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Author Topic: Harper avoiding showdown over Alberta's Third Way health plan  (Read 1017 times)


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Harper avoiding showdown over Alberta's Third Way health plan [!-- END HEADLINE --][DIV id=ynmain][!-- BEGIN STORY BODY --][DIV id=storybody][DIV class=storyhdr][SPAN]DENNIS BUECKERT[/SPAN][EM class=timedate]Sun Mar 12, 4:39 PM ET[/i]

[DIV class=spacer][/DIV][/DIV]OTTAWA (CP) - Prime Minister Stephen Harper appears to be backing away from a confrontation with Alberta over its Third Way health proposals.

When the provincial discussion paper came out, Harper sounded tough, reiterating his commitment to the Canada Health Act, and promising a quick assessment of whether Alberta's plan would be in compliance with the federal law.

The Alberta paper envisions doctors doing dual service in the public and private systems, and would allow queue-jumping by patients who pay fees.

"We will, in the course of I would hope the next few days, issue a full response to that (Third Way) report," Harper said on March 1.

But it now seems Ottawa will reserve its opinion until Premier Ralph Klein finishes a one-month consultation within his province and tables legislation.

Gord Hough, a policy adviser to Health Minister Tony Clement, suggested that any federal comment now would be premature.

"Alberta's put out a discussion paper, and there's no firm legislation, and the discussion paper is not so long. So certainly we're waiting to see if Albertans in their discussions make any changes before anybody makes any firm comments on it," said Hough.

Critics say the time for Ottawa to comment is during the discussion period, before final decisions have been made.

"I think the (Third Way) health policy framework, for all its vagueness, is pretty clear about where it wants to go," said Harvey Voogd of Alberta-based Friends of Medicare. "It clearly spells out some things that the majority of Canadians really oppose.

"I don't see any excuse for the federal government to wait, because the provincial government is certainly treating this document as a precursor to legislation."

Voogd said the lack of response from Ottawa has raised questions about "what the heck he (Harper) meant when he said during the federal election he would stand up and abide by the Canada Health Act and protect it."

Many critics say a simple statement by the prime minister that Alberta is violating the rules of medicare could have a major political impact - perhaps more impact, in this case, than a cut in federal transfer payments to the province.

Tom Noseworthy, director of the Centre for Health and Policy Studies at the University of Calgary, said Ottawa should speak now or risk losing any ability to influence the outcome.

"We'd better be careful, or the federal government may be looking at a fait accompli - and then trying to make a change is going to be very difficult."

He said Health Canada and the Prime Minister's Office should be working feverishly "to try and figure out how to interact with Alberta" on the issue.

Marissa Etmanski, a spokeswoman for Klein, said there has been no contact with federal officials on the issue.

"We haven't heard from them. What I understand is that the prime minister is going to take a look at what we're doing, keep an open mind."

Harper may be hoping opposition within Alberta will convince Klein to drop the most controversial parts of the Third Way, but Etmanski says there is little opposition. She said the provincial government has received 10,000 letters about stopping the grizzly bear hunt, but only about 400 about the Third Way. "People are taking time to take a look at it." Mike McBane of the Canadian Health Coalition said Harper's election promise to support the Canada health act is looking insincere. "I think this is a question of looking the other way. It's a wink and a nod to the provinces who want to privatize - Alberta, Quebec and B.C. - that the federal government is not going to stand in their way."

[DIV class=spacer][/DIV][/DIV][!-- END STORY BODY --][/DIV][DIV class=spacer][/DIV][!-- END MAIN CONTENT --][!-- BEGIN FOOTER --][DIV id=ynfeet][P id=copyright]Copyright 2006 [A class=regs href="*"]Canadian Press[/A]

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