David Swann: Blog

Dr. David Swann is the elected member of the Alberta Legislature for Calgary Mountain View and the Liberal critic for the Health and Wellness, Human Services, Agriculture and Rural Development, and Aboriginal Relations.

David Swann: Blog - Dr. David Swann is the elected member of the Alberta Legislature for Calgary Mountain View and the Liberal critic for the Health and Wellness, Human Services, Agriculture and Rural Development, and Aboriginal Relations.

Embracing the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan

A guest post by David McIntyre

When the Government of Alberta put its stamp of approval on the South Saskatchewan Regional Plan, it embraced a classic brand of made-in-Alberta management.

The defining strategy: Utilize the abuses and failures of the past to frame and fabricate the envisioned future.

Within this down-is-up—backward-is-forward—portrait …

Chaos Calls the Shots

Decades of rampant headwaters degradation, while deeply disturbing to almost everyone, isn’t worth addressing. It’s simply collateral damage, and the public’s negative response to this damage is nothing more than a chronic reflection of society’s ongoing frustration with the lack of meaningful management of Alberta’s public lands. And that’s okay. It’s time to move on.

Here in the Headwaters Wilderness, land managers don’t have the time, resources or political support to sweat over—degradation-as-usual—small stuff. They don’t have the luxury to worry about water quality, heritage landscape preservation, natural beauty, ecological integrity, endangered species, or the litany of abuses that occur. They can’t afford to lose sleep over landscape destruction, or bother to manage the off-the-chart strife created by an army of conflicting user groups. There are more important things to do.

Alberta is open for business … any business, any time, anywhere. And no business needs to be in the best interest of the public. No business needs to be evaluated based on its true cost to society. To be fair, it isn’t as if the government planned it this way. It simply hasn’t managed to prevent this outcome. It hasn’t done what it’s been elected—and entrusted—to do.

Here in the Headwaters Wilderness, society’s resource managers have taken a back seat, next to the exit. There, hidden in the shadows with hats pulled low, they monitor the situation by simply watching as the landscape’s many users, all dissatisfied, wage war on center stage.

Standing in the spotlight, freedom-fighting mountain men (and women) write their own rules while pointing vindictive fingers at these same pantywaist managers: men and women who are paid to weather the assaults, smile in the face of public ridicule and scorn.

Come on out and see for yourself. The show’s free, and it’s playing daily. And don’t forget that you, too, can join in this chaos. It’s your opportunity to become part of a deviant fantasy. Don’t worry. You can’t upset this little applecart; it’s already been flipped, smashed into a million splintered pieces.

Proponents of this brand of chaos are vocal, and they chant a repetitive demand for “Mountain Freedom.” It’s each person’s unassailable right to do anything he (or she) wants on an anything-goes landscape. Here in Alberta, on public land that must not be worth the paperwork used to describe it, you can make your own roads, smash beer bottles at river’s edge, camp wherever you like, set up your toilet on a stream bank, cut down trees, dig up rare vegetation and shoot anything your heart desires.

Here in the Headwaters Wilderness you can throw away the rulebook and take charge. It’s your land, yours to destroy any way you see fit. Faux cowboys ride this free and worthless range on dirt bikes and ATVs. Their abuse is everywhere, and it’s familiar in the way a bad neighbor is familiar. But that’s okay. This is Alberta. That’s how we like it.

Society, ever tolerant, tends to sugarcoat this maltreatment by rounding up some billboards and a few 2 X 4s to prop up a false illusion: that the word wild still exists in the Headwaters Wilderness.

The message: At the base of this tree stump is a picture of the living tree that once grew here. (Such a sign might appear on any one of the countless thousands of ancient limber and whitebark pines that Alberta Forestry Division killed—these trees were among the oldest and most picturesque in the province—before it declared these same species endangered.)

