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Ford: What do Albertans care most about: health care or the economy?

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Heath care or the economy?

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UCP or NDP?

Who wins? Who knows?

There it is: 12 words; 12 months.

Policy wonks call it the “red zone” and Albertans are speeding rapidly toward its reality.

The next Alberta election is May 29, 2023, and that means the red zone starts on or about the beginning of June this year. What that means for all of us is a decision about what is the most important challenge facing this province: health care or the economy.

All of this prognosticating is based on a few simple realities: Premier Jason Kenney survives a leadership review this spring and doesn’t call a snap election, the price of oil rises and stays above $70 a barrel; the pandemic is but a bad memory, and Albertans decide what is most important.

How each of us makes that decision will determine the makeup of the next provincial government. My prediction? Committed conservative voters will decide the economy is more important; liberal voters will focus on health care.

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Those who believe the economy to be the most important key to a rosy future will be pitted against those who believe the care of the sick, needy and aged is our most important priority going forward.

If the past two years have taught us anything, it has highlighted the abysmal state of long-term care in Canada, the atrocious lack of concern outside of a resident’s own family and the concept that morality doesn’t enter into it. Wrong. This is all our moral responsibility.

It has also taught us that we are ill-prepared for a crisis, even as the 2003 SARS outbreak should have warned us. Instead, we made little progress, preferring to ignore the problems.

We have learned how fragile our health-care system really is: held together metaphorically with duct tape, hope and the hard work of front-line staff. One doesn’t have to look very far to see the wreckage; friends whose “elective” operations have been postponed more than once; those whose pain is managed only through opioids as they wait and wait and wait while hospitals and their staff are contending with the fallout from the pandemic and the stupidity of anti-vaxxers. While one cannot cure stupidity, all of us can embrace the cure for our expensive and inefficient system for treating the sick.

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(Canada spends about $7,000 per capita on health care, behind the United States, Germany, France and Sweden. Incidentally, the U.S. spends more than $12,500 per person, making that country’s expenditure the highest in the world.)

We have a responsibility. It starts with monitoring what Kenney does with Alberta’s share of the $9 billion earmarked for long-term care by Ottawa. Personally, I’d like Alberta’s premier to agree with whatever national standards are proposed by the federal government and ditch the “everything that’s wrong in Alberta is the fault of a guy named Trudeau” trope. The hammer held by Kenney is the provinces are in charge of the delivery of health care.

This is more than an ideological battle, it is a morality play. Do we care about the budget or do we care about bodies? Clearly, we should be able to do both, but I’m too old to believe in the tooth fairy.

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Here is what needs to happen within the next year. First, the embattled premier must survive a leadership review, made even more intense by the likely presence in his caucus of Brian Jean, the UCP candidate in Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche in a byelection that must be called this month. Jean has made no secret of his intention to replace Kenney.

I’m not willing to bet on Kenney’s demise. He has proven himself to be a powerful organizer and wily campaigner and, if need be, will harness his supporters to flood the convention floor in Red Deer.

Between now and the next election, candidates must be nominated for the 87 seats in the legislature, a possibility of 522 hopefuls from the six registered parties, although it is unlikely the fringe parties (Wildrose Independence Party, Alberta Party, Greens and now the moribund Liberal party) will have a full slate of nominees.

UCP or NDP?

The economy or health care?

It’s up to us to decide.

Catherine Ford is a regular columnist for the Calgary Herald.

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