact Alberta Health Services has increased the number of long-term care spaces.
While a document that AHS provided to the Herald this week laid out a 150-bed reduction in 2012, an official said Thursday they have actually added 152 spaces across the province with round the clock nursing.
Roman Cooney, AHS' vice-president of communications, said the authority has opened 470 nursing home beds and closed 318 spaces so far this fiscal year.
"These beds are continually being refurbished to meet higher standards," Cooney said in an e-mail.
"In addition, over the next three years, we will open 150 additional net new long-term care beds."
Despite the increase in spaces this year, AHS figures show the queue of ailing seniors stuck in hospital or struggling at home while they waited for a nursing home bed grew by 14 per cent to 215 people in the first 10 months of this year.
The AHS figures show the situation is especially dire in Calgary where there were 95 people waiting in January for a vacancy.
Opposition parties predicted Thursday the backlog in Alberta's hospitals and ERs will worsen unless the government opens more nursing home beds to accommodate those seniors in the queue.
"It's complete incompetence," said Liberal health critic Dr. David Swann, "that is jeopardizing the health of our seniors and contributing to the crisis in our hospitals."
While AHS' plan would hold the number of nursing home beds at or slightly be-low 15,000 for the next three years, the authority is hoping to open 3,000 additional supportive living spaces over the same period which offer less nursing care, require residents to shoulder the cost of drugs and medical supplies, but which cost the health-care system less.
New Democrat seniors critic Rachel Notley said the plan aims to force sick seniors to shoulder a larger share of their health-related costs and live in facilities that may offer them an inadequate level of care.
"It's unfair, but it's also absolutely penny wise and pound foolish," Notley said.
"These patients will end up in much more expensive ER and acute care beds because they are the last resort."
Facility operators said the situation is worse than AHS' figures reveal because many of the 1,279 seniors on the waiting list, who the authority says are suited for supported living spaces, actually need to be in a nursing home.
"People are being placed there who don't belong and we're struggling to care for them with inappropriate and insufficient staff," said Bruce West, executive director of the Alberta Continuing Care Association.
"The government may have a vision of people aging in place and what supportive living can be but that's not what's available right now."
To deal with the current bed shortage, West said the province should designate at least 25 per cent of the new beds it is opening each year as long term care spaces.
"The health minister said he's flexible, that the new spaces coming on stream are built to offer a range of care," he said.
"Let's deal with the crisis now and add the RNs that are needed to ensure seniors get the prompt medical attention they need."
A recent health quality council report found up to eight per cent of the province's hospital beds were clogged with patients who should be in nursing homes or supportive living facilities.
Dr. Paul Parks, the past-president of the Alberta Medical Association's emergency medicine section, said the long waits in the province's ERs won't get shorter until the hospital backlog is cleared.
Parks said he has struggled to get reliable and consistent figures from AHS or the province about the number of nursing home beds in the province.
Health Minister Fred Horne said a few weeks ago that there were approximately 14,550 beds, while Seniors Minister George Vanderburg stated recently there were only 14,092 beds.
If AHS' 152 new beds are added to their stated capacity of 14,550 at March 31 last year, there should be 14,702 beds open today. Cooney did not reply to a request by e-mail to confirm that number.
"The bottom line is we have roughly the same number as we did two decades ago, but there's another 1.3 million people in the province and that population is aging fast," Parks said.
"I can't fathom how that is going to work."
Long-term care beds in Alberta
- People waiting for nursing home beds based on assessed medical need:
Calgary Herald, Fri Mar 23 2012
Byline: Matt McClure
Alberta's chief electoral officer has found 23 cases where improper donations to political parties and constituency associations were made by municipalities and other public bodies.
In a news release, Elections Alberta said administrative penalties will be applied in 15 cases to "prohibited corporations" that made donations.
Eight of those situations occurred after April, 2010, when the law was changed to prohibit political entities from taking illegal donations. In those cases, the parties and constituency associations have been ordered to return funds.
In a further eight cases, contributors and recipients have been censured and ordered to implement procedures to ensure no repeat of the circumstances.
No cases have been referred for prosecution.
Nine files have been closed because no wrongdoing has occurred.