Everyone knows that Alberta’s vast herds of buffalo are gone. Fewer people are aware that sage grouse and this province’s native trout are following in their footsteps. Don’t lose sleep over these minor losses. They’re acceptable—the price of progress. Here in Alberta it’s important to keep a heavy foot on the accelerator. There’s no need to look in the rearview mirror, no requirement to protect heritage viewscapes and vital habitat, no obligation to save endangered species, or create across-the-landscape connectivity for wildlife.

Despite alluring marketing, the Headwaters Wilderness is an industrial trash bag. It’s littered with smashed cans, broken bottles, old refrigerators and yesterday’s oil change. There are tire tracks up the creek. And over in the valley, wallowing in what your grandfather called “the finest spring in the Rockies,” is a herd of cattle. Do you know how much water a single cow drinks in a day? Neither do I, but that isn’t the problem, is it?

Don’t worry. You can still hike through the heart of the anything-goes Headwaters Wilderness. You can climb the stunning mountains overlooking the magnificence of the revered Cow Pie Palace and Pipeline Provincial Park. You’ll simply share this managed forest with logging trucks, motor homes, strip mines, gas wells, drilling rigs, equestrian operators, hunters, social deviants, family gatherings, bush partiers, Sunday drivers, target shooters, dirt bike rallies and thousands of cows. This heavenly expanse is connected by roads—lotsa roads.

Be careful! You can still get a mosquito bite in this wilderness, and the bite may itch. But if it gets too bad, hit the throttle. You’ll be back in town in no time.

I’ve brought you to the Headwaters Wilderness just in time for a High Noon showdown. The cast includes a grimy gang of despicable desperadoes. Everyone faces-off at a four-way intersection under the hot, harsh light of mid-day. The motorized lineup includes logging trucks, cattle liners, two drilling rigs, dozens of pickup trucks, a fleet of SUVs and a darting, lurching, ever-frenetic army of off-road ATV riders and dirt bikers.

Dust is thick. Black smoke belches into a blue sky. The din of revving engines drowns out conversations, and the exhaust is choking. As we watch, two coyotes race past a group of wild-eyed broncos and a herd of nervous cattle moves toward the competing lines of stinking, gridlocked traffic. The camera catches this action, then comes in for close-ups of the taught faces of the diverse, unflinching combatants.

Time stands still, and no one blinks. All eyes are on the Crossroads From Hell. Tension fills the air as nervous seconds pass… and then the rule of the wilderness prevails: The biggest rig goes first!

 

 

Heath care mismanagement continues to cause unacceptable wait times for Albertans

Who knew that Albertans had the option to purchase private insurance to receive preferential access to diagnostic testing and treatment? The issue was recently raised to me and yesterday, the Calgary Herald ran an excellent article from Dr. Paul Parks titled, All Albertans deserve timely access to health care. An exceprt of the editorial is as follows:

Unfortunately, the recent debate surrounding the existence of private MRI clinics has once again allowed the focus to be diverted from the critical issue at the heart of the matter: that the medical queues in Alberta are routinely inordinate, untenable and unsafe… I would strongly argue that we should hold the government accountable to improve health care access for all Albertans. Albertans deserve equitable access to a robust public health-care system irrespective of one’s ability to pay.

I would encourage you to take the time to read the brief article; it’s long overdue for Albertans to be engaged in the debate on creeping privileged access on two-tiered health care.

 

Time for the AMA to step up for patients

The Alberta Medical Association (AMA) has a motto—Advocating for Patients First—but fails to take it to heart. The “one ailment per visit” rule may not provide physicians and patients with the time necessary to address much-needed concerns. Many Albertans are raising questions about the AMA’s “trademark”, which the organization proudly drops into much of its written material. How can doctors reconcile this value with “one issue per visit” and the refusal to accept older, more complex patients?

I intend to continue to go after Alberta Health Services (AHS) for the gross mismanagement in implementing EMR’s and in the meantime, I encourage you to read another insightful blog post by Alberta blogger, Susan Wright.

I’m joining “Ms. Soapbox” in saying, It’s time for the AMA to step up, especially given the generous salaries physicians now enjoy in Alberta.  It’s time for the AMA to “anticipate patient needs” and “answer questions”.

