As shocking as it is an ambulance crew was used by a for-profit Edmonton nursing home to evict an 80-year-old grandmother afflicted with dementia and dump her at a public hospital Emergency Room without telling her family, six months ago this story would have caused barely a ripple in our complacent and inattentive mainstream media.
Yet despite the fact the story was brought to attention yesterday morning by the Alberta Federation of Labour and Public Interest Alberta -- just the kind of progressive voices our homegrown media loves to ignore -- TV and print journalists were out in force to cover the appalling situation.
The reason, it's said here, is not altruism or even the kind of outrageous facts that traditionally make for a great news story. It's because the media smells Tory blood in the water.
With a long-plotted provincial election looming, the Alberta Progressive Conservatives under Premier Alison Redford are suddenly lurching from crisis to crisis. The public and media have started to take note things aren't exactly going the government's way.
And the appalling treatment of Grace Denyer, kicked out of the inaptly named Tranquility Care Home in south Edmonton after the private, for-profit, and apparently unregulated operator tried and failed to jack up the rent paid by her family, and dumped dazed and confused at the public Grey Nuns Hospital ER, is certain to focus more public attention on the Redford Tories' plans to privatize and deregulate seniors' care in this province.
In other words, this is yet another crisis for Redford's government -- which is nowadays reeling like a palooka, looking almost as befuddled as the one led by her predecessor Ed Stelmach.
Yesterday morning, you could feel the excitement of the media even before Denyer's daughter went to the microphone to recount the horrifying details of what happened to her mom, who last year also suffered a stroke and has only limited ability to speak, can't walk or feed herself and must wear a pacemaker.
The facts on their own are appalling, and well covered in the media: after growing dissatisfied at the quality of care in a public auxiliary hospital in the bedroom suburb of St. Albert, Denyer's family moved her to the private facility that advertised itself as being capable of taking long-term care patients.
They thought they could get a better quality of care, Beth Podgurny of St. Albert told the reporters, and indeed Denver was in stable condition and showed signs of improvement after the move. But despite signing a contract, within days Podgurny was told by the operator of the Tranquility facility that the $3,495-per-month price the family had negotiated for her mother's care was too low, and was going to have to jump to $4,995. (For only $500 more, the family was told, the company could house Denver in the basement.)
Podgurny and her husband Jackie thought they were involved in a resolvable dispute over the rent they'd agreed to pay the private operator for Beth's mom's care. The company apparently saw it as a simple business matter to be handled decisively, and "responded with an eviction notice to take effect in only a matter of days."
The eviction took the form of calling an Alberta Health Services ambulance crew and instructing them to haul Denver off to the public hospital, which they did. Podgurny and her sister didn't know anything about it until, shocked and frightened, they received phone calls from medical staff at the Grey Nuns.
"We are appalled that our 80-year-old mother was treated liked a commodity instead of being treated with the respect and dignity that all Albertans deserve," Podgurny told the news conference. "The fact that there appears to be nothing under provincial rules to prevent this is mind-boggling. It just goes to show that the privatization solution that Premier Alison Redford is pushing to address long-term-care issues isn't the answer for vulnerable Albertans.
"My family wants answers from the Conservative government," Podgurny stated. "Why was it possible for our mother and our family to be treated in this appalling fashion? Why is this facility allowed to advertise for and accept long-term-care patients when it is not licensed to do? How can they increase the rent in excess of 42 per cent within weeks of entering the home? How can they be allowed to evict and dump a resident at the Emergency door when they decide they no longer want to provide care?"
These are all great questions, and if they get answers, it will only be because the family has made this a public issue on the eve of a general election.
Earlier, Health Minister Fred Horne and Seniors Minister George VanderBurg didn't even bother responding to a letter outlining the family's concerns about their mother's treatment in St. Albert.
The reality, however, is that Albertans should get used to this sort of thing if the rampant privatization and commercialization of long-term care pushed hard by the Conservative governments of Ralph Klein, Stelmach and now Redford, and advocated by the far-right Wildrose Party as well, are allowed to continue apace.
As Public Interest Alberta Executive-Director Bill Moore-Kilgannon told yesterday's news conference, private long-term care operators have an ugly history of trying to "cherry-pick" low-cost, easy-to-care-for seniors for long-term care and dump the more complex and expensive cases on the public system.
