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Vast majority of Alberta doctors do not have confidence in health minister: AMA referendum

Premier Jason Kenney responds to Alberta doctor’s lack of confidence in Health Minister Shandro
Premier Jason Kenney responds to a poll of Alberta doctors showing only two per cent of respondents have confidence in Health Minister Tyler Shandro.

The results of an Alberta Medical Association referendum vote are in, and 98 per cent of Alberta’s physicians, residents and medical students surveyed say they are not confident in Health Minister Tyler Shandro.

The AMA has been in a battle with the UCP over the termination of the doctors’ master agreement and changes to billing fees and rules.

READ MORE: Alberta government ends master agreement with doctors; new rules coming April 1

The AMA announced last week it would hold a referendum, asking members if they had confidence in the health minister. Nearly 9,000 AMA members took part in the referendum, a voter turnout of 67 per cent.

AMA president Dr. Christine Molnar told Global News it’s an unusually high turnout for a vote.

In a statement Wednesday, Molnar wrote: “The message from Alberta’s doctors couldn’t be clearer; they don’t have confidence in this minister, they don’t trust him.”

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“Over the past year, Mr. Shandro’s words and actions have created a chaotic state in health care and have alienated most of the people responsible for actually delivering the care in the system. It’s a toxic situation and physicians have clearly had enough of it.”

The AMA president also noted the lack of confidence isn’t over a single issue.

“It’s a cumulative effect of all of the different things that have happened since the fall. I think members are responding to the level of chaos and uncertainty that has been created by this minister and difficulties with us communicating to him.”

Molnar said the vote indicates that the AMA should move on from trying to work with Shandro, and instead focus their efforts on communicating with his boss.

“We will be reaching out to Premier Jason Kenney and seeking his leadership and support in restoring a meaningful dialogue between physicians and the minister.”

The AMA said it is not calling for Shandro to be fired or resign.

READ MORE: Alberta doctors take out newspaper ads in hopes of reaching agreement with UCP

Kenney was asked about the doctors’ lack of confidence in the health minister on Wednesday.

“I think minister Shandro’s done a fantastic job of getting us through the COVID crisis, while also addressing huge challenges that we were elected to address,” he said.

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“Our government is accountable, not to 10,800 people who belong to an interest group, we are accountable to 4.4 million Albertans who elected us with the largest democratic mandate in Alberta history just over a year ago. One element of that mandate was to get to a balanced budget by stopping massive increases in spending.

“We respect our physicians, who are a key element of our health-care system. We respect them so much that we compensate them more generously than physicians in any other Canadian province.”

The premier said the province does not have the money to continue giving physicians pay increases due to the current state of the economy.

“These are people who work extremely hard. They are, by definition, essential to our health-care system. They spend years going through university, delaying income and incurring debt. They do have overhead costs to pay for and they have very challenging jobs, and we honour them and we’re happy — we’re fine with compensating them at the highest level in Canada, and the highest level in Alberta history,” Kenney said.

“But in the face of an economy that has shrunk by 20 per cent, we cannot say that one quarter of one per cent of the population can benefit from continued increases in compensation when they already represent 10 per cent of the government budget.”

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The AMA confidence vote referendum was conducted from July 21 to July 28. Of the 13,405 eligible member, the AMA said 8,934 voted. The results broke down as follows:

  • I have confidence in the Minister of Health – 137 votes (1.53 per cent)
  • I do not have confidence in the Minister of Health – 8,740 votes (97.83 per cent)
  • I must abstain – 57 votes (0.64 per cent)

Global News reached out to the ministry of health to request an interview with Shandro but was referred to the premier’s comments on the matter.

Molnar said she plans to write a letter to Kenney on Thursday, asking for his help.

“We very much, especially in this environment, need an agreement — and we can’t find a way forward,” she said.

“It’s easy to lose trust, but restoring trust takes time.”

-With files from Quinn Ohler.