It’s a sad week for Ralph Klein

Poor Ralph Klein. Early this week it was reported that Klein would be hanging up his crown in 2007. This announcement was not made to allow enough time to plan his retirement party. It was made because those who are interested in becoming the next absolute ruler of Alberta are getting anxious, and too many people had been suggesting Klein’s exit could be as soon as this fall. Klein must have realized that these retirement reports often included accusations that he has lost his passion for the job, putting the province on auto-pilot.

Auto-pilot! That is nonsense, of course. After all, he had recently announced his ‘revolutionary’ third-way health reforms, including his pet project: the ability for Albertan’s to pay for the ‘superior’ Birmingham Hip replacement surgery out of pocket. But it turns out the Birmingham Hip is not so superior. According to orthopedic surgens, Klein’s praise of the Birmingham Hip has created mass confusion and anger among patients who thought they were getting a good hip already. And, it turns out that those patients suited to the Birmingham were already getting it, and it was being paid for by the public system. According to Dr. William Johnston, past president of the Canadian Orthopedic Association, “There is no clear consensus among experts that the Birmingham hip is a better hip and indeed, in many studies, it has a higher complication rate” (from Edmonton Journal, 22 July, A6).

But don’t shed a tear for Ralph Klein just because his retirement is eagerly awaited, and his pet project is coming under attack. Shed those tears for the majority of Albertans. After all, the granting of Alberta’s first same sex marriage licenses yesterday constituted, according to Klein, “a sad day for the majority of Albertans who believe in the traditional definition of marriage.” Ralph, it’s nice to see that the fire still burns!

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Where’s the beef?

Yesterdays ruling by the 9th Circuit Federal Appeals Court brought long awaited news for Canada’s cattle industry. It appears the border is now open and beef of all cuts, as well as live cattle could begin their trek across the border as soon as today. Although it is unclear what result, if any, a Montana hearing later in the month may have on the situation, Canadian ranchers, packers, truckers etc. are certainly nearer the end of the tunnel today following yesterdays court decision and the discovery of a US grown BSE infected cow earlier last month.

Since the border closed to Canadian beef in May of 2003 the case to reopen has, I think, been based on these claims: Canadian testing is working, Canadian beef is as safe as American beef due to years of crossborder trade, the risk of contracting BSE from eating beef is virtually non-existent. The argument for keeping the border closed has always been safety, though accusations that US cattle associations, such as R-CALF are engaging in nothing more than protectionism to the detriment of the Canadian industry, as well as some US packers and shippers have been made. I am glad that the beef will soon be moving again, but the decimation of the Canadian beef industry is not the only story we should have followed since the first case of BSE was discovered in Alberta. I would suggest that the fallout from the BSE crisis has demonstrated a failure of the Canadian governments, provincial and federal, as well as a failure of the cattle industry to anticipate and prepare for such an event. After all, we had been on the opposite side of the equation before, with respect to Britain, Japan, and Brazil.

The official line has always been that Canada is a low risk country, meeting or exceeding OIE guidlines. But sometimes OIE guidelines are not sufficient to overcome trade politics, and sometimes international organizations and governments misuse science to set standards favorable to industry, making short term economics a higher priority than long term safety. This has certainly been true of international organizations and our government with respect to genetically modified agri-foods where the concepts of ‘familiarity’ and ‘substantial equivalence’ were adopted by the OECD and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and then passed off on citizens in Canada as being based on science and ample justification to ignore debate on GMO issues. Is there an analogy with the BSE issue? I am honestly not sure, but I no longer take the federal government as an authority on scientific issues after researching the federal biotechnology strategies of the 1980’s and 1990’s.

Given the certainty of safety with which our politicians speak it is amazing at how little is known about prions, BSE and variant Creutzfeld-Jakob disease. The origin of BSE remains in debate. There is no test to detect BSE in live animals. A 2002 study (Bosque et al.) showed abnormal prion protein present in the musculature of mice, suggesting that contraction of vCJD might be possible from eating beef, even after the removal of neural and lymphatic tissues. Now that the border is reopen, it is important that BSE science remain a priority for our government, the cattle industry, and people like myself who eat beef nearly once a day.

Fine! Have your stinking marriage license!

