Premiers’ promise to not poach healthcare workers easier said than done

A week ago, Canada’s premiers ended a meeting in Halifax agreeing that they shouldn’t poach health care workers from one another.

There’s a shortage all round, they seemed to be saying, let’s poach from poor countries instead of each other!

Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston seemed to be the one who got the ball rolling on this thought.

“I’m not a fan of trying to go to another province and trying to recruit some of their health-care professionals,” he told reporters at the provincial legislature a few days before. “I think there are other places to recruit from.”

To be fair, not all the places where Nova Scotia has been trawling for nurses and other health care professionals are what we still think of as being in the Third World, a term that’s starting to sound seriously dated nowadays. 

When the premiers got together three days later, there seemed to be a mood of genial amity on the topic.

Houston, who appears from out here in Wild Rose Country to be an old-timey Progressive Conservative, was of the opinion the premiers should all just try to get together, smile on each other, try to love one another, right now. 

“Trying to poach workers from another jurisdiction is not really supporting each other,” he said at the meeting’s closing news conference. “Actively recruiting health care workers that are already working and engaged in a health care system is something that Nova Scotia’s not going to do.”

“There was a significant unity amongst ourselves to prevent an aggressive act of recruitment campaign in other people’s backyards,” agreed Newfoundland’s Andrew Furey, a Liberal. “We all recognize that health care professionals right now are in high demand. They’re mobile. But Canada has an absolute imperative to continue to provide top-notch care in our own jurisdiction and robbing Peter to pay Paul does not help advance that agenda in any way, shape or form.” (Note to readers: Robbing Peter to pay Paul is a Biblical metaphor that has nothing to do with PayPal.)

Canada’s newest premier, Manitoba’s Wab Kinew, a New Democrat, sounded like he was in accord with that thought, too.

“In the absence of that sort of collaboration, we may compete against one another into a future in which none of us can afford to staff our health-care systems, in which none of us can sustainably do so,” he told reporters at the newser. 

Not counting Danielle Smith, who we’ll get to in a moment, Saskatchewan’s Scott Moe was the only other provincial premier to speak at the newser about that topic before the moderator shut it down, and he didn’t really have anything useful to say.

Well, I’m here to tell you that this isn’t going to be as easy to do as it might appear to be around the table with all these cordial provincial and territorial premiers. 

It’s true that not just in Canada, but around the world there’s a shortage of nurses and physicians – with the possible exception of the Philippines, where the government appears to be treating nurses as an export. So until we get serious about educating more nurses and doctors here in Canada, and see the results as graduates trickle into the job market a number of years later, provinces are going to find themselves in competition with one another no matter what their premiers say. 

That will require more spending, and possibly more taxes to pay for it, something the modern Canadian premier, regardless of what political party or philosophy he or she is supposedly associated with, will resist – often to the point of doing real damage to the commonweal. 

So it also matters a lot what a province’s health care policies are. Even intangible matters like expressions of respect for health care professionals may turn out to be significant. 

So whether or not Manitoba goes out and starts putting advertisements on bus shelters near hospitals in Calgary and Edmonton – or better yet, holding job fairs in Red Deer – it’s going to enjoy a significant recruitment advantage over Alberta when it comes to nurses in particular. 

Kinew campaigned and won on a platform of repairing the province’s battered relationship with its health care workers. “We are resetting the relationship right now,” he said during one of his first news conferences after the province’s October 3 election.

Appearing with his new health minister, Uzoma Asagwara, he vowed Manitoba will hire more nurses and physicians and end mandatory overtime for nurses. He indicated he has a schedule for recruitment in mind. 

“We look forward to providing opportunities to front-line health care providers, doctors, nurses, to allied health care professionals, to have their voices heard and their expertise respected and to be part of the way we address things moving forward,” Asagwara said.

“If we want to keep health care professionals, nurses, physicians, engaged in working on the front lines, we need a comprehensive approach which includes, of course, compensation,” Kinew said at the closing newser in Halifax. “It includes better working conditions.”

Alberta just can’t compete with that. Here, the government is embarking on a massive and incoherent reorganization of the health care system that seems principally designed to exact revenge on Alberta Health Services for enforcing public health regulations during the pandemic and to make bits and pieces of the public system easier to sell off to the private sector in the future. 

And there’s been no consultation with nurses – only “briefings.” 

Nevermind even the middle-term future, many nurses right now don’t know who they’ll be working for in a few months’ time – Alberta Health Services, as they do now, or one of the new bureaucracies being set up by the government. 

Confusion reigns in a health care system in deep trouble, and chaos lurks. 

Oh, and the United Conservative Party (UCP) government also wants to wreck the Canada Pension Plan, after already messing with public service pensions, so Alberta health care workers’ retirements appear less secure as well. 

And what does Smith have to say about that? (Other than promising Albertans exactly what the creators of AHS promised them a decade and a half ago – that everything will work out fine … eventually.)

Well, in Halifax she seemed to try to blame past AHS policies and nurses themselves for the shortage of nurses, claiming that in Alberta “we only have 38 per cent of our nurses willing to work full time.”

This is a misrepresentation of the true situation. It’s true that mandatory overtime, cancelled vacations, threatened pay cuts under Jason Kenney, and abuse at work from anti-vaxxers encouraged by the UCP government have all contributed to a desire by some nurses to be able to have more control over their own lives.

But that doesn’t mean they’re not willing to work full time in jobs with reasonable time off, appropriate market-based pay, and a degree of respect. Almost everyone understands the seemingly unplanned chaos now being introduced by the UCP will only make things worse. 

If you were a nurse on the Prairies, where would you rather work? Wab Kinew’s Manitoba or Danielle Smith’s Alberta? 

No premier’s no-poaching agreement can keep health care professionals from talking to one another! 

Danielle Smith’s Alberta: Where bad ideas go to live forever

Service Alberta (and red tape reduction) Minister Dale Nally is off to Texas today to attend the 2023 North American Blockchain Summit.

That crypto collapse? Sam Bankman-Fried’s massive crypto fraud? Don’t worry about ’em!

You’d think that a minister of red tape reduction would be needed at home to persuade his cabinet colleagues not to set up massive new bureaucracies to replace Alberta Health Services, but Nally will be talking to “blockchain experts” instead, about how “to attract blockchain technologies to Alberta.”

On Tuesday and Wednesday, he’ll tour cryptocurrency “mining” operations – which use vast amounts of energy to magically generate an electronic currency that appears to have no purpose other than abetting crime and tax avoidance. 

On Thursday, he’ll take part in a cryptocurrency roundtable discussion at the trade show. 

In other words, on top of everything else, the UCP’s not giving up on the crypto hustle. 

Yes, Alberta’s where bad ideas go to live forever.


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