Welcome to the second, less frequently-posted decade of RevMod.

Contact me at revmod AT gmail.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Ralph Klein enters federal politics

I was trying to come up with some pun combining Ralph being on the wagon and my reading his tea leaves, but it just didn't work out, so the pithy little joke that normally appears about here, or perhaps in the title, will be taking the morning off. Adapt.

Klein is tossing a grenade into the federal election race with his announcement that he'll release the Alberta government's new health care plan, two days after the election. It's a grenade because Klein has previously made it abundantly clear he's prepared to ignore the boundaries of the Canada Health Act. For those of you who weren't following this in February when this was first floated as a trial balloon, let me review. The Canada Health Act is only enforced with federal dollars and the threat of witholding some or all of those dollars. As the fed has reduced its share of the bill over the last decade, their ability to enforce the Canada Health Act has likewise been reduced.

Meantime, here in Alberta, the provincial debt is paid, yet the government continues to run huge surpluses. They need something to spend money on. Further, any time Albertans can spend money to prove our independence and smack Ottawa around a little, well, many Albertans consider that money well-spent. In short, the provincial government doesn't care if the fed pulls away money for health care. Alberta can easily cover the shortfall. The Federal government cannot defend the Canada Health Act in Alberta with dollars, unless it's ready to come up with a lot more (a LOT more) for the system to (in turn) deny to Alberta.

So, back to the here and now. What is Klein trying to do? He must know this is going to become an issue in the federal election. It has the potential to turn the ballot question (that is, the question undecided voters ask themselves while they stand in the booth) back to health care, which I suspect would thrill Liberals. Is Klein doing this to give the Liberals a boost?

I don't think that's impossible. He seems to genuinely like Martin, and Klein's an old-timey Liberal at heart (albeit one who knows how to weild the social conservatives in his caucus without letting them take over). Perhaps most importantly, there's more political mileage to be had from bashing a Liberal federal government then there would be bashing a Conservative government.

Martin is posturing about staring Klein in the eye, about taking action. Harper is so far strangely silent, though I'm sure that won't last. I've e-mailed all three parties with a variation of this question (this is the Liberal version):

So, other than the manly staring contest the Prime Minister is promising, how are the Liberals planning to enforce the Canada Health Act if the Alberta government is indifferent to the money attached? The last time Alberta decided to flaunt the Act, with extra billing (was that the eighties? Some time ago), the fed was able to enforce by witholding medicare transfers. But Klein made it really clear in February that those transfers are too tiny, and Alberta can live without them.

Please refrain from telling me what the other parties will do - I'll let them tell me themselves, thanks.
(I should mention that I introduced my Conservative request with a bit of a suck-up around my appreciation for Harper's health care candidness. I don't know if that makes it more or less likely I'll get an answer. I should also mention that the last caveat went to all three parties - we'll see if they are able to follow that instruction.)

My experiment with contacting the local candidates was a bust - I recieved one very thoughtful response, which I'll post this weekend, but I got silence from the other three. We'll see if the central campaigns do any better.

Update: I'm listening to Deb Grey on the radio right this minute, and the question was posed: if Alberta violates the CHA, will Conservatives enforce it? "Well, there's a lot of money trouble in the system, and the Liberals are to be blamed for that." Yes, but will the Conservatives enforce the CHA? "You know, Paul Martin went to a private clinic just a few weeks ago." Yes, but will a Conservative government enforce the CHA? "We want to work with the provinces....."

Holy crap. And by that, I mean, holy crap. My e-mail question might have assumed too much of the Conservative Party. For the first time, I'm actually very concerned about the damage a Conservative government could do.

No comments: