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Alberta premier says journey to fix health system in 90 days will be ‘bumpy’

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith is promising rocky times ahead as she reorganizes the entire governance structure of provincial health services before the end of January.

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith is promising rocky times ahead as she reorganizes the entire governance structure of provincial health services before the end of January.

“It’s going to be a bit bumpy for the next 90 days,” Smith said Thursday in a speech to the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce.

“I know that it’s perilous to try to reform an area this big this close to an election, but we must do it.”

She added: “I would hope that there’s a bit of goodwill, that some of the successes get reported as well, (and) if we’re making some mistakes along the way, just be patient and gentle with us. Because we know that we have to do this for all Albertans.”

Smith, on her first day as premier last week, reiterated her United Conservative Party leadership campaign promise to fire the governing board of Alberta Health Services, the agency responsible for delivering front-line care provincewide under policy direction from the Health ministry.

She has publicly blamed AHS for botching the COVID-19 pandemic by not delivering promised extra hospital beds to handle the flood of patients. She has also criticized the agency for directing employees to be vaccinated for COVID-19, saying that led to needless vacancies and staff shortages.

Speaking to the chamber, Smith also laid current hospital problems and long wait times at the feet of AHS.

“We cannot continue on hearing stories of people dying in the back of ambulances or waiting for nine hours in an ambulance or waiting 29 hours on a hospital floor,” she said.

Smith repeated that her government will follow through this fall on her campaign promises to not implement any future COVID-19 restrictions or vaccine mandates. And she said the legislature will amend the provincial Human Rights Act to not allow any discrimination on the basis of COVID-19 vaccination.

“I know there’s going to be pressure on our health-care system,” said Smith.

“But the way you solve the pressure on your health-care system … is not by shutting down restaurants. And it’s not by shutting down hotels. And it’s not by making the business community be the ones to bear the brunt of it.

“We’re not going to be closing schools. We’re not going to be disrupting kids’ activities.

“We want to send the message to the world community, and to the investment markets, that this is a place that is open for business, that this is a place that believes in freedom, this is a place that believes in free enterprise.”

That announcement was greeted with a smattering of applause.

Smith is also scheduled to announce a new cabinet on Friday. The new members are to be sworn in on Monday.

She said the UCP caucus had a retreat this week in Sylvan Lake and played paintball, blasting each other with pellets to build trust and foster camaraderie.

When asked by the chamber’s moderator how her first week as premier has been, Smith replied: “bumpy,” without elaborating.

She began her first day in office by announcing she was rolling back on a promise to give the legislature the option to ignore rulings from the Supreme Court of Canada. She was also criticized for saying the COVID-19 unvaccinated have endured the most discrimination of anyone in her lifetime.

On Tuesday, she apologized for making comments earlier this year on the Russia-Ukraine war that were deemed to be pro-Russia. Smith had said it would be better for Ukraine to follow Russia’s desire to remain militarily neutral, which upset many in Alberta’s large Ukrainian community.