Budget 2024 reveals just how fast and how far the UCP are privatizing healthcare and education

On one lonely paragraph of Alberta’s 2024 budget, page 78, the UCP admit the cost of a recent privatization bungle. “The financial impact of transitioning all community laboratory services to Alberta Precision Laboratories is reflected in 2023-24. This includes a total cash consideration paid of $31.5 million.”

Yes, the Alberta government paid Dynalife, a private company, $31.5 million to give back medical lab services that the province had handed them less than two years ago.


Danielle Smith at a campaign event unveiling her public health guarantee in spring 2023. Image via the UCP.

But this glaring example of the failures of privatization doesn’t seem to have taught the UCP any lessons. If anything, the rest of the 2024 budget commits to the privatization agenda even harder.

Back in the summer of 2022 the UCP, then under the leadership of Jason Kenney, handed over the publicly owned and operated lab service Alberta Precision Laboratories to private corporation Dynalife Medical Labs. “This change really sums up the rationale for contracting: enhanced services at a lower cost,” said the health minister at the time, Jason Copping. “First and foremost, it will give Albertans more and better services.”

Dynalife fully took over the APL on Dec. 5, 2022. By April 2023 news stories were coming out about long waits for blood work. Routine lab appointments were booking five weeks out, or even longer. 

By April 19, 2023 Alberta Health Services was vowing to reduce long wait times at Dynalife labs. By August 18, 2023 the UCP government had announced that Dynalife was out as a provider of lab services and that government would retaking control. By October 2023 the Auditor General had commenced an investigation. An impressively short tenure to be honest. 

That isn’t stopping the UCP government’s obsession with privatization though. The government is planning to spend $313 million for the Alberta Surgical Initiative (ASI) capital program between 2023 and 2027. This program outsources surgeries to for-profit facilities. This is something the Alberta government has already tried and it failed. In 2010 the investor owned surgical facility the Health Resource Centre went bankrupt and AHS lost a pile of money. 

There are no details in the budget on which private surgical companies are getting that free government capital and there’s even less disclosure on the operating budget side. What the government is spending on private surgeries on an ongoing basis is simply not disclosed, presumably buried in an AHS line item somewhere. 

The Parkland Institute has released a report detailing just how badly the Alberta Surgical Initiative is failing to reduce wait times.

Budget 2024 features privatization schemes in education too. The budget offers private school operators $408 million, a 13 per cent increase from private school funding in 2023—and nearly triple the overall K-12 education funding increase. In Alberta private school operators get 70 per cent of the operating costs that a public school would get for the same student. This is the highest subsidy level of any of the five Canadian provinces that choose to subsidize private schools 

Alberta is also still the only province in Canada with charter schools, and the plum little arrangement charter school operators have carved out here continues to get better. Charter schools are able to turn away students, have no oversight from school boards, and use non-unionized teachers and staff, but are fully funded on a per-student basis, the same as public schools. While they’re supposed to cover the costs of their own buildings, that hasn’t stopped the UCP from allocating $123 million in capital for charter schools and the collegiate school program in 2024. No breakdown was offered in the budget for how much charters are getting. 

And we couldn’t talk about government waste and shoveling money towards the private sector without talking about the open sore that the Sturgeon Refinery continues to be for the government’s finances. From 2023 to 2037 the Alberta government is forecasting it will lose $1.769 billion on the project.

Back in the summer of 2021 the UCP government restructured the deal and took a 50 per cent stake in the diesel refinery and extended the processing deal for another ten years. At the time the UCP government said that the restructured deal would save the people of Alberta $2 billion over the life of the project. Those savings don’t seem to have materialized and the project continues to bleed cash. 

While Premier Danielle Smith has mused about selling the government’s stake in the project it’s not clear who would want to lose hundreds of millions of dollar every year or why CNRL, the largest oil company in Canada and the “partner” with the government of Alberta, would change the deal.