"Unfortunately, this is not the only case we have heard of private facilities forcing seniors out when they feel they are too costly to support," he said. "We are calling on all political parties to commit to build a high-quality public care system for the growing population of seniors with chronic health-care needs -- and to stop the profiteering off our most vulnerable seniors."
Well, good luck with that with a government deeply committed to letting the private sector take over the public job of providing long-term care for vulnerable seniors, the better to provide families with "choice" -- you know, the choice of paying more or having their loved ones abandoned at a busy urban Emergency Ward.
Indeed, here in Alberta, taxpayers' dollars are being funnelled by the millions into subsidizing private, for-profit care of just the type experienced by Denver and her family.
At the very least, Podgurny said, "the government has to step up to the plate and they have to put the accountability back into the system. And they have to do it immediately."
"I said I would never let that happen to my mother before she was in long-term care," Podgurny told reporters, brushing aside a tear. "And it happened right before my eyes and there was nothing we could do about it!"
Now that it's become another election issue, it'll be interesting to see what Redford, Horne, VanderBurg and other members of the government have to say about the shocking treatment meted out to Grace Denver.
The nursing home operator, whom reporters complained they were having trouble contacting, has apparently left the country, Moore-Kilgannon told reporters.
Alberta Diary, Thurs Mar 15 2012
EDMONTON - A group of "nervous nellies" within the Tory caucus have told colleagues they want the upcoming spring election pushed back into May to give the party more time to conduct damage control, sources close to Premier Alison Redford's campaign say.
But even as opposition parties pushed for new answers Wednesday on an ethics investigation into a recent Gary Mar fundraiser — one of several controversies that have dogged the Progressive Conservatives this spring — the premier was said to be resolute on sticking with an April 23 voting day.
Redford all but confirmed that date Wednesday following a funding announcement at Edmonton's Telus World of Science. She indicated her government will keep its promise of calling the election as soon as possible after passing the budget, which is expected to happen sometime next week.
If that schedule holds, it's believed the writ will be dropped the following Monday (March 26), kicking off a 28-day campaign that will end on April 23.
"I think you can draw your own conclusions from my statements," Redford said.
The premier said there has been no debate in caucus on election timing, and she has received no pressure from the party to push the date back. "I think people are pretty anxious to get to the polls, as am I."
However, government sources said the election date has been a topic of discussion among some members of caucus. A handful of "nervous nellies" are worried the PCs do not have enough time to fully recover from some recent controversies, one source said.
Opposition MLAs have been attacking the government on a variety of issues, including the terms of an upcoming health-care inquiry, a "bullying" letter sent by Tory MLA Hector Goudreau to a school board, and revelations that several MLAs have been paid for serving on a committee that hasn't met in more than three years.
Members of the government dodged questions about a "caucus divide" over the election call.
"In caucus there's always robust discussions," said Service Alberta Minister Manmeet Bhullar. He would not say whether the election date was up for debate among government members Wednesday.
"It's one of those instances where it's kind of hurry up and wait. I think everybody's been preparing for awhile, we know that other parties have been playing negative parties for years now," Bhullar said. "Whether it happens two weeks from now, three weeks from now, or four weeks from now, I think we're ready to go."
Government MLA Bridget Pastoor — a Liberal until a few months ago — joked Wednesday she is betting on an April 23 election date.
"I think pretty much everything is ready to go," Pastoor said. "Let's just do it and see what shakes down."
Liberal Leader Raj Sherman said Wednesday any waffling on election dates highlights the need for a firm, fixed voting day, so all political parties hit the ground running at the same time.
"I wish the premier was decisive and actually fixed an election date. Only her campaign manager will know, and she will know. But we're operating under the assumption that they're going to call it next week," Sherman said.
He said he expects to have confirmed candidates in 66 of 87 Alberta constituencies by next week; the official opposition party lags behind the Conservatives, Wildrose and NDP in lining up candidates for a "full slate."
Recent polls appear to show Danielle Smith's Wildrose Party may be closing in on Redford's Tories, prompting critics to suggest this week the new premier's "honeymoon is over" since her rise to lead the Progressive Conservatives last fall.
