“Why I Joined The Wildrose Party”

Before anyone has a coronary, that’s not “Why I (as in me) joined the Wildrose Party” but rather why Guy Boutilier joined the Wildrose Party.  But first, another question—why did a 69 year old woman, dressed up in a garbage bag, picket in front of the Provincial Building?  Here’s a clue.  It’s Gladys Schrader, she lives in Fort McMurray and she’s carrying a sign that says “Extended care or euthanasia?”* 

Mr Boutiler and Mz Schrader’s destinies became entwined in 1996 when Premier Klein came to Fort Mac to open a long term care (LTC) facility—31 beds on the 4th floor of the local hospital.  (Mr Klein refered to the seniors as “grey haired ladies”.  I’ll use the more respectful salutation “Mz”.)  It had taken 10 years to get this far.  Unfortunately the battle was far from over.  Soon the 4th floor was overflowing and seniors were packed into acute care beds on the 3rd floor.  They desperately needed a new facility.

Working through the usual channels was going nowhere so Mz Schrader went to Plan B.  This is where the garbage bag and sign come in.  She organized a protest on the same day that Premier Stelmach and 9 other ministers came to town to open the Syncrude sports centre.  By all accounts the Premier was unmoved.

Undaunted Mz Schrader circulated petitions, talked to the press and most importantly, worked with her Conservative MLA, Mr Boutilier.  He took her message to the Legislature and voila, in Jan 2008, a mere 12 years and one study later,**the PCs approved $35 million to construct a 48 bed LTC facility in downtown Fort McMurray.

Mz Schrader remained sceptical—with good reason as it turned out.  The funding came “under review” 3 months later and remained “under review” for a full yearuntil Health Minister Liepert decided he wouldn’t commit the money because a different study said there was no “urgent need” for LTC in Fort McMurray.***The LTC facility was erased from the 3 year capital budget and the money originally earmarked for the facility was “reprofiled”.   It should have gone into witness protection.

Mz Schrader did not take the news lightly:  “We’re not going to get it?  Well, surprise, surprise.  My battle cry has been we built this God damned city.  We’ve put in our time and now I need a home…and they’re not going to give it to me.  What happens if I have a stroke or something?”  It had not escaped Mz Schrader’s attention that the government and the Alberta Health Superboard did not need a study to justify giving themselves sizable raises.

Mr Boutilier would not let the matter rest.  He said Mr Liepert’s decision to delay was “gibberish”.  He worked with the Friends of Medicare to mount a protest against the government.  He assured the media and the seniors that he would do everything in his power to get the decision reversed……and he was thrown out of caucus.   After 12 years in government and various cabinet posts he was gone.  Apparently the only way the PCs can deal with an MLA who disagrees with the party line is to excommunicate him.

In Jan 2010 Mr Boutilier joined the Wildrose caucus.  Three months later, the Government announced plans to build a 100 bed continuing care facility with (you guessed it) 30 LTC beds which would replace the acute care hospital beds currently used to house LTC patients.  There was just one tiny snag—the Government had not yet secured the land.  And of course, no land, no project;  no project, no money.

In June 2011 (a year and a half later) the government solved the land problem.  It reviewed 6 sites and selected Willow Square, right across the street from the hospital which currently housed the LTC seniors.  The seniors were delighted.  Mr Danyluk, Minister of Infrastructure, Mr Hughes, Chairman of Alberta Health Services Board, Mr Brian Jean, federal Conservative MP and Ms Jablonski, Minister of Seniors came to Fort Mac to make the announcement.  (Mr Boutilier was not invited.)  The mood was all sweetness and light.  Ms Jablonski said “The province made a commitment, the premier made a commitment, today we name this location and soon we’ll be putting shovels in the ground”.   

Mr Boutilier was less optimistic.  “...there still isn’t a shovel in the ground yet and this is the fifth announcement”.  Mz Debrule, a senior, presented Seniors Minister Jablonski with an engraved paddle as punishment for previous broken promises.  Everyone chuckled.  The government was asked if it would renege if costs increased.  Mr Danyluk said “Not a chance”.

Everything settled down—for 6 months.  Then the government moved the LTC facility to Parsons Creek on the outskirts of town. The seniors were stunned.  Parsons Creek had no churches, no shopping centres and no hotels for visiting family members.  They would be isolated, away from their friends in town.  And most importantly, they weren’t mobile and would have to rely on public transportation—a taxi costs $50 to $70 round trip—to get to hospital for treatment.  Their protests were ignored.

In Jan 2012 the seniors had one last chance to voice their concerns.  Premier Redford and her entourage, Mr Horne, Health & Wellness, Mr Johnson, Infrastructure and Mr VanderBerg, Seniors, were swinging through Fort Mac on the pre-election magical mystery tour.  One hundred seniors met with the government to explain why the Parsons Creek site wouldn’t do.  Mr VanderBerg replied, “I’m firm for the long-term vision of our seniors that I want to choose the best site…where we can have a safe, secure site for our seniors, where we can expand, where it can be attached to a medical facility.  I couldn’t do that in Willow Square—not the vision that I have for the seniors of the future”.****

And that’s why Mr Boutiller joined the Wildrose.  The PCs have a “vision” for their constituents, whether their constituents like it or not.  Mr Boutilier sees it differently:  “My job is to represent the views of my constituents.  That’s what I’ve been doing, and that’s what I’ll continue to do”.*****

I’m not about to join the Wildrose Party any time soon, but anyone planning to vote for the PCs should consider two things (1) it took the Fort Mac seniors 16 years to end up…where? and (2) the PCs have a new leader, but have things really changed?  Oh and one more thing, anyone who underestimates the seniors in Fort McMurray, or anywhere else for that matter, had better think again.  They’re not sweet little old ladies any longer!