"I am satisfied that the remedies being applied are consistent with the law and appropriate to the situation," said chief electoral officer Brian Fjeldheim in the statement.
Elections Alberta also reported a significant jump in cases that have been reviewed or are under review. There are now 73 files, compared to 53 cases two weeks ago.
The release does not identify any municipalities or political entities.
All public cases known to have been referred to Elections Alberta for investigation have involved the ruling Progressive Conservatives.
Calgary Herald, Thurs Mar 22 2012
Byline: James Wood
The province plans to reduce the number of nursing-home spaces this year, despite new figures that show a rising number of Albertans are still stuck in hospital or at home waiting for a bed to become vacant.
Doctors are worried delays in the province's emergency rooms could worsen and facility operators are concerned ailing seniors will suffer poor care if Alberta Health Services cuts 150 spaces with round-the-clock nursing.
"I'm baffled as to how we're going to eliminate the bottlenecks in our hospitals at the same time as we're cutting long-term care beds," said Paul Parks, past-president of the Alberta Medical Association's emergency medicine section. "I'm very afraid we're on the cusp of another crisis in our ERs."
Bruce West, executive director of the Alberta Continuing Care Association, said AHS seems determined to push seniors with complex medical needs into less-expensive supported-living spaces, which may not provide adequate care.
"My concern is these patients will end up back in acute-care hospitals because they won't get the care they need," West said.
"There appears to be a disconnect between the government's philosophy and the front-line reality that we have a lot of very sick seniors."
The provincial health authority released figures this week that show the number of seniors waiting for a nursing-home bed increased 14 per cent to 215 patients during the first 10 months of the current fiscal year.
More than 25 per cent of the 473 patients clogging the province's hospitals in January were waiting for a long-term care bed.
Just over nine per cent of the 1,021 seniors struggling to manage on their own around Alberta were also in the lineup to be ad-mitted to a nursing home.
The situation is dire in Calgary, where 55 hospital beds are occupied by seniors waiting for a nursing home space and another 40 seniors are coping on their own waiting for a vacancy to come open.
An AHS official said long-term care beds are being closed so they can be refurbished.
David O'Brien, the authority's vice-president of seniors' care, said normal turnover in nursing homes means space will be found for patients on the waiting list.
O'Brien said that, over the next 12 months, AHS is adding 1,000 supporting-living spaces - beds not equipped or staffed to handle residents with unpredictable behaviour, intensive rehabilitation needs or who require 24/7 nursing care - because that level of care is adequate for the vast majority of seniors in the queue.
"We're building supportive living as fast as we can," O'Brien said, "because that's the level of care Albertans want and need."
But a study published last year suggests more than a quarter of the patients the province is placing in supportive living beds may be unsafe because there is insufficient staffing and care for their complex medical needs. As a result, they were twice as likely as nursing home patients to end up in hospital or visit an ER.
O'Brien says changes have been made since the study was done to improve care at supportive living facilities by providing on call nurses who can deal with ill patients and nurse practitioners who regularly review a client's condition.
A recent report from the Health Quality Council of Alberta fingered the long list of seniors being warehoused in overcrowded hospitals for average stays of six weeks as one of the key causes of chronic, excessive waits of seriously ill patients in Alberta's ERs.
Dr. John Cowell, the council's top executive, said the province needs to reduce occupancy in its major hospitals to 85 per cent and develop accurate predictions of its growing need for both nursing home and supportive living beds to clear the backlog.
"It's critical that AHS match its resources to its needs," Cowell said, "and the numbers of people on the waiting list for long term care have me concerned that's not happening."
AHS documents show the health authority plans to hold the number of nursing home beds fairly constant through 2015 at just under 14,500 and add another 3,000 supportive living spaces to the system, but neither the health authority nor the government could provide figures this week to show whether the new capacity will match the needs of an aging population.
Health Minister Fred Horne said he hopes to have a new fore-casting model up and running later this year that will allow his staff to plan up to two decades into the future.
In the meantime, Horne said the level of care available in many of the new spaces being opened can be adjusted upwards, if that's what is required to match patient needs and to empty acute care beds.
"We have the flexibility," he said.
