Will the fact that you might not get an ambulance when you need one be the ballot box question?

Until Feb. 27 even Danielle Smith’s UCP agreed that Alberta’s emergency medical services system is in crisis. But now, 100 days into Smith’s reign, it only takes 57 minutes to get an ambulance in most rural areas, down from a peak of a 64 minute wait in November. 

"That shows that the system's working," said Smith

Unsurprisingly the paramedics who are working in EMS don’t share Smith’s conclusion that AHS and EMS is no longer in crisis. 

Image via HSAA.

“Calling 911 is not reliable. The system’s ability to respond to your emergency is a roulette wheel,” said an anonymous paramedic in an excellent piece by investigative journalists Charles Rusnell and Jennie Russell in Alberta Views

“It has gotten to the point where… it’s not hoped for, but it is stated frequently in the hallways, ‘Well, maybe somebody ‘important’ will die because of this, and maybe then something will change,’ ” said an anonymous Calgary paramedic in the same piece. 

These are not what you want to hear from the people responsible for coming to help you when you are having an emergency. But this is what happens when you let politicians like the UCP run a healthcare system. Austerity politics strips the system to its bones, the workers burn out and leave and you get a death spiral. 

The Alberta College of Paramedics data shows that Alberta has  nearly 7 per cent fewer registered paramedics in Alberta now than we did in 2017—more on that in our reporting from earlier this week. And why would paramedics be leaving the job? Well an answer to that question can be found in the results of a recent Parkland Institute study based on in-depth interviews with 27 different Alberta paramedics.

The twin public health crises of COVID-19 and drug poisoning combined with the lowering of care standards and decreased morale have all led to the crisis, the study argues. But the ultimate cause, the study suggests, was a decision in 2009 to centralize everything under Alberta Health Services. That regime became obsessed with the unrealistic idea of drastically reducing public health care expenditures by ‘finding efficiencies.’ 

“The lack of resources and efficiency ethos had a cascading effect on paramedics, as they were forced to “make out” in a system that was designed to “break” them,” says the report. 

One example of how this short-sighted pursuit of cost reductions over everything is the sleazy habit AHS has developed of hiring casuals over full-time workers. In a recent report from The Breach, Brett McKay revealed that 73 per cent of new paramedic hires in 2022 by AHS were casuals. Working as a casual means no sick pay and no benefits. AHS dodges these obligations by making most of these casual contracts exactly 89 days long—one day short of when benefits would kick in. AHS is treating its paramedics like Amazon treats its warehouse workers, as just-in-time cogs in a giant machine designed to maximize efficiency and be totally indifferent to the harm and injury done to the workers in the system.

But if you listen to Danielle Smith and her handpicked AHS czar John Cowell (he of the $1400 private car ride) they’ve licked this problem. Got the crisis all sorted out in a hundred days. They’ve got some heavily massaged numbers and some charts showing lines going down. No one is buying it of course, least of all the workers but Smith and Cowell want to at least be seen to be doing something. 

And with the next election creeping up at the end of May you never know what might become the ballot box question. Could the EMS crisis be the last thing people think about before they cast their votes at the end of May? It’s definitely on the table. 


  • We finally got the bill for the UCP’s Turkish Tylenol stunt—80 million dollars. Back in December, Danielle Smith and Jason Copping thought they could get one over on the federal government by solving the rash of shortages of kids’ cold and flu medications. In the three months since, the problem has already been solved, shelves are stocked, and now the Alberta government is sitting on a big pile of expensive, marked-up surplus medicine. The UCP claim they’ll at least get some of the money back by selling it to other provinces.  
  • Even the oil and gas cheerleader hacks over at the Calgary Herald are noticing that a giant oilsands tailings leak that wasn’t reported to key territorial partners and nearby First Nations and $268 million in unpaid property taxes by oil and gas companies is a bad look. Don’t worry though, oil and gas lobbyist Tristan Goodman, president of the Explorers and Producers Association of Canada, said the unpaid property tax problem is “extremely limited” and some mid-level executive at Imperial Oil said he was sorry.
  • This very limited spring election session we’re seeing in the legislature is bringing out some ridiculous base-pleasing proposals from the UCP, like this new law they’re introducing that says that federal workers accessing someone’s property without permission could be charged with trespassing. The only problem is that the province can’t do that. According to U of C law professor Martin Olszynski, “In the event of a conflict between valid federal and provincial laws, the federal law is deemed paramount. Thanks for coming to my TED Talk.”
  • The Alberta NDP have put an unequivocally good idea on the table in advance of the next election: Universal prescription contraception coverage. The plan would cover oral hormone pills, contraceptive injections, copper and hormonal IUDs, subdermal implants, and Plan B and would cost $34 million a year. 

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