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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
**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