Alberta has finally, reluctantly, backed down from its fight to prevent same-sex marriage in the province. Don’t go running out to get your marriage licenses yet though, as Klein has stated, Alberta wont begin issuing licenses until proclamation of Bill C-38 after it has received royal assent.

“We will proceed to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, much to our chagrin, following proclamation of the federal Civil Marriage Act,” – Ralph Klein

Additionally, Alberta has stated that it will ensure a greater protection of personal and religious beliefs.

“We will develop legislative options to ensure the rights of religious officials and those Albertans who hold social or cultural beliefs or values, whether religious or non-religious, … No one will be required to advocate, promote or teach about marriage in a way that conflicts with their beliefs.” – Ralph Klein

These legislative options will protect not only ministers, but also marriage commissioners from performing same-sex marriages if it violates his/her beliefs. The government did reassure, however, that if a couple in any community wished to marry, the necessary personnel would be provided to conduct the ceremony.

With Alberta’s acceptance of bill C-38, one of the last major hurdles for same-sex marriage throughout Canada has been overcome.

Remembering Chuck Cadman

This post is a little late. I was hoping that this article could be left for Gnomes to write as he would do it the most justice, but as Gnomes is currently in Europe and will not be back to post within the next 2 weeks I felt something should be written.

As many already know, MP Chuck Cadman passed away Saturday after a two year battle against cancer. Acclaimed as a true representative of his constituents, Chuck ran and won as an independent in the riding of Surrey North during the 2004 election after losing his ridings Conservative nomination.

Although he was better known for his recent thrust into the spotlight for being what many acknowledged as the deciding vote during the minority governments greatest crisis of the spring session, Cadman’s largest contribution was to young offender act reform, and should be most acknowledged for his pivotal role in the development and passing of the youth criminal justice act.

Chuck Cadman will be missed. Chuck Cadman will be remembered.

Third way health care

Yesterdays announcement of the ‘third way’ health care reform platform by the Alberta Government has been described as timid, ineffective, and vague by some. For others it represents the thin slice of the wedge between private and public health care, threatening to undermine the public system. Is it possible both could be true? Yes. Is this an example of harmful neoliberal policy disguised with a smile? I think so… and I fear that this may be revealed more clearly in future announcements in areas such as delisting of services.

Much of the platform is little more than titles of future announcements and promises of consultation, and it is clear that yesterdays announcement will not cause the second-tier to dwarf or undermine the public tier overnight. After all, according to the Premier, these things take time. What is also clear is that the government failed to make any changes that will greatly decrease wait times. Although wait lists in Alberta are not substandard, it remains Alberta’s largest health care concern. There are some positives coming out of yesterdays announcement. For example, changes to the waitlist registry may not decrease wait times, but it will make important information more readily available to patients. New strategies involving booster shots and child immunization are welcomed, but hardly revolutionary. Action 9, addressing and exploring solutions to the spiraling cost of drugs, and the poor pharmaceutical coverage of Albertans (27% have zero coverage) will certainly be welcomed- though it appears the Government may have already decided on their solution. Rather than exploring higher drug prices for those with higher income, why not eliminate health care premiums and make the tax system more fair. Regardless, initiatives such as these provide the smile typical of ‘third way’ politics.

The devil within the details can be found in Action 8 of the Governments 12 step program. As far as I could see, there was no mention of eliminating the Health Care premium Albertans are currently forced to pay. Currently, Alberta is one of few jurisdictions in the country that pays for some (but not all) chiropractic services. Rather than expansion to increase coverage under the public system, the Government will allow Albertans to “use secondary insurance to help pay for podiatry and chiropractic services beyond what’s covered by Alberta health care” and allow people to “choose enhanced medical goods and services beyond what doctors decide is medically necessary.” The government says this is about providing choice, but it is also an expansion of the role of for-profit health care. Any expansion of for-profit care may contribute to the undermining of the public system. For example, will the availability of the Birmingham Hip through a user-pays system impede the availability of the same procedure in the public sphere. Will the Government be committed to making quality the goal of the universal system? It has also raised concerns over a potential conflict of interest for doctors. According to Friends of Medicare coordinator Harvey Voogd, “The patient will not know whether the physician is recommending enhanced medical care because it is in the doctor’s financial self interest or because it is the best treatment.” Finally, this expansion of the private tier is all occurring as the Government reexamines which health services will be covered by public insurance, and which will be covered by private. This is an important area in which the Government can demonstrate it’s commitment to quality public medicare, or not.