Earlier this week, Redford faced criticism from her own party members over suspending Mar — the government's recently appointed Asian envoy — while an ethics investigation takes place into a recent fundraiser held by his supporters in Edmonton. One Tory organizer charged the suspension was a "stupid move," suggesting there is nothing inappropriate about a $400-a-plate event giving people insight into business opportunities in Asia.
Redford took issue with that view, defending her handling of the Mar situation.
"He's entitled to his opinion, I don't happen to agree with his opinion, and that's the end of the matter from my perspective," she said. "I think Albertans expected us to act quickly, and I did act quickly. I think it was an appropriate step and I still believe that."
The premier said she believes Alberta ethics commissioner Neil Wilkinson has the jurisdiction to look into the matter, even though Wilkinson decided it was outside his purview.
The investigation now goes to the deputy minister of executive council — essentially Redford's deputy — who is expected to appoint an independent investigator and legal counsel to look into the issue. Redford said she does not know how long the investigation will take or whether it will be complete prior to the election.
Pushed to answer questions on the matter Wednesday in the legislature, Human Services Minister Dave Hancock said the investigation will be "open and transparent."
"(The premier) did not say a hanging would take place, she said an investigation would take place, done by the right people," Hancock said. "One does not rush to judgment when people's reputations are at stake ... No court passes sentence before examining the facts."
Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk said he was also upset Mar's reputation was being "smeared" by opposition parties before all the facts are in.
Edmonton Journal, Thurs Mar 15 2012
Byline: Kevin Gerein and Trish Audette
Liberals Raj Sherman and Hugh MacDonald questioned the Redford government in the legislature Tuesday over the "generous" donations party leadership candidates received during last year's contest, noting that one donor made a donation of $100,000 to three of the candidates.
Liberal Leader Sherman noted the Southern family donated $128,000 to various candidates through the ATCO group of companies they control.
"Given that the ATCO Group of companies are such large players in the electricity market ... how can you claim that accepting 128 grand does not jeopardize the independence of the government's policy on electricity deregulation, which ultimately is forcing Albertans to pay higher bills?" he asked Premier Alison Redford.
Sherman noted that TransAlta also donated a total of $20,000 to the campaigns.
"Whose interests are this premier and this government really serving?" he asked in Question Period. "Those who fund you, or those who elect you?"
Redford responded that an independent panel made recommendations to the government with respect to its decision to proceed with two new high voltage lines between Edmonton and Calgary, supported by the Alberta Utilities Commission and the Alberta Electric System Operator.
MacDonald noted that one leadership candidate, deputy premier Doug Horner received $35,000 from one donor, which he said was $5,000 in excess of the limit placed by the Progressive Conservative party on donations. He also noted that Horner received money orders worth $15,000 from RBC Trust in the Bahamas, which may violate a rule about soliciting donations from out of province.
Redford refused to confirm the allegations.
"This is not part of what I would consider to be appropriate business for this House," she said.
MacDonald continued to press the government for answers in a Member's Statement following Question Period.
He pointed out that Cathy Roozen, interim chair of the Alberta Health Services Board, donated $5,000 to the premier's leadership campaign
"You have land developers. You have liquor store owners. You have casino operators, energy companies, law firms. They're all part of the list."
MacDonald invited Albertans to check out the donors at http://www.albertapc.ab.ca/admin/contentx/default.cfm?PageId=10350 .
"Do we need new laws for leadership campaigns?" he asked. "Is the generous cap of $30,000 too high? Should democracy be sold to the highest bidder?"
MacDonald concluded by saying democracy is not for sale at any price.
Former cabinet minister Gary Mar was the high roller in the race to become premier last year, spending almost $2.7 million according to Progressive Conservative leadership race financial documents released by the party last Friday.
Mar's leadership campaign also appears to be the only one of the six camps to spend more than they took in, with a $262,000 deficiency of revenue over expenses, according to the documents. However, candidate Rick Orman declined to disclose his leadership race financial documents and in doing so, forfeit his $15,000 deposit to the PC party.
The campaign for Redford, who won the leadership race and became premier last October, spent more than $1.3 million on her push, but ended the race with a $21,000 surplus, according to the documents posted online.
Horner, who made it to the top three, spent more than $1.2 million on his leadership campaign. His camp ended the race with an $8,000 surplus.