Calgary Herald, Thurs Mar 22 2012
Byline: Matt McClure
Tories accused of throwing money around before election
Days before an expected election call, the Tory government ripped up its physician salary hike imposed weeks ago and instead offered the province's 7,200 doctors a sweeter, $181-million compensation agreement.
Alberta's health minister said the tentative deal will help provide stability in the medical system, but opposition critics accused the PC government of trying to snuff out an outspoken physician advocacy campaign on the eve of a provincewide vote.
But Alberta doctor representatives vowed Wednesday not to back down from their increasingly vocal fight for a public inquiry into the intimidation of physicians who've advocated for patient care.
"These last-minute, Hail Mary negotiations have nothing to do with keeping us quiet," said Dr. Lloyd Maybaum, president of the Calgary and area medical staff association.
"There's no bloody way it's going to keep us quiet."
Last week, the province's five medical staff association presidents accused the government of stonewalling on physician issues.
And Maybaum called upon Albertans to bring in a "tsunami of change" and demand a health inquiry on physician intimidation.
The new physician salary proposal, which comes after doctors have been without a contract for more than a year, includes a 2.5 per cent fee increase each year for two years, retroactive to April 2011. The province's primary care networks will see per patient funding up $12 to $62.
The parties will continue working on a long-term agreement between Alberta Health Services, doctors and the provincial government.
If that can't be reached by March 31, 2013, the proposal gives physicians a cost of living hike in the third year. The tentative deal also provides a limited arbitration process on fees for insured services and some physician benefit programs.
Asked about the timing of the deal, Health Minister Fred Horne told reporters the agreement in principle is the product of discussions that have been taking place for months.
"I think it's what Albertans expect of government - they expect us to have a good relationship and a sound foundation in terms of our work with doctors," the minister said.
The new proposal comes just three weeks after the government imposed a controversial one-year, $93-million salary deal - including a two per cent fee increase - on doctors without negotiating.
Wednesday's tentative agreement, which must still be ratified by the AMA and the government, supersedes those terms.
Liberal Leader Raj Sherman, an emergency room physician, said the government is obviously running scared.
"They're desperate and they are trying to cut deals with everybody on the eve of an election."
Wildrose House Leader Rob Anderson said the agreement smacks of electioneering.
"They're throwing money around like crazy right now," Anderson said. "I think it will be difficult to buy the silence of doctors. They're pretty passionate about getting their tsunami of change."
Alberta Medical Association president Dr. Linda Slocombe said the agreement could provide some stability for doctors who have been in compensation "limbo" for more than 12 months.
It will also help build a strong working relationship with the government, she added.
"We have been working on this for a long time," Slocombe said.
"The timing is what it is."
The Calgary family physician said the doctors' association is still committed to its vocal advocacy efforts, which included recent full page newspaper ads calling for a full public inquiry on doctor intimidation.
"Those sorts of advocacy initiatives will be ongoing, before, during and after the election," she added.
Last month, an independent report by the Health Quality Council of Alberta found more than half of all doctors surveyed said they'd been intimidated or bullied in the past year.
A few felt they were pushed out of the province or had their hospital privileges threatened after speaking out about the state of Alberta's $16-billion health-care system.
The government acknowledges the problem, but insists such cases do not need to be aired in a public forum, but rather the medical system must build a "just culture."
On the salary front, doctors and the government have been trying to work out a contract since the former eight-year agreement expired March 31, 2011.
With the 2012-13 budget already passed by the legislature on Tuesday, Alberta's health minister may have to ask Treasury Board to help fund the new doctors' deal.
Finance Minister Ron Liepert said the money promised to doctors may not increase Alberta's budget deficit if there is a revised quarterly update reducing the red ink forecast.
"I wouldn't jump to the fact that it will increase the deficit," he said. "It will increase the project spending."
Liepert said he assumed Health Minister Fred Horne will come to Treasury Board seeking the money, which was not included in the budget.
Likewise, Premier Alison Redford said she didn't expect the physician costs to impact the deficit in this year's budget.
"As we move ahead into next year, it could have a slight impact, but with the surpluses we're projecting, it's always a matter of balancing as we go forward."
Calgary Herald, Thurs Mar 22 2012
Byline: Jamie Komarnicki and Darcy Henton
CALGARY — Wednesday's surprise pay deal between the province and the doctors raises an obvious question: has the government bought their silence during the coming election campaign?