 

A doctor’s letter to his patients: The sad reality of health care in Alberta

Health care has long been a topic of great concern, discussion and interest in this province, and in fact throughout Canada. Recently, the CBC announced their Rate My Hospital project, which ranks Canadian hospitals on criteria such as mortality after surgery, nursing sensitivity for both surgical and medical patients, and readmission. The tool also enables the public to rank their hospitals on areas of respect, communication, timeliness and cleanliness.

With a flurry of health care related conversations taking place in the Legislature, in the media and in our communities- emergency room wait times, current negotiations between the Alberta Medical Association and the Alberta government, queue jumping and more—I want to draw your attention to an excellent piece of writing found in The Edmonton Journal. A doctor’s letter to his patients outlines the myriad concerns doctors, and patients, have about the state of health care under this PC government.

Dr. Mark Ewanchuk, an assistant clinical professor of anesthesiology and critical care medicine at the University of Alberta, writes:

The Alberta government is deceiving you about our province’s health-care system. It is trying to convince you that it, and it alone, knows how best to plan, manage and deliver health care; and that it is able to do so without the input and expertise of those of us on the front lines who actually deliver care.

Further, the government is seeking to destroy the efforts of a multitude of individuals who have been struggling to redefine and re-innovate how your health care is delivered since the last time a Progressive Conservative government decimated health care…It’s the reason you can only obtain proper ophthalmology care at one of our five city hospitals (Royal Alexandra). Or why Edmonton’s busiest obstetrical centre for babies and women (Grey Nuns) has no pediatric services for children. Or why our busiest neonatal and pediatric centre for babies and children (The Stollery) has no women’s medicine. Or why our vascular centre (Grey Nuns) has no trauma services. Or why our busiest trauma centre (University of Alberta) has no vascular surgery program. Or why our thoracic centre (Royal Alexandra) has no cardiac surgery or bypass capability.

I encourage you to read the complete letter and, if you feel as strongly as I do about the sorry state of health care in our province, I ask you to take action: write your MLA and urge them to 1. Listen to front-line health professionals to learn about what is needed; 2. Invest in proven community care (Primary Care Networks) before expanding the experiments in Family Care Centers; 3. Stop the coercion in negotiations and establish a fair and respectful process for negotiation; and 4. Settle an agreement and restore stability to our healthcare system for the benefit of all.

 

What Earth Hour means to Albertans

Today marks the 17th annual Earth Hour, a global initiative that sees individuals and organizations turn off their lights for one hour in a mass movement to bring awareness and consideration to our energy consumption. Originating in Sydney, Australia, in 2007, the inaugural Earth Hour saw 2.2 million people and 2,100 businesses go dark. By the following year, Earth Hour was marked by upwards of 50 million people across 371 cities and towns around the world, and participation has only continued to increase in the years since.

Recently, I hosted a public forum on the topic of coal-fired electricity in Alberta, Coal-fired Alberta: Cheap energy or clean air? The panel discussion consisted of industry experts and concerned citizens from a variety of backgrounds, each speaking to the various health, environmental and economic implications related to the continued use of coal-fired energy plants in Alberta.

It comes as a surprise to many that today 65% of Alberta’s electrical power is generated through the burning of coal and that coal usage in Alberta is greater than that in the rest of Canada combined. In addition to the myriad environmental consequences, the health concerns related to our continued dependence on coal are staggering—for instance, diagnoses of Asthma and other respiratory ailments across the country have increased significantly over the past 30 years.

The oft-referenced “Think global, act local” will resonate deeply with many Albertans this evening. When you turn your lights out to observe Earth Hour, I ask you to truly consider what you’re contributing as individuals, communities and organizations. Earth Hour marks an opportunity to not only bring awareness to our global consumption of energy and what this means for our planet, but to consider locally where our electricity in comes from—the burning of coal—and the numerous health and environmental consequences this brings. We have a number of viable alternatives to coal in Alberta, including natural gas and a variety of renewable energy options. And there is a host of energy conservation methods we can employ to minimize our carbon footprint.

