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.

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.

 

Getting the facts straight: The family farm vs commercial agricultural operations

On Monday, October 1st, 2012 The Medicine Hat News published a letter to the editor from Don Weisbeck,  the former mayor of Brooks and past president of the Wildrose Alliance Strathmore- Brooks constituency association.
It read:

“Around Alberta: MLAs have shown that intelligence does not come with the position. A few weeks back I mocked Alberta MLA David Swann for asking Frito-Lay (a division of PepsiCo) to boycott Alberta grown potatoes.  Swann was reacting to left wing lobbyists who want child labour regulations applied to the family farm. It seems that Swann, the former provincial Liberal leader, was not aware that most of this so-called child labour was actually performed by members of the family that owned the farm.
Imposing regulations that would limit the hours that family members put in at planting and harvest time, in particular, would at least be ridiculous and at most jeopardize an entire way of life. Further, if one felt that some regulations should apply, why would you punish the farmer for the inaction of the provincial government?
It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we are unique in the predominance of non-thinkers at the political level.”

Mr. Weisback  is intentionally misconstruing the issue and is also showing either ignorance or complete contempt for the real issues: paid farmworkers have no protection under Occupational Health and Safety, the Labour Code, and WCB and there are no child labour standards. We are not talking about family farms where members of the family work; Mr Weisback deliberately follows the government line on this. It is unfortunate indeed that after decades of pressing the government to enact these basic protections for paid farmworkers they continue to balk. Most Albertans want their food producers to protect human rights, the Alberta Bill of Rights and the Canadian Constitution as they apply to all employees. We are therefore forced to challenge Pepsi/Fritolay to abide by its own ethical procurement policy and not purchase products from operations that use child labour. If Mr Weisbeck has a better approach to getting the attention of this government on these 19thcentury labor standards I would welcome it. 

What is inappropriate is the use of children as young as 8 in commercial or industrial agricultural operations completing tasks that are far more dangerous than those that would be completed by a child of similar age in a family farm environment. Since these large operations are subject to the same exemption that applies to family farms they do not need to abide by Occupational Health & Safety regulations that other commercial and industrial operations across the province must abide by.

I hope in the future Mr Weisbeck will make an attempt at accurately reflecting the comments of others, even if he personally disagrees with them.