MLA byelection candidates agree: bring back elected health boards
Tony Seskus and Michelle Lang
Thursday, June 07, 2007
Alberta's simmering health care debate bubbled up on the campaign trail Thursday, as six of seven candidates vying to be MLA for Calgary-Elbow called for the return of elected health boards.
At an event hosted by the Friends of Medicare, all but Tory hopeful Brian Heninger, who did not attend, argued bringing back the elected boards was key to improving accountability and transparency in the health system.
The Conservative government turfed its brief experiment with elected regional boards in 2003, two years after the first election was held in 2001 for two-thirds of the health boards' members.
At the time, the government said the elections were expensive, the boards weren't working and it was not a priority for Albertans.
But candidates on Thursday charged that it's the health care system that isn't working -- and that elected boards would help.
"Locally elected health boards help ensure transparency, accountability and an accurate representation of local needs," NDP hopeful Al Brown told the small gathering at the Glamorgan Community Centre.
His comments were echoed by his rivals at the forum, though the Tory government branded the boards a flop just halfway through their first term.
Alberta Health officials said Thursday that the government chose appointed boards to ensure members bring expertise in areas such as finance and risk management.
"The focus has been on ensuring the boards bring a specific skill set," said John Tuckwell, a spokesman with Alberta Health.
Tuckwell added that elected boards often provide geographic representation, which health region boards address by having community health councils throughout the regions.
But Liberal candidate Craig Cheffins said there is a lack of accountability in the health care system, and "that comes back to the fact that we are not electing our regional health authorities."
George Read, representing the Green Party, said Albertans should have locally elected people to make decisions about local health needs.
Candidates more to the right of the political spectrum also agreed with elected boards, including Jane Greydanus of the Alberta Alliance, independent Jeff Willerton and Social Credit's Trevor Grover, who was represented by a party spokesman.
"Beyond the delivery of services, accountability must be addressed as well," Greydanus said.
"We fully support the election the board members and we would abolish the current system of appointing those members."
A spokesman for Friends of Medicare, a lobby group for public health care, believes it's an important issue for the Calgary-Elbow byelection on June 12.
Mel Teghtmeyer said it's about improving accountability.
"We don't set the direction of the health region based on public interest and needs," Teghtmeyer said. "We don't have a direct voice."