Grewal Again

If you thought, like myself, that you had your last laugh over Grumant Grewal, well think again. If there is only one MP that has been consistent in providing the Electorate with what can easily be described as slapstick humor, it’s good old Grumant Grewal.

If you haven’t heard, Grewal could be in a bit of trouble over campaign expenses for the 2004 election. It is only the most recent problem facing Grewal, after a long string of events starting with the infamous tape scandal. If I am counting correctly this is only the 3rd or 4th RCMP investigation (tape scandal, airport fiasco, immigration controversy, and now campaign scrutiny) for Grewal since this spring, that’s got to be a record.

After a greuling spring session of Parliament with plenty of Conservative criticism over Liberal campaign spending this latest Grewal situation is more than a little ironic. Although the details are unclear, it appears, to me at least, that Grewal may have pocketed a few campaign donations. At the very least, Elections Act procedures were not followed and proper donation receipts were not provided, which, although less criminal is just another embarrassing blunder which Grewal, and the Conservative Party of Canada, could live without.

It is really quite humorous. It’s almost as if, whenever the Conservatives begin to build something promising, Grewal is there to knock it down. Although not the only destructive force in the Conservative Party, Grumant Grewal has more than proven that he is a self destructive force to be reckoned with.

Third Way Politics

This post is a preamble to a planned post for tomorrow on the Alberta government third way health care plan. This plan was released today. I have not yet looked at it in depth (tonights job) but have read and seen a few news reports on it.

Before discussing the plan itself, I would like to discuss the term ‘third way’, and it’s place in recent political economy discourse. For some this discussion will simply reveal bias (which may be evident in my post tomorrow) though my hope is that it triggers a tendency to view public policy with a critical eye. There is a chance the remainder of this post will not relate to the Klein announcement (though I would bet it does) in which case this post is simply a brief summary of recent political terminolgy, ideology and event.

For many Albertans today’s health care announcement, or it’s preannouncements since January may be the first time hearing of ‘third way’ with respect to public policy, although the term was occasionally applied over the last century, and most recently is associated with the Blair government and the rise of New Labour during the 1990s. Due to similarity in policy with New Labour, the term ‘third way’ has also been applied to the Clinton and Chretien executives, and in many respects may still be applied to their successors Bush 43 and Martin.

‘Third Way’ in these contexts can be thought of as a reaction to the economic policies of the Reagan, Mulroney, and Thatcher governments that in the 1980’s changed the fundamental nature of their national economies by embracing neoliberal economic principles as a cure for the high rate of inflation thought to be caused by a combination of oil-shock, the increased wages demanded by those working in nations with nearly full employment, and a consensus that the post-war boom was over. Neoliberal principles demanded the rejection of the welfare state (government’s role as a wide-ranging service provider, gradually built over time through policy programs and active control of economic management through monetary policy with the goals of stable income and high employment).

Many viewed this as a significant and unwelcome change in policy direction, and in 1993 the Chretien Liberal’s promised a different approachwhich the voters accepted. Likewise, in Britain and the United States traditionally centre or centre left parties would find electoral success. However, not only was neoliberalism adopted by these parties, but it arguably became adopted more vigourously. It is this process, the acceptance of neoliberalism and neoliberal globalization by traditionally left of centre political parties, that defines the term ‘third way’ (as I understand it). [For a description of how ‘third way’ policies have effected Canada, please read “Paradigm Shift” by Stephan McBride (2001).] The ‘third way’ has been described as ‘capitalism with a smile’ and more truthfully, ‘neoliberalism with a smile’. For critics of neoliberalism the ‘third way’ is nothing more than a masking of the negative effects of neoliberal policy behind a deceitful smile.

Pay now, pay later

In a recent survey, 63% of Canadian respondents claimed that they would rather pay out of their pockets to get faster health care service. But, in my eyes, this raises a big question: would Canadians be willing to pay higher taxes to achieve faster public health care service? I strongly feel that the answer would be no. I am not sure why though, as it accomplishes the same thing while maintaining a universal system.

