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'Another profound failure': NDP calls for Shandro's removal after doctors reject deal

Last Updated Mar 31, 2021 at 2:35 pm MDT

Health Minister Tyler Shandro wears a mask before a press conference begins in Calgary on Monday, August 24, 2020. (PHOTO: Tom Ross - 660 NEWS)

EDMONTON (660 NEWS) — After members of the Alberta Medical Association voted against a tentative agreement with the provincial government, there are calls for Health Minister Tyler Shandro to be removed from his post.

“This is another profound failure on the part of Health Minister Tyler Shandro,” said NDP Health Critic David Shepherd on Wednesday morning. “Tyler Shandro, it’s clear, has burnt so much goodwill. He has lost trust with physicians across this province. I do not believe he can be the one to take this forward.”

Shepherd said in his conversations with doctors, it was made clear that they want a deal after so much uncertainty and tension between themselves and the UCP government, but there is a lack of hope that such a deal can be made in good faith with the current leadership.

“Doctors deeply, deeply care about their patients. They’ve endured an incredibly difficult year, both with the global pandemic and the attacks from government. So they are looking for, I think, some sense of certainty in what has been an incredibly chaotic situation for them, largely driven by this government,” he said.

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Shepherd speculated that some of the divisions in the tentative agreement stemmed from a lack of binding arbitration, a feeling the health minister would have too much control over patient care, and ultimately the air of hostility that has been surrounding the situation ever since a previous master agreement was torn up by the government last year.

“They were not necessarily opposed to all of the principles that were put forward here, but that they felt they could not trust this in the hands of as volatile a Minister of Health as Tyler Shandro has proven to be.”

Despite the criticism, Premier Jason Kenney said he is not fazed.

“Minister Shandro has my full, 100 per cent confidence. Being Minister of Health is always the toughest job in any provincial government, and that is particularly the case during a historic pandemic of this nature and at a time when we have to manage our costs.”

Kenney said his government is committed to reeling in the provincial deficit, and physician compensation takes up a large chunk of the budget so he hopes to bring that within a more tolerable range.

He added that there will be time to step back and review the decision, believing common ground can be found.

“It’s unfortunate that the agreement wasn’t ratified yesterday. It was a very close vote, I understand. I understand about 40 per cent of physicians didn’t vote in it, but we respect the decision and we look forward to sitting down with the AMA, when they’re ready to do so, to discuss a constructive path forward,” Kenney said.

In the official press release from the AMA, President Dr. Paul Boucher said the turnout of 59 per cent of members was “considerably higher than for recent agreements.”

Mount Royal University Political Scientist Duane Bratt agreed that it seems like the vote was a message to the government that they do not have faith in the process for as long as Shandro is in control of the portfolio.

“A shot of non-confidence at Minister Shandro. In other words, we’re not going to sign anything with this government until there is a change,” Bratt said. “This is a slap in the face not just to the Government of Alberta, but to your own negotiators, to the AMA leadership that negotiated the deal. And this rarely happens in any association or union.”

Bratt said there will be a lot of speculation around why exactly the deal was rejected, as he echoed what Shepherd said that this may not totally be about the specific details within the agreement.

Nevertheless, it puts the whole situation on more uneven ground as the agreement was touted as a way to finally bring an end to the battles between doctors and the government, which have spilled out on to public forums and through social media as well.

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But even with so much pressure, Bratt does not think that Kenney will make a change in the cabinet.

“I think Shandro’s going to stay because then there will be demands to remove other ministers. So, I don’t know how they get out of this.”

Shepherd added that it’s also possible that Kenney will not make any changes because this is ultimately a philosophy and approach that he is endorsing.

“I don’t think it was Premier Kenney’s direction for Tyler Shandro to go and berate a doctor at his home on his driveway, or to make calls to doctors on their personal cellphones in the evenings,” he said. “Indeed this may be the direction the premier wants to go, but I think that Tyler Shandro in his work as health minister has created such a toxic and hostile environment.”

Overall, it is the latest in a series of negative developments for the provincial government and as criticism comes in from many sides on numerous different subjects, Bratt again said this is an extremely tough position to be in and there are few avenues out of it.

“You can’t look at this in isolation. Over the last ten days, there have been so many losses and hits to this government on so many different files,” he said, pointing to the recent Supreme Court of Canada decision on the federal carbon tax and the recently released draft K-6 school curriculum.

“I don’t know how the government is able to keep functioning.”