Posted on Feb 20, 2021


EDMONTON - One year ago today, Premier Jason Kenney’s Health Minister Tyler Shandro tore up the government’s contract with doctors, plunging Alberta’s healthcare system into crisis just as a deadly pandemic arrived in the province.

“All Albertans have experienced great stress through the COVID-19 pandemic, and doctors took on the additional risk of caring for their patients and their communities during a public health emergency,” said David Shepherd, NDP Critic for Health. “It’s just mind-boggling that Alberta doctors have also had to endure insults, harassment and dishonesty from their own government at the same time.”

Shandro tore up the doctors’ contract on Feb 20, 2020, and imposed a huge amount of new billing paperwork and cuts to family doctor’s practice. This followed only a few months of unproductive negotiation in which he refused an Alberta Medical Association offer to contain costs. Shandro and Kenney also refused to enter arbitration, a constitutional right for workers who cannot strike. This prompted the AMA to launch a constitutional challenge in April of 2020. The Kenney government also gave itself the authority to tear up any future contract with doctors, which remains in place today. 

Doctors in rural communities were particularly hard-hit, and a wave of mass resignations began in rural hospitals.  Even as Shandro was publicly denying that doctors were quitting, Alberta Health Services was maintaining a secret internal watch list of planned resignations, which reached 173 doctors in 17 communities before Shandro was forced to reverse some of his cuts.

Shandro and his staff also embarked on a social media campaign of harassment against doctors who spoke out against his attacks on their practices. 

In the legislature, Kenney referred to doctors as “members of the one-per-cent club” and Shandro repeatedly accused the Alberta Medical Association of “misleading” its members.

In late February of 2020, Shandro pressured AHS officials to give him the personal cell phone numbers of two doctors, whom he called outside of business hours to argue about the cuts. In March, Shandro confronted a Calgary doctor in his driveway and berated him in front of his neighbours and family. 

Many Alberta doctors publicly announced they were leaving Alberta. In May, medical students wrote an open letter to Shandro telling him “it seems reckless to gamble on a career in Alberta.” In July, Shandro even threatened to change doctors’ professional rules to prevent them from leaving.

The editorial board of the Edmonton Journal, and conservative columnist Licia Corbella have both called for Shandro to resign or be fired over his mishandling of the province’s relationship with doctors.

“The poisonous relationship between Jason Kenney and doctors has harmed Albertans,” Shepherd said. “He’s made it harder to get healthcare, especially in rural communities. And he failed to listen to crucial public health advice as case numbers soared in the second wave. Jason Kenney did nothing even while hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds of doctors were pleading with him to take action against COVID-19. 

“Nowhere else in Canada have we seen a government so dismissive of professional medical advice, and vulnerable Albertans are paying the price for that. It’s time for Jason Kenney to stop fighting Alberta doctors, develop a new contract through arbitration, and repeal the power grab law he passed to tear up any future contract.”