By Kevin J. Sabo
For the Advance
Local MLA Nate Horner was touring his constituency in the lead-up to the session resuming on Oct. 20th, which included a stop at Castor’s Paintearth Lodge at lunchtime on Oct. 19th.
While at the facility, he answered questions on a variety of topics, from pipelines to the visitor restrictions in place at health care centres across the province, and several other topics as well.
One lodge resident went so far to ask Horner, “Are we a have not” province yet.
“We are well on our way, sir,” was Horner’s reply to that particular question.
When asked about equalization, Horner responded, “I do expect there will be a referendum on the equalization formula with the people of Alberta next September. They are expensive to run, so they are planning on putting it on the municipal ticket instead of running a separate one at a cost of $10 million.”
Another hot topic during the discussion was the visitor restrictions put in place to protect the residents, with some complaining that they had not been able to hug their grandchildren in months.
Horner was very empathetic when it came to this topic.
“It’s an absolutely great point,” said Horner.
“My grandmother is 95, and I haven’t been able to give her a hug or see her or have her see her grandkids. I understand. This was not a decision where the elected officials have been put in that decision point. The chief medical officer of health, and the chief medical officer of health of Canada, and all the (associated) public services are trying to make the best decisions they can.
“As we learn more about this (COVID-19), more is put on personal responsibility.”
Just how far personal responsibility goes is still being decided, he said.
Horner gave the example of a senior’s home – while one person may be willing to take a risk, is that a decision they can make because it could have an effect on all the residents?
“Those are conversations we will be having going forward.”
Other questions Horner took involved the UCP’s plans around the privatization of healthcare and the loss of 11,000 jobs in the departments of food services, housekeeping and the labs.
“The Canada Health Act says that health care must be universally accessible, but publicly-funded,” said Horner.
“Maybe there will be private surgical facilities that would still be publicly-funded. People wouldn’t pay out of pocket, but it would be a different delivery model. The hope being that the surgeons would come out to rural Alberta and use some of the under-utilized surgical suites, and the patients would stay (in a rural hospital) for recovery as well.”
A current Covenant Health employee who was at the conversation asked Horner about the job losses, and said he was fearful for his own job.
Horner answered the topic by first commenting on the fact that health care was 43 per cent of the budget, and is now closer to 50 per cent, and the decisions being made go back to the Ernst & Young report which cited a number of ways for health services to save money.
These included contracting out some of the positions currently held by staff in both Alberta Health Services and Covenant Health.
“While I’m certainly fearful, I don’t want you to lose your job, sir,” said Horner.
“I know we have enough people without jobs right now, especially those in important jobs like this…I don’t want anyone to think that these decisions are being made lightly.”
Regarding the cost savings to be found by implementing the recommendations in the Earnst & Young report and the upcoming changes to the health care system, Horner said the finance minister has put the rest of the ministers in a “tough place.
“A lot of these ministries have been told ‘here is your budget,’” said Horner.
“We’re trying to get our spending in line with other provinces.”
A last topic discussed was seniors housing, which has been described as a “growing issue” in the province over the next decade.
There are, according to Horner, 600,000 seniors in the province, and over the next decade that number is expected to rise to a million.
“There’s not enough places in this province as it stands,” said Horner.
“How’s that going to work? We currently have a hotel industry that is in absolute crisis, and many will not survive. There’s lots of questions floating around that, the conversion of hotels to seniors housing.
“What has the pandemic taught us about appropriate size, how many people should be living together, and what’s the appropriate staffing number? A lot of questions have come out of this pandemic.”
Horner promised that answers he didn’t have he would get once the legislature was back in session.