Two-tier health care system policy resolution gets lukewarm response at UCP AGM

A controversial policy resolution proposing a parallel private health care system received a tepid response from members who spoke at the United Conservative Party’s annual general meeting Friday. 

Members took part in first virtual policy debate

Premier Jason Kenney signed a "public health guarantee" at an event leading up to the 2019 election. (Scott Neufeld/CBC )

A controversial policy resolution proposing a parallel private health care system received a tepid response from members who spoke at the United Conservative Party's annual general meeting Friday. 

The policy, proposed by the Calgary-Varsity constituency association, suggests physicians be allowed to practise in the private system if they choose. Albertans who want to avoid long wait time could pay for a service out of pocket, or with the help of private health care insurance. 

Most speakers were opposed to a two-tier system including Nate Glubish, the UCP MLA for Strathcona-Sherwood Park, and minister of Service Alberta. 

Glubish said this policy is contrary to the commitment to a publicly funded and universally accessible public health care system expressed in both the UCP's founding policies and the party's 2019 election platform.

"I understand that the health system needs significant reforms. We're working really hard every day to do that," he said. 

"If we approve this policy, it is going to cause a ton of grief for all MLAs who are working hard to deliver you results."

Other party members said allowing private health care could contravene the Canada Health Act, erode the public system and cost more money. 

Dean Falkenberg, who spoke for the Calgary Varsity constituency association, said the feedback from members tells him they need to take a second look at the proposal. 

"Maybe the intent of this policy has been misunderstood," he said. "It shows this is a complex issue."

Whether UCP members pass the policy won't be known for another day. The party held its AGM via the Zoom video conferencing app due to COVID-19 pandemic. 

Instead of voting on resolutions from the floor, as in regular conventions, members have until 8 p.m. Saturday to cast their ballots online. 

Members discussed 30 policy proposals during the four-hour session, which included discussions about an Alberta pension plan, a provincial police force and supervised consumption sites. 

MLAs take opposing positions

A policy proposing Alberta become a so-called "right-to-work" jurisdiction where employees can't be forced to join a union nor can an employer be compelled to collect union dues inspired prolonged debate. 

Two UCP caucus members were on opposite sides of the issue — Jackie Lovely of Camrose supported the motion; Searle Turton, MLA for Spruce Grove-Stony Plain was against. 

"The Supreme Court of Canada has been clear that this will not be constitutional within Canada," Turton said in a prerecorded video. 

"As a 20-year union member for one of the largest unions in the province, I appreciate the hard work that union workers have done all over this province including those in the construction industry and I want to make sure that they are supported." 

The UCP virtual convention will continue on Saturday with a debate on party governance resolutions. Party leader and premier Jason Kenney will hold a question and answer session with members at noon. 

The second weekend of the convention will feature speeches from Kenney, Conservative Party of Canada leader Erin O'Toole, CPC leadership candidate Leslyn Lewis, Justice Minister Kaycee Madu, Energy Minister Sonya Savage and Jobs, Economy and Innovation Minister Doug Schweitzer.