As new Alberta Premier Danielle Smith tries to sell her libertarian vision for the province’s future ahead of next May’s scheduled election, she keeps running into the same obstacle: Danielle Smith.
After winning the leadership of her party in October, Smith spent her first few weeks as premier apologizing for things she had said, whether it was about unvaccinated people or the war in Ukraine. Now, she’s being asked to account for her claims of Indigenous heritage — ones that, as APTN’s Danielle Paradis reported, don’t hold up to scrutiny.
A politician having to eat their own words is hardly a new phenomenon, and Smith’s background as a radio host and pundit makes her particularly vulnerable to being fed by them. But few, if any, have ever served themselves such a rich and varied buffet — and her attitude towards health care will almost certainly be the main course.
A recent CBC poll by Janet Brown shows health care is the top priority for Albertans right now, with 41 per cent of respondents rating it as the “SINGLE most important issue facing Alberta.” And if Smith’s own words are to be believed, she thinks the best way to address that issue is by having Albertans pay for more of their care.
In the mandate letter for Minister of Health Jason Copping, she instructs him to work on the creation of “health spending accounts,” which would apparently be seeded with $300 each year and used to fund expenses that aren’t covered by the government. This idea, which she talked up during her leadership campaign, is drawn straight out of a paper she published with the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy in June 2021. In it, she seems to see those accounts as a Trojan Horse for more private activity in the publicly funded system, and even an opportunity to introduce decidedly American concepts like co-pays.
“Once people get used to the concept of paying out of pocket for more things themselves,” she wrote, “then we can change the conversation on health care.” That change, she suggests, could cut right to the heart of our health-care system here in Canada and the values that underpin it. “I think [it] is time to redefine universality… We should begin to talk about creating a publicly administered health insurance system based on principles of proper insurance. In a proper insurance program, there is usually a deductible or co-payment on services until it reaches a certain maximum when catastrophic coverage kicks in.”
It might be tempting for one of her staffers to suggest this paper was written in a different time, back when she was a pundit and professional pontificator rather than a politician. Unfortunately for them, there’s a video from this past July — when she was running for leader of the United Conservative Party — where she lays out the idea of having people “fundraise” for their own health-care treatments.
“That’s what the beauty of the health spending account is all about,” she said. “Not only would we seed it with a bit of money, but then we would give you the incentive to put more money in for your own medical needs … [and] get your employer money in, raise money to put money in, get your family to donate money. I recognize that we’re going to need more dollars as we go forward. But I don’t think that you want to put more tax dollars in a general pot of money to give to the head of AHS.”
In other words, it would be every Albertan for themselves. And when it comes to Smith’s view of how to fix the health-care system, that’s really what it all boils down to: me before we.
This is a bitter pill for people like Adam Rozenhart, a digital media strategist in Edmonton who tweeted about the premier’s vision for health care. “My dad did two rounds of chemo, one round of radiation, and hospice care for a full month, to say nothing of the half-dozen ER visits in the last year he was alive,” he wrote. “A health spending account wouldn’t begin to cover it.”
When it comes to Danielle Smith’s view of how to fix the health-care system, it would be every Albertan for themselves, @maxfawcett writes for @NatObserver #Alberta #AHS #HealthCare #opinion
Stories like that will help define the next election in Alberta and whether Smith wins it or not.
When it comes to their health-care system and its future, do voters trust the current incarnation of Smith or the one from this past July? Do they believe the version that talked and wrote rapturously about privatization and personal responsibility and the need to radically reform the system, or the one who has toned that stuff down in order to appeal to more moderate voters?
One thing is certain: if she ends up losing, she’ll have nobody to blame but herself.