If you feel as strongly as I do about the need to reduce Alberta’s reliance on coal, I encourage you to take action by urging your MLA to reject the 5- to 10-year extension the government has given to many coal-fired energy plants in Alberta that have reached their end-of-life. This evening, when our lights are off, it may be that we see the repercussions of our action/inaction most clearly.

 

A welcomed commentary on “Bankrupt Budget 2013″

On Thursday, March 7, Allison Redford’s Progressive Conservative government released a budget that—in the 2013-14 fiscal year—will run a $1.97 billion deficit. That will borrow $4.3 billion for new infrastructure. That will withdraw $2.1 billion from the Sustainability Fund—now renamed the Contingency Fund—savings account, dropping the balance to $691 million, a significant decrease from the $17 billion in 2008.

With questions, comments and concern swirling around this “Bankrupt Budget” in the wake of the announcement last week, I wanted to bring one commentary in particular to your attention, courtesy of Susan Wright and her blog, Susan on the Soapbox. I encourage you all to read this excellent analysis of this Progressive Conservative government’s lack of vision and fiscal planning: Budget 2013 (If you want to play with the Big Boys, you play by Big Boy Rules).

Public Policy and Politics

The following post was delivered as a lecture for The School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary, Friday, February 1, 2013.


Public Policy Definitions:

  • The principles, often unwritten, on which social laws are based
  • The principle that injury to the public good is a basis for denying the legality of a contract of other transaction
  • Distinct from Private Policy, which serves personal or corporate interests

Other scholars define Public Policy as a system of “courses of action, regulatory measures, laws, and funding priorities concerning a given topic by a government or its representatives.”

Public policy is commonly embodied “in constitutions, legislative acts, and judicial decisions.”


Politics:

  • “Relating to citizens”—is the art or science of influencing people’s beliefs on a civic, or individual level, when there are more than two people involved
  • Modern political discourse focuses on democracy and the relationship between people and politics. Politics is thought of as the way we “choose representatives and make decisions about public policy”

If people are not engaged, or politicians evade public involvement, the policy decisions are made by representatives with variable results based on

  • how much time they have
  • who was consulted
  • what financial interests are involved
  • what the party policy is
  • what public perception is (determined through polling)

The goal of government (through public policy), is:

  • A fair, inclusive society committed to engaging all citizens in the democratic process and ensuring social, environmental and economic wellbeing into the future
  • This includes minority, marginalized and ethnic communities and their participation and benefit
  • That’s democracy—representing the majority and protecting minorities

And the role of government is to do the hard work of comprehensive analysis of issues and reflect the long term public interest in policies. Why else would we elect governments of the people?


Policy Process

Question: Does money potentially subvert the democratic process? If so, how?

Policy example: What would an ideal electoral (party) financing process look like in Alberta?

Issue/problem: How to ensure efficient, fair, transparent and accountable elections? (e.g., concerns about excessive influence of money on electoral politics and policy)—Review of current Act and regulations.

Values and principles assessment: What would limit and fairly support the finances needed for democratic process?

Who should be involved? Expert analysis (comprehensive) and state of the art knowledge and standards about the current and future state of the issue, including costs, benefits and trade-offs.

All-party Committee examine the scope—current status of who can donate, donation limits and tax credits assigned; reporting frequency.


Here’s what happened with Bill 7

Bill 7—Election Accountability Amendment Act, 2012 (Denis) passed in November and was proclaimed in Dec/12.

Background: This followed from the 2008 election which was fraught with delays for voters, incorrect polling station information, inconsistent standards for eligibility and identification and a 41% voter turnout.