"The answer is no," says Linda Slocombe, the plain-talking Calgary family doctor who is president of the Alberta Medical Association. "Our positions are the same. There will be ongoing advocacy before, during and after an election on issues we feel are important to Albertans.
"We still feel strongly about a health care inquiry into doctor intimidation."
Slocombe said some advertisements are being prepared right now for the AMA. She wouldn't say if they'll be political stunners like the recent one that started, "Just How Sick is Alberta's Health Care System?"
The full-page ads went on to complain about intimidation, the lack of a full inquiry into the issue, and the government recently imposing "political control" through a unilateral, one-year pay decree.
That was dangerous stuff to appear just before an election. The Progressive Conservatives still have wobbly knees at the memory.
"Doctors can be pretty damned intimidating themselves," one says ruefully.
So there's no doubt that this deal, which somehow wasn't possible for two long years, suddenly came together because an election call is only days away.
The government needed to calm the doctors, who in turn applied maximum pressure just when the PCs were most vulnerable. They are wily adversaries who understand each other very well.
None of that changes the fact that doctors have been intimidated, are correct about the inquiry, and never again want to be prevented from advocating for patients.
But the lack of a pay deal was one of their main issues, and that's solved now. They will "advocate," but I doubt they'll attack government with as much force as they did in early March.
Health Minister Fred Horne and Finance Minister Ron Liepert now have to scramble to find $181 million in additional pay, most of which isn't in the budget passed Tuesday night.
The irony here is that the Tories created new spending within 12 hours of passing a budget with promises of stable allotments.
The main thing for patients is quality medicine, and this deal advances the cause by providing stability and better funding in some key areas, especially primary care.
One area that obviously needs help is senior care, following the Herald's revelation that over seven years there were more than 1,000 cases of Albertans being abused in provincial facilities.
These are proven cases, not just complaints. The average of 142 a year is far too high, even in a system with 40,000 residents.
Remember, these are people under direct professional, publicly funded care. If they aren't safe from abuse, who is?
In the legislature, Tory responses to questions about this issue were pathetic.
Without acknowledging any problem, deputy premier Doug Horner accused the Liberals of insulting health workers just by raising the issue. This old tactic is long past its spoil date.
Dr. Chris Eagle, the CEO of Alberta Health Services, at least said he finds the cases "very disturbing" and takes them seriously.
Finally, the PCs are being justly blasted for delaying the release of a regular AHS report card on health-care performance.
This measure of crucial wait times has fallen into the government hands for "review." But the PCs say this has nothing to do with the election.
If you fall for that, you'll also believe there's no link between politics and doctors raises.
Calgary Herald, Thurs Mar 22 2012
Byline: Don Braid
Two of Alberta's main contenders for political power are fighting for the support of the province's massive energy industry as they prepare to battle it out in a provincial election campaign
Premier Alison Redford expressed confidence Wednesday that the Progressive Conservative dynasty's ties remain strong with an industry that has been in the Tories' corner for most of its four decades in power.
Speaking to reporters ahead of her speech at the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers' Responsible Canadian Energy awards dinner, Redford dismissed the notion of any lingering political hangover from the royalty regime change introduced by her predecessor, Ed Stelmach.
Those changes were reversed after being blamed for causing a major slowdown in industry activity in the province.
"I've always had a very good relationship with the energy industry," said the Calgary-Elbow MLA, who said she had fought for the royalty scheme to be changed back.
"I've worked very closely with a lot of those organizations and I believe what we currently have in place, with respect to royalties, regulatory enhancement and support for industry - the work we are doing with respect to oilsands and Keystone - show we have a very clear alignment and I've been very happy with the support we've had from the energy industry."
In her speech, Redford praised the energy industry for its environmental and social record and pledged to be its advocate and defender.
While Redford received a warm reception at the CAPP event, the Wildrose Party - in second place to the Tories in most polls - has been picking up financial support from the energy sector in recent years.
Party leader Danielle Smith said there is continuing mistrust of the Tories over royalty and land use policy and Redford, as a former cabinet minister, "does not get a free pass."
