Leo Marks and the Indecipherables

Sometimes I feel like Leo Marks, the 22 year old cryptographer who joined the Special Operations Executive in London to support Britain’s war effort.*   Marks was a gifted codemaker.  He became convinced that radio operators working in the Netherlands had been turned by the Gestapo and the coded messages they sent to London were misinformation.  Marks’ conviction was based on the fact that things just didn’t add up—not a single Dutch agent in the field had ever made a coding mistake (known as an “indecipherable”).  This level of accuracy was unmatched by any other country section.  The Dutch put it down to their superior training and innate skill.  Marks refused to accept this facile explanation and never abandoned his search for proof that the agents had been compromised.

Okay, let’s crank this story down a notch.  Many Albertans have an uneasy feeling that the Tories want to reduce public healthcare and increase private insurance and privately delivered healthcare.  We’re also convinced that the government intends to slip this past Albertans by “consolidating” existing healthcare legislation which protects public healthcare into regulations under the new Alberta Health Act.  This would allow the Health Minister to manipulate the regulations away from the watchful eye of the Legislature.  In December 2010 a leaked government policy paper surfaced.  It supports this fear.  When questioned about it the Tories heaved a sigh of frustration and said go away, we support public healthcare.

To test this theory I sent a FOIP request to Alberta Health and Wellness (AHW) requesting information about the leaked presentation.  I wanted “any and all records and documents including but not limited to correspondence (email or hard copy), presentations, briefs, reports and studies pertaining to the private insurance options which are the subject of a government of Alberta presentation entitled Alberta’s Health Legislation: Moving Forward”.  I attached page 21 of the July 12, 2010 presentation to ensure there would be no confusion over the request.

On Feb 25 the FOIP Office called requesting clarification.  I confirmed that my request was for records regarding what private insurance options were considered and what private insurance options the department “was referring to or thinking about” when drafting the presentation

On Mar 31 I received an answer from the FOIP Office:  “We regret to inform you that a search by AHW has failed to retrieve any records relating to the subject of your request.  A search was conducted within the Department and no responsive records were identified.”


Now here’s where the FOIP letter gets interesting.  It states:  “The FOIP Office was advised that AHW did not look at any private insurance options when drafting the July 12, 2010 “Alberta’s Health Legislation: Moving Forward” document.  Under our current legislation, the Alberta Health Care Act, Alberta prohibits private insurance for insured services.  The question was asked whether this prohibition should continue, be removed or simply be enabled as a regulatory tool for implementation in Alberta. The presentation you are referring to is a draft document.  Please be advised that AHW did not look at any private insurance options and no work was conducted regarding possible options.  This was a question being asked at the draft stage and the policy shift of considering private insurance options was excluded from the final document.”


Like Leo Marks, I started to feel that there was something wrong.  Here’s why:

  • Dr Raj Sherman confirmed that a policy paper was presented to the Tory caucus in mid 2010.  It detailed changes to the Alberta Health Act which would allow private insurance to cover more services (which means more services would be delisted).
  • The presentation was approved by the Minister and the Deputy Minister of Health and was later presented to all government MLAs by Fred Horne.
  • The government discussed (1) changing the legislation to enable a shift to privatization by moving key terms into regulations (which are enacted at the Minister’s discretion and are not subject to debate in the House), (2) expanding private insurance and (3) allowing doctors to work both inside and outside of medicare (today they must choose one or the other).
  • Someone was so concerned about the contents of the presentation that they leaked it to the Liberal caucus and the press.
  • The leaked document does not indicate it is a “draft”.
  • Whether the presentation is a “draft” or the final version is irrelevant.  It would be extremely unprofessional for the presenter to suggest a policy shift of this magnitude without giving it some consideration beforehand and creating at least one scrap of paper to support the recommendation.  (Recall that I asked for information indicating what the AHW “was referring to or thinking about” when drafting the presentation.  Apparently the answer is “absolutely nothing”).
  • The leaked document is entirely consistent with the Tories push for privatization as first enunciated by Don Mazankowski (2001) and again by Ralph Klein (the Third Way, 2005).
  • In Jan 25, 2010, Ralph Klein admitted that the PC’s had tried to privatize healthcare by creating a two tier system“I tried it twice—the Third Way and the Mazankowski Report—and I failed”.
  • The reference to the Alberta Health Care Act in the FOIP letter appears to be a mistake.  There are only 2 pieces of legislation with the word “Care” in the title:  the Health Care Protection Act and the Health Care Insurance Act.  Both of these acts are slated for “consolidation” into the new Alberta Health Act where they can be treated as regulations and modified or eliminated at the whim of the Health Minister.

Now I’m the first one to admit that none of these points, in and of themselves, are proof that the Tories have developed a secret strategy to increase private insurance/healthcare at the expense of public healthcare, however like Leo Marks, I see enough red flags to seriously question the government’s veracity on this issue.   Unlike Leo Marks, who was locked in a battle of wits with the Gestapo, here in Alberta we’re all supposed to be on the same side.  Surely we deserve more transparency and fewer indecipherables when our government communicates with us about an issue as critical as the health and wellbeing of its citizens.

*Between Silk and Cyanide, by Leo Marks, 1998

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4 Responses to Leo Marks and the Indecipherables

  1. roy wright says:

    This is turning into a great mystery novel, only it is unfortunate that we have to live with the consequences. I find it absolutely unbelievable that a group prepared a draft report that was circulated to government officals that contained no research, no citations and no background searches on a topic that is complex and rich with previous examinations. I can only assume one of two conclusions; the first being that the report was an unprofessional rambling driven by Ministerial edict; or that the FOIP request was brushed off in an inappropriate manner only becoming of a morally bankrupt government.

    So, I guess the big question is “Where can you go from here?”. How can you unravel what appears to be a coverup or just shear incompetence? Is there an appeal body or process or can the media, through its contacts, make sense of the situation?

    • Roy, I am going to follow up with a second FOIP request which is more specific (ie. did anyone other than AHW look at private insurance options). I also want a copy of the final document so that I can compare it to the “draft”. I like your suggestion about getting the media involved and will follow up on that front as well. A final alternative is to request a review by the Privacy Commissioner, but I don’t hold out much hope on that front.

  2. Rose Marie MacKenzie says:

    Are they seriously going to try to make the public believe any of this? I know little about the world of big business, or politics, but even in my small world of day to day working I know that nothing appears out of thin air and trying to say “I am not sure where that information came from let me look into that” does not float anywhere.

    This is where the working public says, you are not really going to say “The dog ate my homework.” are you?

    • Rose, what’s sad is that until recently the PCs have been able to get away with this type of brush off, both inside and outside the Legislature. They appear to think that if they stonewall the public long enough, we’ll forget about the issue and go away. However, the public is fed up…some are heading into the arms of the Wildrose, others are checking out the other parties, including the new Alberta Party…should be a very interesting election.

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