Energy Minister Ted Morton, who finished fourth in the contest, spent $977,238 but had the biggest cushion of all the candidates — with almost $116,000 left over.
Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths, who finished last in the race, spent the least money among the six candidates at just over $164,400. He too has a $10,000 surplus.
Calgary Herald, Wed Mar 14 2012
Statements from press conference, 10:00 a.m., March 14, 2012
Family of evicted long-term-care patient attacks plans for more privatization
Long-term care in Alberta is in crisis and the privatization solution being pushed by the Conservative government will only make the situation worse, says an Alberta family whose mother was evicted last week from a private care facility.
Grace Denyer is an 80-year-old who suffers from dementia, had a stroke in August 2011, has a pacemaker and is unable to walk and feed herself and has only limited speech ability (click here for backgrounder).
"Within days of moving into the Tranquility Care Home Inc. in South Edmonton, the for-profit facility started to ask for more money. They wanted to increase the monthly rent from $3,495 to $4,995, despite the fact we had signed a one-year contract for the lesser amount and they assured us they could care for my mother. When we instructed the home that we wanted to stick to the terms of the contract, they responded with an eviction notice, to take effect in only a matter of days," says her daughter Beth Podgurny of St. Albert.
"My mother was assessed as being in stable condition and designated as a long-term-care patient, but on the same day the assessment was made, the private-for-profit home where she was living decided it no longer wanted her and so dropped her off at a hospital emergency department without notifying us," says Podgurny.
"What has happened to our mother should not happen to anyone. It is clear proof that the profit motive and patients make are a poor mix."
Podgurny says she and her family have been concerned about Conservative government talk of raising the cap on accommodation fees for long-term care to encourage more private, corporatized care.
"Today, my family wants answers from the Conservative government. Why was it possible for our mother and our family to be treated in this appalling fashion? Why is this facility allowed to advertise for and accept long-term-care patients when it is not licensed to do so? How can they increase the rent in excess of 42 per cent within weeks of entering the home? How can they be allowed to evict and dump a resident at the emergency door when they decide they no longer want to provide care?"
The family also wants to know why they have not had the courtesy of a response from an earlier letter they sent to Health and Wellness Minister Fred Horne and Seniors Minister George VanderBurg seeking a public inquiry into long-term care.
"We wrote to the Ministers two months ago asking for a public inquiry and expressing concerns over the treatment of our mother at the Youville Home in St. Albert. We have heard nothing since," says Podgurny.
"Because of the treatment our mother endured at Youville, we were cautious about trusting the care she would receive in a private, for-profit home. Based on their assurances, we removed our mother from Youville and placed her in private care, even though we knew the fees would be a source of constant stress for the family. Little did we know that the situation was going to get far, far worse."
Noel Somerville, Chairperson of Public Interest Alberta's Seniors Task Force, says: "The Premier has told us that she supports expanding the role of corporations in providing care to seniors. As we see from this shocking story, the province needs to protect our most vulnerable seniors by stopping these types of private facilities who decide they no longer want the bother of caring for your mother, your sister, your father – and simply drop your loved one off at hospital and leave them to clog up the acute-care system."
"Unfortunately, this is not the only case we have heard of private facilities forcing seniors out who they feel are too costly to support," says Bill Moore-Kilgannon, Executive Director of Public Interest Alberta. "On the eve of a provincial election, we are calling on all political parties to commit to build a high-quality public-care system for the growing population of seniors with chronic health-care needs – and to stop the profiteering off our most vulnerable seniors."
MEDIA CONTACT: Bill Moore-Kilgannon, 780-993-3736
NOTE: The Alberta Federation of Labour got to know the family of Grace Denyer while working on the recent Beyond Acute Care Conference in Edmonton. When approached by the family, the AFL agreed to help organize the media conference to bring this important issue to the attention of Albertans.
- Parkland Institute, "Delivery Matters," February 23, 2012
- YouTube video, "Fighting for Her Mother's Long-term Care in Alberta"
Supportive living complexes may be unsafe, officials say
Over a quarter of residents in Alberta's supported living facilities may be unsafe because there is insufficient staffing and care for their complex medical needs, according to a recent study.
