Friends of Medicare will use billboards, print ads and messages posted on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook to mobilize the public against cuts the province is making to Alberta's health-care system, the group announced Thursday.
"We believe emphatically, and I think most Albertans do agree, that the government is heading down the wrong way," said David Eggen, executive director of the public health-care advocacy group.
Eggen spoke to reporters while standing in front of four banners that read, "More health cuts? Wrong way," that will be used by community organizers around the province.
The group is alarmed about changes the province has already made, including reported hiring freezes, cancelled surgeries and the delisting of services. The province's new single health board, Alberta Health Services, is dealing with a deficit that is believed to be at least $500,000, and there are concerns there are more cuts to come.
The campaign is not just a way to get the public to put pressure on the government; it will also act as a "beacon" to those who have been personally affected, Eggen said.
"I think it gives Albertans a sense of hope to know we're not just going to roll over and let our government pull our public health-care system from underneath us," he said.
In Calgary, Health Minister Ron Liepert dismissed the group's concerns and said Albertans support the actions the government is taking.
"There are certain groups out there that don't want things to change," he said. "We have laid out a plan for health care in this province. Everywhere I go people say you are doing the right thing. We need to recognize that the health-care system isn't sustainable the way it is. So, we won't be changing our course of action.
"We have a plan, and we are going to follow it."
Last week, the United Nurses of Alberta filed a grievance with Alberta Health Services for not posting job vacancies at the same time it is denying nurses vacation time and making them work overtime. But Liepert denied there is a hiring freeze in place.
"There isn't a hiring freeze, but you are going to have to talk to Alberta Health Services about exactly the hiring policies that are underway right now. Obviously, they have got a challenge with the budget that they've got, and they are attempting to meet that challenge."
The province has backed down on previous attempts to privatize the health-care system, Eggen said, so he thinks the campaign could make a difference.
"I know the government is watching very closely, and we're just hoping to serve as a lightning rod for the popular discontent that's all around us here."
The campaign is costing Friends of Medicare more than $100,000, Eggen said.