Alberta's proposed legislation, the Alberta Health Care Assurance Act, will also no longer recognize the supremacy of the Canada Health Act and will allow doctors to practice medicine in the private and public systems at the same time, the Herald has learned.
While Health Minister Iris Evans said Tuesday she's optimistic the province can work with Ottawa, a spokesman for prime minister-designate Stephen Harper repeated a warning to the provincial government that its health reforms must fall within the confines of the Canada Health Act.
"(Harper) has made it clear to the premier that any and all changes that take place in Alberta have to take place within the Canada Health Act," said William Stairs, Harper's communications chief.
Klein seems bent on pushing this issue, despite clear reservations from some in his own government. This looming battle with Alberta will present Canadians with a clear signal as to Harper's vision for the country. The measures proposed by Klein represent a serious threat to the public health care system, articulated correctly here:
"This is not a policy road to travel," said Tom Noseworthy, a physician and director of the University of Calgary's Centre for Health and Policy Studies.
"If you're now going to create more practice opportunities for physicians that lure them away from the publicly funded system, tell me how the publicly funded system gets better as a consequence of that? I'm sorry, the logic escapes me and the evidence from the other countries doesn't suggest that it's a good idea."
The only way this issue doesn't become a serious challenge for Harper is if Klein were to back down(fat chance). Imagine a scenario where Harper is forced into withholding federal health care dollars to reign in Alberta. Is this what people expected from "the West is in"?
Harper must defend the Canada Health Act not only for moral reasons, but as a matter of political survival. Canadians will watch closely to see how Harper deals with a belligerent Klein, and anything less than complete resolve will greatly harm the government. This looming battle also provides Harper with a grand opportunity to assume a role as protector of "the greater good", who approaches federalism from the national perspective. Quite a departure from the Harper positions of old, but a chance to assert a national agenda that is sure to curry favor across the country, nevermind the other opposition parties. If Klein plows ahead with his program, it will represent the first watershed moment for the Harper government. For my own philosophical reasons and despite my political persuasions, I'm hoping Harper rises to the challenge.