August 19, 2014 1:38 am
Updated: August 19, 2014 10:45 am

Alberta PC leadership candidates spar over health care management


WATCH ABOVE: The three PC leadership candidates are grilled on their vision for the party and Alberta. Quinn Ohler reports.

EDMONTON – For the first time during the PC leadership campaign, Albertans had the chance to see a few sparks fly Monday evening, as the three men who want to become the province’s new premier squared off.

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Jim Prentice, Thomas Lukaszuk and Ric McIver took part in one of the few forums not organized by the PC party. It also may have been one of the last chances for the leaders to get their message across to those who will be casting a ballot in September.

All three took full advantage of that opportunity.

For the most part, there was agreement on subjects such as royalties, funding of public education and immigration. But when it came to a particular part of health care, as well as Jim Prentice offering free PC memberships — that’s when the true debate began.

Healthcare management

“Here’s my position,” said Prentice. “I understand that we cannot reorganize the Alberta Health Services again. My point, however, is it’s become far too big and unwieldy…and it essentially has one person running it. I don’t think that’s appropriate governance.”

McIver accused Prentice of wanting to reinforce the AHS superboard, which Prentice denied.

“I’m talking about a board of respected Albertans who are doing this to keep an eye on what is happening, in terms of the system…I’m also speaking of rural boards,” Prentice said before getting heckled.

Lukaszuk then addressed Prentice, saying: “the issue is that we have more people running around hospitals with clipboards than with stethoscopes,” to applause.

Prentice maintains that the changes he envisions — including giving the 13 health advisory councils across the province a “new mandate and [making] them report to the minister” — are not radical, but rather will impose some “proper governance on what has become one of the largest deliverers of health care in the world.”

Free PC memberships controversy

McIver called out Prentice, both during the debate and in a letter, accusing him of finding a loophole in party rules to offer free memberships.

“A campaign spokesperson said Mr. Prentice had ‘no knowledge,'” McIver said while using air quotes, “and then a couple days later, Mr. Prentice said he did. So I was wondering if he authorized that ‘no knowledge statement.’ I think it’s a fair question, particularly when trust is at the centre of this vote.”

Lukaszuk also didn’t hold back.

“This province needs ethics, and not ethics based on finding loopholes in rules. We’ve seen that — rather recently…just because you can find a legal loophole doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.”

Lukaszuk also joked that Albertans should vote for him after getting the free membership from Prentice.

Prentice defended his actions, saying he simply wants as many people as possible engaged in the political process.

Former premier Ed Stelmach weighs in

Former Alberta premier Ed Stelmach was at Monday’s debate. When asked if a leadership change is what the PC party needs to hit the reset button, he had this to say:

“It’s not the party, it’s one person. And that one person, of course, destroyed the good reputation and the trust of the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party.”

Stelmach wouldn’t say who he was supporting, just that he was there to observe.

With files from Quinn Ohler, Global News

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