Posted on Apr 30, 2020


Alberta’s NDP Official Opposition is again calling for the resignation of Health Minister Tyler Shandro as 18 doctors in the Town of Westlock have signed a letter harshly criticizing him and the Jason Kenney government for creating a crisis in rural healthcare. The letter makes it clear some doctors will be forced to resign from the local hospital.

The letter comes less than a week after Shandro claimed to have halted the rural crisis. 

“In reality,” the Westlock doctors write, “what the Minister had done was rebrand his previous cuts as gifts to pacify rural MLAs who were angry about the crisis he had caused in the communities. There was no accountability for this entirely preventable crisis and no acknowledgement of our warnings for the past six months.”

The letter stresses that the doctors are seeking a negotiated agreement between the province and the Alberta Medical Association, one that cannot be torn up on a whim using the powers of Bill 21. 

“If we are the only province without an agreement, how do we expect new doctors to come?” the doctors write. “When we know this government can impose unilateral changes at any time, how do we expect the current physicians to stay? How do we provide stability for the staff we employ (which in rural areas means our friends and neighbours)? We are literally being asked to man the front lines of a pandemic while the ground shifts beneath us at the whims of this government. It is exhausting and demoralizing.”

At his April 24 media event, Tyler Shandro lied to Albertans by failing to mention he was stripping 141 communities from the Rural Remote Northern Program. Facing a fierce backlash, Shandro blamed the public servants at Alberta Health and returned the towns, villages, counties and indigenous communities back to the list a few days later. But there was yet another nasty surprise when doctors in these communities discovered part of their compensation under this program had been quietly deleted. Since then, doctors in Sundre and Pincher Creek have said they will proceed with their previously announced resignations from their local hospitals.  

Meanwhile in Edmonton, parents of medically fragile children are rallying to the defence of doctors at Garneau Pediatric Associates after Shandro’s staff attempted to bully and dismiss them online this week.

On Tuesday, pediatricians at Garneau went public with how Shandro’s cuts would destroy their model of practice, which provides a high level of specialized primary care to children with complex medical problems. Shandro’s issue manager Tara Jago and press secretary Steve Buick responded by claiming the doctors were “misleading patients” and went on to discuss the clinic’s billing information on Twitter.

There has been an outpouring of support for the Garneau doctors using the hashtag #patients4abdocs with testimony from parents and pictures of the children who have received care there.

“It is deeply moving to see these Albertans come to the aid of the doctors who were always there for them,” said David Shepherd NDP Opposition Critic for Health. “I’m appalled to see Shandro’s staff try to smear these healthcare professionals who have dedicated themselves to caring for children who have endured severe medical problems.”

In another development today, 127 Alberta medical students wrote to Shandro and Premier Jason Kenney.

“The provincial government’s actions have equally damaged the trust of the next generation of physicians – Alberta’s medical students. Sporadic policy changes have left us with profound uncertainty about our future. As physicians in training we are questioning whether to practice medicine, urban or rural, in a province that will limit us from providing stable patient care. Many newly graduating physicians are looking to leave Alberta. Such an exodus would be a significant loss of all that was invested in training and could also create a physician shortage for years to come.”

The students call for a reinstatement of the province’s previous agreement with doctors, third-party arbitration to develop a new agreement, and a repeal of parts of Bill 21, a plan which the Opposition has also called for. 

“Tyler Shandro’s crisis in healthcare is spiralling out of control,” Shepherd said. “Today, there are mass resignations of doctors from rural hospitals across the province, pediatricians warning they will have to divert their patients into crowded ER waiting rooms, and Alberta’s doctors of tomorrow warning of an exodus and a physician shortage.”

“Tyler Shandro has burned his relationship with Alberta doctors to the ground. I’m calling again on UCP MLAs to stop making excuses for Shandro and start speaking up for the Albertans who elected them,” Shepherd said.

“We have a simple three-point plan to stop this crisis today. Restore the previous contract with doctors on a temporary basis, enter independent third-party arbitration, and repeal the elements of Bill 21 that allow the government to tear up any future contract on a whim

“And it is obvious to everyone that Tyler Shandro must resign or be fired from his position.”