People would argue that Canadian taxes are already too high, which is hard to argue against as many Canadians don’t see the benefits of their tax dollars in action. This is especially true with respect to healthcare, a main concern for Canadians that appears to be stuck in a long waiting line itself. I wonder if people saw taxes for healthcare as health insurance premiums if they would see them differently. I personally would like to see our “healthcare taxes” separated when filing our income tax forms, so that at tax time Canadians can see exactly what they are paying toward their healthcare system. I would imagine they would be surprised, one way or the other.

People must realize that paying out of pocket to jump a line at the hospital is not going to be cheap. These would be life altering expenditures, on the scale of purchasing a new car, or home (or greater) depending on the procedures.

In the end, money is money I guess, whether spent now (in taxes) or spent later (out of pocket). Either way healthcare is expensive and someone has to pay for it. I would argue against anyone who would claim that the healthcare system has not benefited them, and I would argue against anyone who would claim that they will never use it in the future. I may not be a prime user today, but when I am old and frail I imagine I will get my moneys worth.

As a side note there is an interesting Wikipedia article on the Canadian Healthcare system. Particularly interesting is the WHO info at the bottom of the page.

Alberta advantage?

It has been an exciting six weeks for children in the province of Alberta. On June 3rd the bulk of restrictions preventing 12 and 13 year olds from entering the labour force (within the food service industry) were removed, and yesterday the province signed on for national day care funding, on the condition that for-profit care not be excluded. How convenient. Now baby can enroll in a high-priced day-care and big sister can help pay for it. These are the two latest examples of ideology run amuk in Alberta. By many accounts the adjustment to labour standards occurred with little or no prodding from the food service industry, and little or no public consultation. That the government would fight for the for-profit version of day-care is no surprise, despite studies suggesting not-for-profit care is superior.

Why does Employment Minister Mike Cardinal think age limits should be eased? “There are some areas where some parents are not in a financial situation where they can afford to completely support children without the youth going to work. I think that option should be there.” “Work is healthy, it doesn’t hurt.” (5 July, Edmonton Journal A6). Education advocates, those who work with the poor, and those who work with refugees have all expressed concern that working can hurt persons as young as twelve and thirteen. Twelve year olds should be focusing on being 12 year olds, going to school and playing with their friends. Governments should be looking for reasonable solutions to the problems cited by Mike Cardinal. Governments should look out for those most at risk, including children, whether that means barring them from working or endorsing not-for-profit day-care.

Vilolence, Order, Change

When I watched the national newscasts last night I was pleased that billy-clubs and bloody noses did not overshadow… the celebrities. After the celebrities the blood was still shown, and the largest picture accompanying the G8 articles in my morning newspaper was neither Bono nor George Bush but that of a bloodied protester. In fact, the one and only bloodied protester I saw while watching the news yesterday. I am always amazed that protests of this scale and so diverse in their goals can remain mostly peaceful in spite of the confronting and containing powers (be they police or journalistic) mobilized to maintain order.

Tonight’s newscasts will not feature the bloody-faced protester, tonight there is actual violence to report about. Yesterday dissent seemed almost mainstream. However, as with the September 11 attacks, the politics of violence will not only overshadow, but likely undermine the politics of peaceful protest. “The legitimacy of dissent, and especially dissent that takes the form of street protests, is often a domestic casualty of the ideological climate of war.” Leo Panitch described how this occurred post September 11 in Violence as a Tool for Order and Change: The War on Terrorism and the Antiglobalization Movement. Panitch cites Mark Twain’s take on the French Revolution:

There were two “Reigns of Terror,” if we would but remember it and consider it: the one wrought murder in hot passion, the other in cold blood; the one lasted mere months, the other had lasted a thousand years; the one inflicted death upon ten thousand persons, the other upon a hundred millions; but our shudders are all for the “horrors” of the minor Terror, so to speak; whereas, what is the horror of swift death by the ax compared with death by slow fire at the stake? A city cemetery could contain the coffins filled by that brief Terror which we have all been so diligently taught to shiver at and mourn over; but all France could hardly contain the coffins filled by that older and real Terror-that unspeakably bitter and awful Terror which none of us has been taught to see in its vastness or pity as it deserves.

In the coming days, months, and years pay mind to how the politics of violence, order, and change interact. And remember, even so soon after tragedy, it should still be permitted to condemn both “Reigns of Terror.”

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