And the report - co-written by epidemiologists at the University of Calgary and University of Alberta - found seniors in these facilities were more than twice as likely to be rushed to an emergency ward or end up staying overnight in a hospital compared with nursing home patients who have round-the-clock nursing care.
"We have put some people in supported living when we should have known their condition could quickly deteriorate and there was a lack of medical oversight," author Colleen Maxwell said. "We do worry whether people with diabetes, heart conditions and dementia are slipping through the cracks."
Maxwell, a former U of C researcher who is now a professor at the University of Waterloo's school of public health, said she was surprised to find that over half the residents in sup-ported living facilities were medically unstable and nearly 60 per cent had been diagnosed with dementia.
But the facilities were much less likely to have the medical expertise to handle these conditions than nursing homes. Only 34 per cent had doctors who were formally affiliated with the facility. Less than half had a licensed practical nurse on duty at all times.
"Everybody wants a more home-like environment and likes the idea of aging in place," Maxwell said, "but as with the experience in the United States, there are questions about whether a supported living facility can respond to prevent ad-verse events."
The survey of over 2,000 residents - half in supported living facilities and half in nursing homes - showed marked differences in how residents accessed medical care and what it cost the system.
In the previous 90 days, patients in a long-term care setting were 50 per cent more likely to have seen a doctor, but they were less than half as likely to have been hospitalized or to have visited an ER.
"Once someone has a hip fracture, they have to go the ER," Maxwell said. "The question is, was everything was done at the facility to prevent that fall."
She said the survey also found residents in supported living paid higher fees, faced additional costs for health-related supplies and services and that family caregivers were expected to bear more of the burden of care.
"There is this off-loading of costs and care on to family members," she said.
"Many told us they enjoyed getting involved, but there is a limit beyond which we can expect caregiver burn-out or the exhaustion of financial resources."
Liberal health critic Dr. David Swann said the findings raise serious questions about the province's continuing care strategy and its focus on adding more supported living beds instead of nursing home spaces.
"If the government wants people to age in place, they need to ensure they are getting adequate medical attention," Swann said.
"When patients end up in ERs and hospitals, it's neither the best care nor is it the most cost-effective for the system."
In the wake of conflicting numbers from the seniors ministry about the number of nursing home beds, Health Minister Fred Horne released figures this week that show Alberta has 50 fewer spaces today than it did four years ago, when the province promised it would add hundreds of new beds to eliminate hospital gridlock and shorten ER waits.
Wildrose health critic Heather Forsyth said she was troubled by the decline in the number of nursing home beds and the government's difficulty in pinning down an exact number.
Calgary Herald, Tues Mar 13 2012
Byline: Matt McClure
CALGARY — Usually full of hearty PC cheer, the latest newsletter from Premier Alison Redford's party to its members comes close to pushing the panic button.
The looming campaign "will be the most competitive election campaign since 1993," it says.
And later: "As we mentioned above, this is going to be one of the most hard-fought campaigns most of us will be able to remember."
The pitch, besides being severely tense-challenged, is designed to motivate Premier Alison's Redford's volunteers.
But it's also the truth. This government is suddenly in the midst of a unique political meltdown.
The crisis of confidence deepened Tuesday, with news that the ethics commissioner has no ability to investigate Gary Mar's controversial fundraiser.
It was Redford who last Friday suspended Mar from his Asia job without pay, and then turned the matter over to the commissioner.
In a TV interview Tuesday morning, she patted herself on the back for acting in the proper matter.
By late afternoon Neil Wilkinson threw the mess back at her. The rules written for him by the PC majority do not let him peer into Mar's fundraising event.
It's complicated, of course. The commissioner feels Redford made an understandable misstep.
But she's a lawyer who, before becoming premier, was Alberta's justice minister. How could she not know this?
When John Chomiak, Mar's fundraiser and a former Ed Stelmach ally, called Redford's action a "stupid move," he was also signalling a dangerous feeling in the party.
Remember that Mar, right to the end of the leadership campaign, outpointed Redford on first-choice votes. She won only because of the complex second-ballot system.
Now Redford risks alienating many Mar backers, the very people the party newsletter tries to goose out of their armchairs.
Mar, of course, defends himself vigorously, insisting he'll fight for his reputation.
That in itself is a challenging move. He's a government employee now, not a politician, but he's thrown himself into public confrontation with his premier.
