July 8, 2021: What does the cabinet shuffle mean for Alberta's health care?
by Alyssa Pretty, Communications Officer of Friends of Medicare. July 8, 2021.
Friends of Medicare had hoped to see a change to the Health Minister in today’s cabinet shuffle. After a horrendous year, including unyielding attacks on our public health care and frontline workers, Albertans deserved to see accountability from this government. Instead, we saw few changes of impact, ignoring the needs of the people of this province who have been loud and clear about their opposition to changes being imposed on public services, including our public health care system.
Here’s two notable changes that we did see:
1. Community and Social Services
Formerly: Rajan Sawhney, Now: Jason Luan
In September 2020, Friends of Medicare, along with people with disabilities and their families, care workers, AUPE, and concerned Albertans, called on Minister Sawhney to stop the abrupt plans to privatize the homes and care centres of Albertans with disabilities. After months of waiting, Sawhney announced that the government would be maintaining the current service model for these residential and personal care facilities.
AISH was similarly on the chopping block, but in September 2020, the government announced they had reversed proposed cuts that would have impacted 70,000 Albertans, in response to significant public backlash. Importantly however, the monthly caseload numbers for AISH have recently seen three consecutive months of declines—the first since at least 2008, according to independent reporting from Kim Siever. Tellingly, Premier Kenney has called the AISH program "generous," while AISH recipients are expected to get by on a maximum amount of just $1,685 a month—$20,220 per year, or about $11K less per year than the province's full-time minimum wage earners.
Friends of Medicare will be interested to see whether these cuts remain shelved, or which other programs will now be considered expendable under the direction of the new minister. Jason Luan, notably, has already made a name for himself as someone who takes a hard line when it comes to policy impacting the lives of vulnerable Albertans, in spite of both public opinion or mounting numbers of lives lost as a result of ideological drug policy.
2. Mental Health and Addictions
Formerly: Jason Luan, Now: Mike Ellis
In March 2020, the government conducted a “socio-economic” review of Alberta’s supervised consumption services, which has since been widely decried by experts as “biased and flawed.” As a direct result of this “review” Luan has sought to move forward on the government’s dangerous plan to limit or eradicate harm reduction services in this province, in favor of the government’s “abstinence and treatment” only approach. We’ve since seen the funding cancellation and closure of supervised consumption services and other harm reduction services across the province.
June 26 was the Global Day of Action against oppressive drug policy, and Albertans for Ethical Drug Policy (including Friends of Medicare) released a joint statement in opposition to the government’s "acts of structural violence against people who use drugs." In the wake of a spike in overdose deaths, the statement called for the reversal of decisions to close or defund Alberta's harm reduction services, which has put the health and safety of Albertans at risk. The statement also called for the removal of Jason Luan from his cabinet role as Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions.
Seeing as Luan’s new role as Minister of Community and Social Services will involve decisions that impact many of the same vulnerable Albertans, their families and communities, this move is far from what advocates had been demanding. We can only hope that the new Associate Minister, Mike Ellis, will have a drastically different approach on this portfolio.
However, it is worth noting that Ellis was formerly a police sergeant with the Calgary Police Service. Mental health and addictions must to be approached as the health care issues that they are, not ones requiring additional policing. We hope that Minister Ellis will put evidence, and the lives of vulnerable Albertans first as he takes on his new cabinet work. Friends of Medicare will be watching this file closely.
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