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Here's a bet: Alberta Health Services review announced yesterday will cost more than any savings it finds

Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Premier Jason Kenney at the swearing in of Alberta's cabinet. Photo: Government of Alberta/Flickr​

Tyler Shandro was pretty bold yesterday when he put out a Government of Alberta news release announcing the United Conservative Party Government's promised review of Alberta Health Services.

Shandro is the baby-faced MLA for Calgary-Acadia who was made minister of health by Premier Jason Kenney. He is a lawyer and former member of several important boards, including the Calgary Police Commission and the National Parole Board, so you wouldn't think that he's a dope.

Just the same, so far he's attracted attention from coast to coast for his unintentionally hilarious performance sticking too close to what was apparently his single authorized talking point -- that, "in due course" something would happen.

"AHS review to find savings, improve performance," read the headline on Shandro's announcement, which was doubtless written by a professional. A subhead continued: "A performance review of Alberta Health Services will identify ways to deliver better results for Albertans and find efficiencies across the health system."

I guess we'll confirm this in due course, but anyone who's been paying attention knows this little bit of UCP election rhetoric is highly unlikely to find any real savings or meaningful efficiencies in the system, let alone across it.

So while the inevitably overpriced review, doubtless by a multinational consulting company with a bias in favour of privatization, may look for new efficiencies, it's extremely unlikely it will find many.

In fact, I'll make a little wager: a review of the operations of a $15.2-billion public health care agency with well over 100,000 employees that has to be done by the end of a year that’s already nearly half gone will cost far more than any efficiencies it uncovers.

We can be reasonably confident of this because the respected Canadian Institute of Health Information has already done a comparative study of health administration costs across Canada and AHS came out smelling like a rose. AHS has the lowest administrative costs in health care in Canada -- 3.3 per cent of total spending, compared with a national average of 4.5 per cent.

So during the campaign when Premier Jason Kenney first raised the idea of the review of AHS, he was talking through his "Cattleman" cosplay hat when he said stuff like "we believe there are too many managers managing managers."

Alert readers will recall that Shandro's boss -- who was presumably the one who dictated the health minister's risibly restrictive talking point -- also said during the campaign that "other jurisdictions have done thorough administrative performance reviews like this and have found savings of between one and two per cent of expenditures." Therefore, Kenney told credulous Alberta voters, "we believe that is something in the range of $200 million that we could find in administrative savings to be pushed out to nurses, doctors and patients on the front lines."

Well, good luck with that, because as CIHI's analysis showed, AHS has already saved what Kenney promised he could save based on actions by less efficient health systems. In other words, Kenney's wildly optimistic prediction is founded on a phoney diagnosis that won't work because there's not much fat left to cut at AHS.

AHS president and CEO Verna Yiu has every reason to be distressed and irritated by this distracting and time-consuming snipe hunt, and indeed she sounded as if she was during the election campaign.

"Health-care leaders from more than 40 countries named AHS one of the top five most integrated health systems in the world last May at the 18th International Congress on Integrated Care," she said in a letter to the Medicine Hat News back in March. "Delegates also ranked AHS second in the world -- behind the Netherlands -- as the health system from which the most could be learned."

Of course, given the change in government, Dr. Yiu had little choice but to be a good sport about this disruptive foolishness. "We look forward to working with government on this review," she said diplomatically. That said, I expect we'll discover in due course what she really thought of the whole thing.

The reality is that the only targets for meaningful cuts to health costs remaining in Alberta are physicians' salaries and rural hospitals.

But don't bet that Shandro's news release on this topic, the one that will be published in due course after the "review" has been completed, will even take note of this fact.

Foolish promise made. Foolish promise kept.

Justice minister caves on independent prosecutor demand

After getting flak from all quarters of the political spectrum, Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer caved yesterday and announced the government will appoint an out-of-province independent prosecutor to oversee the RCMP investigation of allegations of vote tampering in the 2017 "Kamikaze Campaign."

A government official said the decision was "based on new information," although it's said here the new information was most likely the astonishing fact that the government was even being criticized by a Postmedia political columnist.

Election Commissioner now investigating newly elected UCP MLA

In a similar vein, Albertans learned yesterday that the province's election commissioner is now formally investigating allegations of "fraud, forgery, improper inducement and bribery" made against newly elected UCP MLA Peter Singh.

Immediately before the April 16 general election, RCMP officers searched a Calgary auto repair business run by Singh, although what they were looking for and whether it is connected with the election commissioner's investigation is not known.

The UCP, I am sure, would dearly love to get rid of Election Commissioner Lorne Gibson. This development, one would think, may make that harder to do.

Postmedia columnist urges Kenney to can Calgary council

Does anyone remember the brouhaha that erupted back in 2017 when the NDP dared to dismiss three elected councillors in rural Thorhild County, 100 kilometres north of Edmonton?

It was a textbook example of the perils of such actions, whether or not they're justified. Last I heard, the dismissals had been overturned by a court and one of the councillors was threatening to sue the inspector who wrote the report responsible for the government's decision.

Now a Postmedia columnist is calling on the Kenney government to dismiss Calgary city council because … I'm not making this up … "my friend Ervin Nelson, who owns Mr. Volvo Plus, was almost in tears Wednesday as he described the crushing tax burden on his business."

Nelson's tears may very well be justified. His taxes do seem to have gone up a lot. But needless to say, Kenney is not getting sound advice on this file from Postmedia, no matter how much Calgary taxes have soared.

Here's the thing: We have a boom and bust economy in Alberta tied to the prices fetched by fossil fuels. In case you missed it, we're in the bust phase right now. There's lots of empty space not generating tax revenue in Calgary's office towers as a result.

No provincial government has been willing to do anything meaningful about it, though, and now we have one that is determined to slash provincial taxes and hack public services, inevitably downloading costs onto municipalities.

The result is completely predictable. Firing city councillors won't help, even if that's what Postmedia and the Calgary sprawl cabal demand.

Alberta's carbon tax ends; celebration cancelled because of fires

Alberta's carbon tax is dead. However, a self-congratulatory news conference by Premier Kenney planned yesterday for an Edmonton gas station had to be cancelled because the wildfires in northern Alberta continue to rage out of control. Indeed, at noon yesterday it was twilight in Alberta's capital city, not the ideal conditions for great B-roll. You couldn’t make this stuff up!

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca

Photo: Government of Alberta/Flickr​

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