If Wildrose got to write the entire script for the campaign, a roomful of Tom Flanagans could not dream this up.
Also on Tuesday, yet another poll showed Wildrose closing in on the PCs.
In little more than three months Redford has blown 20 percentage points of her party's polling lead, and seen Wildrose climb back by about 10 points. The Tories' lead could be as low as five points.
The polls are now as close as they were in the pit of Ed Stelmach's troubles. If these trends continue, the PCs could actually find themselves in a fight on election day.
Jolted by one blow after another — the no-meet committee, Stephen Carter's offensive tweet, Hector Goudreau's threatening letter, the Mar uproar, health-care inquiry retreat, and much more — the government seems shaken and defensive.
Many PCs are convinced they tore up their ticket to another huge majority by failing to call a quick election last fall.
There was plenty of hubris in Redford's camp back then. Wildrose was waning. Some Tories even declared it dead.
The party passed on an early vote in the belief that Redford would keep getting more popular.
Asked by the Edmonton TV interviewer Tuesday if she regrets the delay, she said, "Well, the reason I didn't is another commitment I made is I want to pass a budget."
An admirable goal, perhaps. But leaders only get to govern if they do the political part right. Through an extraordinary combination of bad luck and dubious judgment, this one is getting a lot of it wrong.
Calgary Herald, Wed Mar 14 2012
Byline: Don Braid
In a preview of upcoming provincial election debates, Health Minister Fred Horne took on four party leaders Monday night in a town hall discussion on the future of health care in Alberta.
Amid continuing care, the use of health technology and worker morale, some of the most emotional exchanges of the night erupted when a member of the audience asked if any of the parties had "the political will" to fix problems that have been around for decades, such as long waiting lists and inadequate staffing. It was four against one, as the opposition leaders blasted Horne for his government's failings to make sufficient progress on the problems.
Horne said the Redford government was on the right track, adding that people need to stop looking for a "magic fix" to complicated issues.
The best health systems in the world "look for incremental improvement based on consultations with front-line staff," Horne told a crowd of about 300 people packed into a lecture hall at University Hospital.
But Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith said Horne was being disingenuous, since the Alberta health system hasn't shown incremental improvement on reducing waiting times or ensuring the system has enough doctors, nurses and technicians. She said the government's decision to stick with a system man-aged by the Alberta Health Services superboard would prevent further progress, since it will "trap" workers in an organization that doesn't work.
NDP Leader Brian Mason said the system has still not recovered from the damage done by former health minister Ron Liepert, who championed the switch from local health authorities to AHS.
"With all due respect, minister, your government has been working on this for 40 years," Mason said to scattered applause. "The NDP invented health care and we will always be its most reliable defender."
Liberal Leader Dr. Raj Sherman said his will to fix the problems was evident through his courage in at-tacking the government when he was still a member of the PC caucus. He said his party can solve issues quickly, in part through more investment in long-term care and home care.
"We don't need incremental change. People are suffering right now," he said, while Horne shook his head.
Alberta Party Leader Glenn Taylor said his group went through building a party from scratch precisely because they felt the current government was not up to the task of delivering essential services.
The forum, hosted by the Edmonton Journal and the Alberta Medical Association, featured questions from both members of the public and health-care organizations.
Another topic that produced fire-works came when a retired obstetrician asked the panellists how they would curb queue-jumping, admit-ting that he "unashamedly" engaged in the practice once to get his wife a CT scan after hours.
Again, opposition leaders used the opportunity to go after Horne on his government's recent decision to hold a public inquiry into allegations that politically connected people have been queue-jumping to get better or faster care.
While the health minister said Premier Alison Redford had honoured her promise by proceeding with the inquiry, Sherman went on the attack. "Fred, I've got to call you on this. The premier is misleading the public," he said, arguing the inquiry should also look into the alleged intimidation of doctors. He said the best way to pre-vent queue-jumping was not to have a waiting line in the first place.
Mason and Smith also said they were not convinced the inquiry, as structured, would do any good.
Other questions focused on improving rural health care and ensuring private health-care providers are paying workers a fair wage.
All the opposition leaders said they would divert money from bureaucracy to front-line services and introduce more local control into decisions about health-care delivery. Smith said her party hopes to move away from the AHS model and instead look at some sort of "hybrid" system of public and private care that is used in countries such as Switzerland and Germany.