  • Brian Feldheim the CEO at the time was hamstrung by delays from the government in identifying Returning Officers (temporary employees that supervise the election process in each polling station)
  • Following the election we took the government to court for violating its own election act and Brian Feldheim wrote a scathing report calling for 102 changes to the Act
  • He was replaced as CEO soon after

In addition, there have been many illegal donations in the past few years and the government recognized the liabilities:

  • Justice Dept sent out the drafts a few days before the Legislature opened and debate ensued: the two most contentious issues were Legal Limits ($15K/year; $30K election year – cf. Federal elections allow $1100/yr and no corporate or union donations) and Donations by Corporations and Unions
  • Neither of these entities has a vote – why would we give them such inordinate financial influence?

Over 100 amendments were suggested to Bill 7 – none accepted

  • Minor changes to the public reporting of donations and more frequent reporting of financial status.
  • No change to the contentious issues of high limits and freedom of corporations and unions donating rather than individuals (federal law).

The major issues: excessive limits and heavy influence of corporations were not changed. These clearly influence campaign strength and on subsequent policy. One good change this Bill brought in:

  • Makes it easier for post-secondary students to vote–Alberta students who are studying out-of-province are permitted to vote in Alberta provincial elections in the constituency where they are ordinarily resident and were residing before leaving to attend school. Alberta students who are studying away from home but still in Alberta can choose to vote either in the constituency where they are currently residing or where they are ordinarily resident.

Out-of-province students attending school in Alberta are considered residents of Alberta and may vote in Alberta provincial elections in the constituency where they are residing.


Conclusions:

Policy reflects many interests rammed into a ‘sausage maker’—the process is critical; all the steps, transparency and accountability must be in place and we need some appeal processes where policy (such as Bill 7) strays from the test of long term public interest.

Political parties are very human organizations with their own interests, values and practises and must be held in check by regulations and ethical standards but also by the people.

If the people lose interest, lose trust, lose courage or can’t take the time—we lose control over policy (laws) and slip into abuse of power, self-interest, cronyism and ultimately corruption. No surprise – power corrupts.

Democracy is fragile—mostly volunteers—it depends on conscious people paying attention to public issues and ensuring their opinions are being heard at municipal, provincial and federal levels.

 

A New Year, A New Sitting of the Legislature

As we gear up for the next sitting in the Legislature, I wanted to share a reminder of bills that were passed in the last sitting. Within a period of six weeks, the government introduced and passed ten bills, all of which you can review, if you’re so inclined, at http://www.assembly.ab.ca/net/index.aspx?p=bills_home.

The most significant, from my point of view, included the following:

  • Bill 2—Responsible Energy Development, establishing a single regulator for oil and gas
  • Bill 3—the long-awaited Education Act
  • Bill 4—Whistleblower Protection, which we, the Liberal party, believe is too weak to be helpful for those wanting to expose mismanagement in government
  • Bill 5—New Home Buyer Protection Act, which includes proper warranty protection that we fully support, and
  • Bill 7—Election Accountability Act, which failed to eliminate the unacceptable influence of large donations as well as corporations and unions.

For anyone interested in further information, I’d be pleased to discuss any of the issues arising from these bills.

Economically, the Liberal caucus believes this government has not spent wisely and continues to depend too heavily on resource revenue for government programs and services. As Premier Redford announced just recently, the result again this year is a $6B deficit. The Liberal caucus strongly believes that Albertans truly want stable revenue to pay for our needs using today’s money, and to stop borrowing from our children’s futures.

Election Accountability Amendment Act isn’t strong legislation

The PC government continues to operate on half-measures. The Election Accountability Amendment Act does not fit with the way other provincial governments, and even the federal government, are moving when it comes to election expenses and donations. One would think that all the scandals around illegal or unethical donations would have spurred more accountability, but this is lacking still. The Premier and her PC caucus rejected scores of opposition amendments that would have eliminated corporate and union donations—steps taken by other provinces—and reduced donation limits from the current cap of $15,000—the highest in Canada—to $5000.

My office is available to you to discuss, debate, propose and complain. Please don’t hesitate to employ me to act in your interest, whether in regards to housing, healthcare, financial responsibility or environmental concerns.