"The PCs have not always been in the energy industry's corner and that came through loud and clear in this last four-year period. I think there's a lot of concern about what might happen after the next election. This is what the government does. They say all the right things before the election and then it's anybody's guess what will happen after," she said.
The two parties appear to have few major differences on energy policy, with perhaps the greatest divide being Redford's call for a Canadian Energy Strategy, which was lauded by CAPP chairman Lowell Jackson on Wednesday evening.
Smith said a Wildrose government would continue the streamlining of regulations taking place under the PCs and the federal Conservative government. It will also continue the joint environmental monitoring plan with Ottawa for the oilsands.
CAPP president David Collyer said he expects energy will be a topic in the campaign given the importance of the resource to Alberta.
But there is no wish list to be brought to the table, he said. "The industry, from a policy perspective, is in a pretty good place right now."
Calgary Herald, Thurs Mar 22 2012
Byline: James Wood
Hundreds face living on Calgary streets
About 200 more people might be living on Calgary's streets April 1 if the provincial government carries through with a plan to slash $575,000 from the Calgary Drop-In and Rehab Centre's budget.
Talk about April Fools. This news comes after the province cut funding to the Drop-In, Canada's largest homeless shelter, by $250,000 last year. That adds up to $825,000 - $45,000 less than the $870,000 cost of paying MLAs from all parties for being on a committee that hasn't met for four years. For those who have argued that the money-for-nothing committee is pocket change for the Alberta government, consider just how far that money goes in the hands of the good people who run the Drop-In Centre.
The Drop-In's executive director, Debbie Newman, decided to keep quiet about last year's $250,000 cut so as not to offend the province's bigwigs. But silence certainly wasn't golden for the poorest of Calgary's poor.
Perhaps screaming from the sixth floor of the Drop-In will be. If the province thinks it will be saving money by slashing funding to the shelter, it should think again. Such a move will prove to be penny-wise and millions of dollars foolish.
Newman says the effects won't just be felt by the 10 staff she will have to fire and the 200 people who will no longer find a bed at the Drop-In, but by society as a whole in increased policing, court, emergency services and hospital resources when destitute people don't have a place to sleep at night and hang out during the day.
"If the cuts come, then it means I've got security issues," explains a deflated Newman, who will be meeting with the province's Ministry of Human Services on March 28.
"People become desperate when they can't access services and don't have a place to sleep.
I've had several meetings with the people who will be selling the condos in the East Village, to be a good neighbour. It will have a huge impact on the community," says Newman.
"I've warned the police out of courtesy," she adds. "If I get a cut, they need to know what they're up against. I'm going to need security at the door and they'll need to take on more of the inebriates," says Newman, who points out that she is housing 300 inebriated people a night, and during the day keeping them off the streets.
Calgary Police Chief Rick Hanson said police view the Drop-In Centre and other similar agencies as partners in crime prevention.
"If some of the chronically homeless wind up back on the street, then it will fall on the police service to find an alternative arrangement. It will likely mean arresting them and putting them in the drunk tank, which we know is not an effective way to deal with this very complex issue," Hanson explains.
The chief says tri-morbid people (homeless people with severe addictions, resulting in multiple health issues) are at a high risk of dying, which also increases the risk to police and ups the cost to society.
"If a tri-morbid person dies in police custody in the drunk tank, there's a huge investigation, there must be a fatality inquiry, there's enormous risks to us looking after them because sometimes even though we have folks continuously doing checks, they are at a higher risk of dying," adds the chief. "But if they're looked after at the Drop-In Centre and they pass away there, there's much less finger pointing, less allegations all around."
Since partnering more closely with the Drop-In Centre and Alpha House as well as other agen-cies that deal with inebriates, the police have saved thousands of hours of their time.
Supt. Richard Hinse said police figures show that as a result of partnering with the Drop-In and Alpha House, since 2006 the number of intoxicated people arrested and placed in the drunk tank has decreased from 1,701 to just 451 in 2011.
"So far this year we are housing less than one inebriate per day. We're getting down to the last drunk and we can thank our community partners for that," exclaims Supt. Hinse.
Between 2010 and 2011 alone, 70,000 staff hours were saved in arrest time and processing in the court services section, which means 20,000 more police hours on the street.
