Maybe she was protesting the government’s ham-handed treatment of health care workers during the pandemic. Or perhaps she is overloaded with patients because so many family doctors have left Alberta.
Or maybe she was just publicly scoffing at Premier Danielle Smith as she promised to uphold the public health care system in front of a gaggle of journalists gathered outside a clinic where patients can pay for an MRI if they want to skip ahead of other people on the wait-list.
Whatever her reasons, a woman wearing a medical mask and a white lab coat stood off to the side of the press conference and silently scorned Smith’s Public Health Care Guarantee by folding her arms and flaunting her middle finger.
An alert Canadian Press photographer caught the shot and it was soon all over the internet.
If you are wondering why Smith would have to promise to uphold public health care (it’s a no-brainer for most people) in a campaign-style announcement when an election hasn’t yet been called, allow me to cite some reasons.
Smith herself has publicly mused about dismantling universal public health care paid for with tax revenue and available to everyone at no cost. In a paper she wrote for the University of Calgary’ School of Public Policy in 2021 (she was a talk radio host at the time!) she proposed a patient-focused system “that has to shift the burden of payment away from taxpayers and toward private individuals, their employers and their insurance companies.”
During her leadership campaign she touted health-care spending accounts of $375 per person per year that would cover services such as massage, physiotherapy and even visits to a family doctor. These accounts, she claimed, would get people used to paying out of pocket for health care.
And then there was her claim during a YouTube discussion with a naturopath that a person should not have to suffer Stage 4 cancer because curing it beforehand is completely within their control. She might as well have said: “Who needs oncologists and other health care workers when people can cure themselves.”
A UCP candidate recently echoed the same sentiment. Chelsae Petrovic said during a podcast a person suffering a heart attack wouldn’t be burdening the health care system with a visit to the ER had they looked after themselves properly. She’s a nurse so one can easily imagine what it must have been like to be her patient.
Former premier Jason Kenney had his own Public Health Care Guarantee. He made a big splash of it when he was campaigning during the 2019 election. But soon after he was elected he quickly trashed that promise: his health minister tore up the contract between doctors and the government, laid off nurses and started handing over surgeries to for-profit clinics.
Needless to say, Rachel Notley and the NDP are having a field day with Smith’s scary and weird pronouncements about health care. In a recent opinion poll of 1,000 Calgarians conducted by Janet Brown Research for CBC News, nearly half of all respondents said health care is one of their top issues — and most people trusted the NDP to be better managers of the system. Since Calgary is considered the main battleground in the upcoming election (May 29) this does not bode well for Smith and the UCP.
And that’s no doubt why the same day the poll findings hit the news media Smith rushed to have a campaign-style press conference focused on health care, complete with promises and UCP candidates. Looks like the UCP brain trust is already in panic mode.
As for the health care worker with the dismissive finger; she became a hero to some and a villain to others. But her appearance at a carefully staged press conference made it clear that health care will be front and centre during the upcoming election campaign.
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