By Collin Gallant
Southern Alberta Newspapers
Sparring on health care and government finances, candidates in the Brooks-Medicine Hat riding took the stage for the second and final time on May 17.
Danielle Smith, the incumbent and premier on a re-election campaign, said her government is on the right track and is making needed changes in health.
New Democratic challenger Gwendoline Dirk said the United Conservatives under Smith were relying too heavily on oil prices to balance the budget while paving the way toward private health care.
Barry Morishita, Alberta Party leader, said the threat of “lurches” back and forth from changing governments was causing pain for Alberta business and residents.
“The Alberta Party is not going to form government after this election,” said Morishita, whose party is running in 19 of 87 ridings. “But we can be a moderating force in the toxic politics we see in this province. I can do that from Brooks-Medicine Hat.”
Medicine Hat became the focus of a two-night forum for the riding that began May 16 in Brooks.
On May 17, Smith told the audience of about 300 people that Alberta’s finances are stronger now after four years of UCP government than under the NPD from 2015 to 2019.
“We’ve collected a record amount of corporate income tax this year,” she said, before listing economic and sector development programs. The future of the oilpatch, she said “was very bright” and Alberta’s position strong as oilsands operators’ graduated tax programs expire, LNG export terminals coming on line in several years and the potential to develop hydrogen from natural gas.
“We have to make sure we fight off the federal government’s planned emission cap,” she concluded.
Dirk, however, said the NDP’s plans to incentivize development across sectors was sound and a better option,
“Oil won’t last forever, we need to diversify,” said Dirk, adding former premier Notley dealt with low oil prices and showed net job creation over four years.
“(The budget) is the result of world oil prices. We’re swimming in oil money and that’s not under control of Danielle Smith or the UCP, or Rachel Notley for that matter.”
“We have to have a serious conversation about revenue and expenditures in Alberta – it’s long overdue,” said Morishita. “I’m not hearing anyone up here promising that the next time oil and gas go down that we won’t cut education and health budgets again.”
On health, Morishita noted all parties say they want to collaborate with health-care workers and doctors, but his party, which espouses coalition building and consultations, is best positioned to enact long-term improvement.
“We have to build a relationship on respect and collaboration,” he said. “It’s not going to get solved very soon. We need a long-term plan.”
Smith, who has been targeted on health in a tight race with the NDP across the province, said she replaced the AHS board after becoming premier and the situation has improved, brushing off criticism about allowing more private sector involvement.
“The NDP keeps confusing the issue … the government pays, not the patient,” she said, about the use of private surgeries to tackle a back-log of procedures. “If we can bring on extra capacity with private clinics, we should.”
Dirk said the NDP platform would bring in a training facility model to attract doctors to underserved communities, such as Medicine Hat, and called the UCP plan for private surgery providers “fancy words for private health care.”
“Let’s not kid ourselves, health care is in crisis,” said Dirk, citing layoffs and contentious talks with doctors during the pandemic.
“Doctors have left and they’re not coming back unless the government changes.”