The Drop-In not only provides a bed for 1,060 people per night on average, but it also serves up 3,500 meals every day with just three paid staff co-ordinating corporate, community and church volunteers. It provides career counselling, carpentry courses, computer labs, clothing, furniture, nursing care, laundry facilities, showers and compassion.
The Drop-In is the only shelter that provides a space for inebriates to sleep during the day and night, keeping them off park benches and out of police drunk tanks.
Alberta's Minister of Human Services, Dave Hancock, says while no decision has been made to cut funding to the Drop-In, the government is moving toward funding more long-term housing solutions and away from shelter programs.
"Part of this," explains Hancock, who was reached in Edmonton Tuesday, "is that we're a victim of our own success. More than 3,500 formerly homeless people in Calgary have permanent housing now, so there's been a decrease in the demand for shelter beds."
Indeed, the budget for housing has increased $15 million over last year, adds Hanson, it's just the focus is changing as to where that money goes.
Newman agrees that their shelter numbers are down from highs of more than 1,200 people per night during the peak of the boom. But while fewer people sleep in a bed every night, she says 200 to 300 more people, who are one paycheque away from homelessness, come in daily to eat and access other services the Drop-In Centre provides.
"Once people get a permanent home, the need for our services doesn't just stop," Newman says. "These proposed cuts would be a disaster for so many."
Now that the news is public, will the Tory government risk looking like heartless April Fools?
Calgarians can ensure the right thing is done.
Calgary Herald, Wed Mar 21 2012
Byline: Licia Corbella
Liberals say government is 'hiding abysmal record' until after election
CALGARY — A regular Alberta Health Services three-month report card on wait times and medical data across the province will be delayed several weeks — potentially until after the spring election — as it undergoes government review.
Opposition critics contended the Tory government is holding on to the health superboard's third quarter report on surgery, emergency department and cancer therapy wait times until after the vote to ward off unwanted attention on the heated health care file.
But Health Minister Fred Horne said the government is "absolutely not" stalling on the report — rather is looking at how specific resources in the new provincial budget might improve performance in some problematic health care areas.
"We want to be able to talk about specific things we're trying to do to improve performance in specific areas," Horne said in an interview.
"Taking into account resources we might be able to apply in the budget after it's passed is part of that."
An AHS spokeswoman said the performance report — providing data from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31, 2011 — will likely be on the board's public agenda in May or June.
The reports are generally released roughly every three months. The last quarterly report on performance measures was made public following a Dec. 8 AHS board meeting.
The newest figures on performance measures, however, were "delayed" and weren't ready for approval when the AHS board met in Canmore last week, said AHS communications vice-president Colleen Turner.
The next board meeting isn't until May 3.
With the passing of the provincial budget yesterday. the PC government is expected to drop the election writ by next week and send voters to the polls in late April.
Before the board can approve it, the AHS report card must first be forwarded to the Alberta Health and Wellness (AHW) Department for "review, recommendations, and the joint development of action plans and timelines tied to improving the results," Turner said in an email.
"We want to work with AHW on a closer link between the results and the budget being developed now."
The medical data will be sent the government by the end of the month, she added.
The previous performance report showed the medical system is making improvement in some key areas, but still falling below its own targets in many areas.
Liberal Leader Dr. Raj Sherman accused the Tory government of trying to keep the information from Alberta voters.
"The PCs are desperate. They're hiding an abysmal record on health care from voters," Sherman said.
He said the delayed report is a sign of the "blurred" boundaries between the Health Department and AHS, which provides medical care to Albertans.
Wildrose health critic Heather Forsyth said the government should allow the report to be seen on schedule.
"This government is notorious for hiding things they don't want Albertans to see," she said.
"If they had something to brag about, you can be guaranteed that report would have been released."
Calgary Herald, Mar 21 2012
Byline: Jamie Komarnicki
'Pork-barrel politics,' says political science professor
Several Alberta post-secondary institutions gave tens of thousands of dollars in illegal donations to the provincial Progressive Conservative party, in one case with the party's direct knowledge, reveals a CBC News investigation.
Athabasca University, Portage College and Grande Prairie Regional College variously used taxpayers' money to attend numerous Conservative fundraisers between 2004 and 2011, including dinners and golf tournaments, show documents obtained through Freedom of Information show.