"The solution doesn't end with a superboard or regional health authorities. It ends with the defeat of this government," Taylor said.
Horne said the province is moving to give local health advisory councils more say.
"But we don't believe they need to be elected or that we need to go back to a system of governance from the 1970s."
A similar town hall was held last week in Calgary.
Edmonton Journal, Tues Mar 13 2012
Byline: Keith Gerein
When the business of politics is at its most cutthroat - which is to say during an election campaign - does a politician get what he or she pays for, negotiates or deserves?
The developing case of Gary Mar continues to provide conflicting answers to that question and also affords an opportunity to debate the pros and cons of Alberta's party campaign-finance laws.
The Mar team spent $2.7 million in an attempt to win him the Progressive Conservative leadership race but he finished second and literally out of the money - $260,000 in the hole, to be exact. Premier Ali-son Redford's campaign spent half what Mar's did, yet she will be leading the PCs into a looming election, after first dealing with a number of nagging issues, which is where Mar re-enters the picture.
He has been placed by Redford on unpaid leave as Alberta's envoy to Asia because of concerns the premier had regarding a fundraising dinner held March 1 to pay off Mar's campaign debt. The original invitations to the event alluded to Mar's new posting, possibly leaving the impression that contributors to the fundraiser were supporting a government representative rather than a debt-laden campaign. Though the invitations were amended, it was too late. The ethical questions, and red flags, had already been raised. Alberta's ethics commissioner will investigate.
The incident opens a window into the issue of Alberta's legislation regarding leadership campaign spending. Redford's relatively affordable win over Mar and four other candidates would suggest that a post as important as party leader can-not be bought merely by spending twice as much as a credible rival. The electorate in such elections is highly motivated - they are party members after all - and may be less susceptible than some members of the general public to the influence of costly media campaigns.
Is there a need then to cap the amount that can be raised and spent by a party leadership candidate? Or is the nature of those races different enough from general elections not to worry about it?
Certainly, the current rule that caps an individual's contribution at a generous $30,000 is out of step with the federal party limit of just $1,100. Might donors of $30,000 look at their contribution as an investment that ought to pay dividends? Should the limit be halved? Quartered?
The number can be debated, so too the fact that contributions from corporations and unions are allowed in Alberta races - and capped at $30,000 - but are not allowed federally. There is also a troubling lack of transparency in the process, illustrated by PC leadership candidate Rick Orman who chose to forfeit his $15,000 deposit to the PC Association in lieu of divulging a list of campaign contributors.
It's acceptable practice under cur-rent law. It's also the precise kind of behaviour that has earned politics its reputation as a secretive business and should not be allowed.
Edmonton Journal, Tues Mar 13 2012
Reimbursements by Opposition 'stunts,' Redford charges
Premier Alison Redford on Monday ordered Conservative MLAs to stop accepting committee pay until a salary review is complete.
She hasn't, however, asked government MLAs to refund money they were paid to sit on a committee that has not met since 2008.
Wildrose MLAs Heather Forsyth will return the $40,000 she was paid for sitting on the committee and Wildrose MLA Guy Boutilier will return his $4,000 in pay.
Liberal Leader Raj Sherman has also pledged to refund the money.
Redford dismissed the reimbursements as a political "stunt," while government house leader Dave Hancock called it "grandstanding."
"I find it terribly interesting that a number of people in this house, who today have come up with a convenient stunt to try and polarize an issue, are people who were fully aware of what they were receiving for payment and did nothing about it until today," Redford told the legislature.
"We will do exactly what I've com-mitted to doing, which is to have an independent commission make a recommendation to not only how government members are paid, but all members in the legislature."
Redford promised to review MLA compensation during the Conservative leadership race last summer. After she became premier, she set up an independent commission to review MLA pay.
The commission, led by retired Supreme Court justice Jack Major, is expected to report back with recommendations at the end of April.
"We will take that recommendation seriously (and) accept those recommendations," Redford said.
The standing committee on privileges and elections made headlines last week when it was revealed that 21 MLAs are paid $1,000 a month for sitting on the committee.
Asked whether Tory MLAs plan to refund money they earned for sitting on the committee, Hancock said "some members can grandstand about the issue.
