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COMMENTARY: Is our government working for Albertans?

COMMENTARY: No matter how we voted in the last election, we need to hold this government accountable and work for Albertans.
The Town of Canmore from the East End of Rundle 2
The Town of Canmore from the East End of Rundle. RMO FILE PHOTO

This month marks a year since the United Conservative Party won the provincial elections under Danielle Smith. Affordability and health care were the top issues identified by Albertan voters in the lead-up to the election. Now a year later, Albertans continue to face high food prices, a lack of adequate and affordable housing and difficulty accessing health care. It is time to take stock of what this government has done in the past year to help improve the daily lives of Albertans.

The new and proposed legislation page of the Alberta government’s website inventories a list of what has kept our government busy in the legislature in recent months. This catalogue shockingly and painfully highlights the lack of work being done to improve food security, housing or access to health care for Albertans.

Instead, the website proudly lists several pieces of legislation that concentrate power in the hands of the government without regard for the struggles of average Albertans. The Public Health Amendment Act came into effect in December 2023 and strips the provincial chief medical officer of health of the ability to issue population-wide public health orders in future public health emergencies. Instead, it gives the authority to make final decisions “based on scientific and medical public health factors” to elected officials. Akin to seeking help from a local politician for treatment of a heart attack instead of rushing to a medical doctor with the knowledge, skills and tools to treat the medical condition, this new legislation puts Albertans at increased risk of suffering and death in the next public health emergency.

Bill 17 looks to establish a new Crown corporation to build an abstinence-oriented system of care for people with substance use disorders. While treatment and recovery services for people struggling with addiction issues are necessary and welcome, they have to be a part of a continuum of services that can serve all people with substance use disorders no matter their stage in the course of illness. Just as cancer patients require a suite of options including surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and palliative care to treat their type and stage of cancer, those with substance use disorders require access to a full spectrum of services that include prevention, harm reduction, treatment and rehabilitation to meet them where they are at in their health journey.

Recently introduced Bills 18 and 20 will enshrine in legislation the current government’s refusal to work with other levels of government for the betterment of Albertans. Bill 18 requires municipalities, universities and colleges to obtain approval from the provincial government before accepting help from the federal government. This will result in layers of red tape, delays and a waste of taxpayer money.

With Bill 20 – and no small measure of irony – the UCP government is legislating provincial intervention into municipal governance, while at the same time touting Bill 18 as a pushback against federal overreach. Once enacted into law, Bill 20 will give the provincial cabinet power to remove council members in any municipality and repeal and amend any local bylaw – a clear affront to the democratic rights of municipal voters who have elected local politicians to create bylaws in the best interest of their community.

It seems our provincial government is more interested in consolidating and concentrating power into their own hands than governing for Albertans. They have not shown an interest in addressing the issues that matter most to Albertans – food security, housing and quality health care. We need to express our displeasure with them and make it clear that they need to address the issues of importance to Albertans or at least get out of the way when other levels of government are providing solutions.

More than one in four Albertans lives in a household that is food insecure. In a province of abundant food production and availability, food insecurity is not about a lack of food but a mark of poverty. The Alberta government has three readily available policy levers to reduce food insecurity: increasing minimum wage, increasing welfare payments and lowering the income tax rate for the lowest income bracket. Each of these measures will independently reduce the risk of food insecurity for Albertans and all three lie completely within provincial jurisdiction.

The Alberta government also needs to take bold and decisive steps in health care reform. They must ensure every Albertan has access to a primary care provider and a supporting health care team close to home. Alberta needs to build more quality publicly-funded long-term care homes to take care of aging Albertans and reduce the burden on acute care hospitals.  Additionally, healthcare personnel and infrastructure in public healthcare facilities need to be bolstered to provide timely and high-quality acute, emergency and surgical services to Albertans.

Furthermore, our provincial government needs to take urgent action to address the housing crisis by collaborating with municipal and federal levels of government and making sure all Albertans can realize their basic human right to housing. Immediate actions include using public lands for building social housing, establishing rent control to keep housing costs affordable, and protecting tenants from unfair and predatory practices by corporate landlords.

No matter how we voted in the last election, we need to hold this government accountable and work for Albertans. They have another three years to show they are worthy of governing for Albertans. If they fail, they will suffer the consequences in the next election.

Vamini Selvanandan is a rural family physician and public health practitioner in the Bow Valley. Her commentaries appear in the Rocky Mountain Outlook on the third Thursday of each month. For more articles like this, visit

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