'It's a means of buying influence and it is clearly unacceptable'
—Political scientist Jay Smith"It is pork-barrel politics," said Athabasca political science professor Jay Smith. "It's a means of buying influence and it is clearly unacceptable."
It is against the law in Alberta for publicly-funded institutions to make political donations.
Between 2006 and 2008, Athabasca University spent $10,675 on Conservative fundraising events. Portage College spent $7,675, while Grande Prairie Regional College spent more than $5,000 between 2007 and 2010.
The three institutions say all the public money used for political donations has been repaid either by the people who attended the events or by the Conservative party.
Institutions held close relationship with Tories
Emails and other documents show the post-secondary institutions maintained a close relationship exclusively with the ruling Conservative party, and that their governing boards and senior executives actively supported this exclusive relationship. In hundreds of pages of documents there is not a single reference to communications with, or support for, another political party.
"For them, it's a symbiotic relationship," Wildrose MLA Paul Hinman said. "If I am doing well, you are doing well.
Athabasca University donated $10,000 to Tories
Portage College donated $7,600 to Tories
Grande Prairie college donated $5,000 to Tories
"They have entrenched this behaviour and they do not see anything wrong with it," Hinman said. "The end justifies the means. This is the way you carry out business with the Tory government."
In October, a CBC News investigation revealed that municipalities and counties across Alberta had made illegal donations to the Tory party for years.
Wildrose and Liberal researchers subsequently uncovered dozens of cases of questionable donations. In January, Wildrose also revealed the University of Lethbridge had donated $15,000 to the Tories. CBC News has learned Alberta Elections subsequently sent letters to every post-secondary institution in the province warning them about their obligations under the law.
Alberta's chief electoral official is now investigating more than 50 cases involving municipalities and post-secondary institutions. It is not known if these recent cases uncovered by CBC News are part of that investigation.
Thousands spent on dinners and tournaments
The documents show Tory fundraisers sent direct email solicitations to university executives and boards. The post-secondary institutions, in turn, bought entire tables at premiers' dinners, for as much as $4,500, and the 10 seats were filled with senior executives, including the president, and board members, who are appointed by the Conservative government.
Portage College and Athabasca University also paid for Tory MLAs and ministers to attend dinners and golf tournaments as their guests.
Athabasca University board chair Barry Walker said the university made the donations because it was "trying to develop a relationship with the government at the time, trying to further our needs as far as funding and the like.
"It is public knowledge that probably 35 to 40 per cent of our entire funding comes from the government," Walker said.
Political scientist Jay Smith said that is the essence of pork-barrel politics.
"You're trying to get an inside track to access money by giving the government money," he said. "And all this is public money. It is circular, it is insidious and it is wrong."
Tory insider approved donations
The documents show at least one Conservative party official knew public money was being used for political purposes.
Carol Lund is head of Athabasca University's secretariat and as such, is responsible for administration of its policies and procedures, including its policies governing conflict of interest. Lund is also president of the Athabasca-Redwater Conservative riding association.
Documents show Lund personally signed off on several requisitions for Tory fundraisers, including for the Athabasca-Redwater riding association. Lund also actively recruited university executives to attend these functions.
Athabasca-Redwater MLA Jeff Johnson declined an interview request. Lund did not respond to a CBC interview request.
Some universities stalling information requests
In January, CBC News made Freedom of Information requests to 10 post-secondary institutions in Alberta. Three have provided documents so far. Red Deer College, Olds College and the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology say they found no records of any political donations.
The University of Calgary, the University of Alberta and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology have yet to respond.
The University of Lethbridge charged nearly $1,800 in processing fees which it refused to waive, saying the information is not in the public interest, even though eight other institutions had either assigned no fees, or waived the fees because they agreed the information was in the public interest.
Political scientist Jay Smith says these recent revelations about pork-barrel politics involving post-secondary institutions is a watershed moment in the province's democracy.
"This is now a test for the people of Alberta," Smith said. "If they are willing to accept this, then I would say democracy is in serious jeopardy in this province because the ultimate custodians of the democratic process are the electorate.
"And if they accept this, what is left in terms of a healthy democratic process? We are in admitting that things are rotten, and that it is OK."
CBC News, Wed Mar 21 2012