"What they're saying if they're giving money back in my view is that they don't believe that they've earned the money. All MLAs work hard. - There should be no doubt about that.
"The money that they (receive) is earned so any of that sort of stuff is just grandstanding, particularly from people who never made any com-plaint or concern about it before."
Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith said her party has advocated for three years to see MLA pay structures changed.
"We don't believe that we need to wait for a judge to tell us what the right thing to do is," she said.
The Wildrose would cap lucrative severance payments, she said, and introduce a single, fully taxable salary for MLAs. The party would also rescind the controversial 30-per-cent pay increases introduced in 2008 and roll back salaries by five per cent.
"After 40 years in power, (the Conservatives) think the rules don't apply to them. They don't know where the ethical line is. They don't know where the legal line is. And as a result they make decisions that are clearly out of step with what Albertans want to see," Smith said.
NDP Leader Brian Mason said both NDP members will also stop accepting committee pay until Major re-leases his recommendations.
"This whole thing needs to be fixed and the public has made that very clear," Mason said. "We're going to co-operate with that effort."
He said NDP MLA Rachel Notley sat on the committee, but won't return any money. Mason said she sits on so many committees that she would have been entitled to the maximum $3,500 in pay regardless of whether she was named to the elections and privileges committee.
Liberal Leader Raj Sherman re-fused to say whether his MLAs will stop taking committee pay.
"To suspend committee pay two weeks before an election, that's a bit of a joke," Sherman said. "First the premier was a cop-out and now she'll say anything just before an election."
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation last week awarded the committee a national award for wasting hundreds of thousands in pay to committee members.
Federation spokesman Scott Hen-nig said Monday that Redford's response is a good first step, but that people won't be satisfied until all of the MLAs who were paid for sitting on the committee have reimbursed the money.
Albertans, "are spitting mad still. I don't think this has completely solved this issue," Hennig said.
"She should be asking her MLAs to refund the money. I think if she asked ... that would be a pretty strong request."
Edmonton Journal, Tues Mar 13 2012
Byline: Karen Kleiss
For years, every health-care expert in Alberta has said that one of the main solutions for better emergency room access is more long-term care beds. The government has said it, Alberta Health Services has said it, doctors and advocacy groups have pushed for it, but the situation never improves. In fact, it has gotten worse.
The province currently has 14,574 nursing home beds — at least 50 fewer than in early 2008 and an inconsequential increase from the 14,500 that existed in 1992. The paralysis on this critical issue is one of the great failings of the ruling Tories. Former premier Ed Stelmach vowed to build 1,000 long-term beds per year. But facility operators say new spaces frequently replace aging capacity that's being closed down. Of the 511 beds announced by the Redford government in December, only 30 are 24-hour nursing home spaces, with the remainder being supported living beds for residents without complex medical needs.
The government's failure to deliver more long-term care beds is a key reason behind the excessive waits in the province's emergency rooms, according to Dr. Paul Parks, past president of the Alberta Medical Association's emergency medical section. The recent Alberta Health Quality Council report on the province's health-care system said that six to eight per cent of hospital beds are occupied by patients waiting for access to supportive living and long-term care facilities, calling it "an inefficient use of a critically limited resource that further contributes to high in-patient occupancy bed rates."
Chloe Atkins, an associate professor at the University of Calgary who specializes in medical ethics, recently wrote on these pages that she is one of the "bed blockers." With a chronic illness that occasionally keeps her hospitalized for long periods, she blocks the move of patients from the emergency ward, causing a backup in the system. Atkins says she does not require a long-term care bed, simply better federal tax breaks that would allow her to make her house more accessible. It is another simple solution that governments at two levels fail to grasp, let alone resolve.
In its 2012 budget, the provincial government announced $25 million for three home-care initiatives for seniors. Among them is a new program, Destination Home, designed to help seniors return home as quickly as possible after a hospital stay and avoid unnecessary hospital visits. Specifics were thin, with the government saying it was developing the program for gradual implementation over the next three years. Also announced were new adult day program spaces for 440 home care and better access to 24-hour on-call registered nurses for home care.
Considering the inability of the province to resolve this issue over the years, we won't be holding our breath.
Calgary Herald, Mon Mar 12 2012