*Many thanks to Carol Wodak, publisher of CareWatch, for her in-depth research of the LTC crisis in Fort McMurray.  Readers interested in learning more can contact Carol at cwodak@techwcs.com.

**the Radke Study

***In Apr 2009, Mr Liepert used the McKinsey Report as justification that long term care was not an urgent need in Fort McMurray

****Connect Online Jan 27, 2012

*****Rabble.ca July 19, 2009

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12 Responses to “Why I Joined The Wildrose Party”

  1. peutet says:

    bj Susan tu n’as pas changé ………

  2. Dear Susan, thk you so much for caring so passionately about our Seniors and Elders. God Bless. Guy

  3. Carlos Beca says:

    Interesting post. I did not know this about Guy Boutilier. Good for him. I wonder in what way he thinks he is going to be better off with the Wildrose Party. This information made the story even more interesting. I wish him well.

  4. I agree Carlos. It’s good to see people like Guy and other MLAs from all of the opposition parties fight so hard for the old, the sick and the disadvantaged, regardless of the obstacles that are placed in their way by the party in power.

  5. Carol Wodak says:

    Susan, thank you for an eloquent summary of Fort Mc’s close encounters with local eldercare. Folks in Strathmore and Didsbury and Lloydminster and many other communities will recognize the plot; it’s been standard PC playbook for more than two decades, ever since the government-of-the-day announced a moratorium on public extended care facilities and services. The underlying theme is individual responsibility, or why should I pay taxes to help you cope with your problems?
    What I don’t understand is how Mr. Boutilier thinks he’s found a potential solution in a political agenda which promises even less government and taxes and public services and more reliance on families to care for those who cannot care for themselves. The failure of eldercare policy is not the political label, but the very premise on which it is founded.
    This is not just a concern for those who are most vulnerable (and none of us knows if we are in that group), but a concern for the values on which we build our communities.
    I encourage anyone who is interested and concerned about eldercare to make the Beyond Acute Care Conference in Edmonton, February 24-25, 2012, a priority. Go to http://beyondacutecare.ca/ for details.

  6. Carol, you’ve highlighted a number of critical points in the sentence “This is not just a concern for those who are most vulnerable (and none of us knows if we are in that group), but a concern for the values on which we build our communities.” How very true. None of us knows what it means to be vulnerable until we become ill or disabled. Suddenly life, even the simply things, becomes so much more expensive and arduous. The second point was that caring for the most vulnerable is a societal value that we all profess to share–but paying it lip service isn’t enough, it needs our support, politically and financially.
    Thanks for passing along the link to the Beyond Acute Care Conference. I understand Ralph Nader and Maude Barlow will both be there. That alone would be worth the trip.

  7. Dave Wright says:

    Susan: so what can we do to earn you vote in Wildrose? What are your questions with policy?

  8. Dave, one of my biggest concerns is with respect to the privatization of healthcare. Corporations are created to earn money for their shareholders (which is fine, we don’t invest in corporations so that they’ll give our money away). When profits decrease, a corporation usually cuts costs, which means replacing highly trained staff with less well educated staff and reducing services, this in turn impacts the quality of care. I’m fearful that in the end the government will have to hire more inspectors just to ensure that minimal care is provided.

    Having said all that I applaud your honesty. Unlike the PC’s you’ve been completely upfront in your support of publicly funded but privately delivered healthcare. As a result I will continue to read your policy statements and follow your progress. We need a dose of honesty in this province!

    • Dave Wright says:

      Hi Susan:

      Yes, corporations are created to return a profit to shareholders: such a profit motivation reduces inefficiencies & improves performance.

      For example, under private Networc Health Inc, paid for by Alberta Health Services, knee and hip replacements were done for 30% less than in hospitals. I see that as very smart use of our tax dollars and it could have been expanded into many different areas.

      I see the scaremongering in the United States regarding public healthcare as complete hysterics. Similarly, there can be an irrational amount of fear here in Canada thinking that anything other than fully bureaucratized government healthcare will mean compromised healthcare delivery and performance.

      Thanks for the discussion

  9. Carlos Beca says:

    Dave with all due respect, your analysis of the private versus public is very simplistic. First of all I do not doubt that private companies can perform the same job cheaper. Having said that, if you go back after a few years you will realize that they find ways to not only get at least at to the same cost but even more expensive than the original. You have examples in other outrsources that have been done in the government in 1993 in the IT field. I can almost positively say that no gains were made whatsoever in the long run. One thing got worse though and here is where the details are important. Until 1993, the money the government was paying out to these IT departments was staying in Alberta. Now half of it, at least, goes out in profits to Head offices in different parts of the world. This is all the consequence of the profit being the only objective especially in todays world when we are reaching the pinnacle of corporate greed and it is hard to deny that.

    I agree that public owned services also suffer from different issues but I for one do not believe they could not be resolved by other ways rahter then just privatizing. The problem is that since 1993, the PCs only objective is solely starve the public system to make it bad so that it is then easier to replace it. This is not a new strategy and was used very successfuly by the soviets in Russia when after making everything so horrible, anything that was created felt like paradise and we all know today what that great experience was like.

    By the way I am not advocating all public services, that is not the point, but there are certain services that should not be subject to profit making and should be organized in a way that could be properly controlled and with very transparent accounting. I for one cannot, for example, understand why we want our older parents being in homes run for profit. The results are pretty evident if you want to see them.

    Now your invitation to vote for the Widrose party is understanble but if I was the one you asked the question, I would answer with another question. Can you give me just one reason why anyone that does not believe in market fundamentalism, or extreme profit making and totally unregulation would want to vote for you? In other words, why would anyone that does not believe that competition and out of control greed are the only ways of looking at life would want you in power?

    Thank you for the discussion, very much appreciated.

    Carlos Beca

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