During the 2019 provincial election, the UCP accused the NDP of having lied about the provincial carbon tax, a key part of its climate-change policy.

They said the NDP had intended to implement the tax all along—but they knew it would be unpopular, so they downplayed it in their 2015 election platform. 

This dishonesty by omission, according to the UCP, amounted to a lie.

We may wonder if the UCP is meeting its own standard of honesty. As they proceed with dogged determination to weaken Alberta’s public healthcare system—a public fight with doctors, pending layoffs to front-line support staff, and an indication that nurses will be next—it’s clear they are paving the way for a massive overhaul.

Their critics say the playbook is obvious: the government has a solution at the ready, but they need to create the right problem. They want to radically change the delivery of healthcare in Alberta, but first they must destabilize the public system.

If that’s their plan, full credit to them—at least so far. They are creating a massive problem, and one that is hitting rural Alberta especially hard. 

It’s hard to deny that Alberta’s publicly-funded healthcare system is expensive. Albertans pay the second-most per capita on healthcare out of all Canadian provinces, and health spending is the largest item in the provincial budget, eating up more than 40 per cent of spending. 

In the UCP nomination contest for the Cold Lake – Bonnyville – St. Paul riding, David Hanson made headlines by saying what most of us took to be obvious: that there would be some pain felt in the process of reducing health spending. 

But is this what he meant? Is this what Albertans had in mind when we brought the UCP to power?

The process began immediately after the election. The Alberta Medical Association, in its negotiations for a new compensation framework, proposed that doctors take a three per cent across-the-board pay reduction.

This may not be enough to make a difference, and I’m not a master negotiator, but when the doctors acknowledge the need for pay cuts I would say the government has a partner they can work with. Instead, they feigned outrage, left the negotiations, and imposed a new fee structure. In the process they have destroyed the relationship between the government and the doctors.

Rural doctors, who have been overworked and who now see little hope of help arriving, are feeling undervalued and disrespected. Many have left to work for less pay elsewhere. 

The appetite for improvement gave the government an opportunity to pull us together, even if there would in fact be some pain. But this is far beyond the “pain” most Albertans expected when they voted. This is a barely-disguised attack on our familiar, and generally very popular, public health system.

Is it based on an ideological distrust of all things public? How much privatized for-profit health care delivery is waiting in the wings? Is the UCP really committed to universal public healthcare?

Premier Kenney famously signed a healthcare “guarantee” that left him more than a bit of wiggle room. He has also proclaimed a “grassroots guarantee” that party policy, as voted by UCP membership, would become government policy.

At their recent Annual General Meeting, party members narrowly approved a policy that would open the door to two-tier healthcare. 

Can the two guarantees somehow mesh? Sure they can, with a little creative interpretation. But finding a way to make a guarantee technically accurate is not the same as meeting the expectations you have created.

There is already private enterprise in our healthcare system, and there has always been. We should be able to have a mature, fact-based discussion about what services are better delivered by the private sector—and which ones aren’t—and make decisions accordingly. 

But Albertans still want the efficiency that comes with single-payer, and the fairness of universality.

If the UCP wants a radical transformation, the only honest path is to come out and say it. Save us the pain of preparing the ground with self-inflicted crises. Forget about hiding behind foregone-conclusion blue-ribbon panels.

And spare us the “guarantees” that may tell the truth, but leave us to guess at the whole truth.

Give us nothing but the truth. Give us a clear, honest statement of policy, outlining the new direction you want to take us, and bring it to the next election. Who knows, something good might come of it.

But dishonesty by omission is still dishonest.