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Alberta accepts bid for private hip-knee surgical clinic on First Nation land

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By Dean Bennett in Edmonton

The Alberta government has approved a bid by the Enoch Cree Nation near Edmonton to build a private clinic to perform thousands of publicly covered hip and knee surgeries.

Health Minister Jason Copping says the clinic is to be built by the middle of next year to reduce a backlog of orthopedic operations in and around the capital.

The clinic will be a partnership between the Enoch Cree and Surgical Centres Inc., a private operator that runs seven clinics in Canada, including two in Calgary.

Alberta Health says the partners will be responsible for building and equipment costs, while surgeries themselves are to be covered by public funds.

Copping says there are almost 23,000 Albertans waiting for orthopedic surgeries, one-third of those for knee replacements.

Enoch Cree Chief Billy Morin says the centre will offer culturally appropriate care as well.

“When an Indigenous person from High Level comes here, they’re going to get not just the fancy building with the nice Indigenous pictures,” Morin said Wednesday.

“They’re going to get a new experience where they’re going to have a Dene person talking to them. They’re going to have traditional healing and medicine right here on the First Nation offered to them as well — and to all Albertans, quite frankly, if they want to go down that road, too.”

It’s expected the clinic will perform up to 3,000 orthopedic procedures a year, an estimated 17 per cent increase in the Edmonton region.

Copping said more than half of all Alberta orthopedic patients are on hold for surgery beyond recommended wait times.

“People are waiting far too long for hip and knee replacements. We need to do a lot more of them and this is going to help us get it done.”

Copping said the project is modelled on cataract and other eye procedures done under public care in private clinics to reduce wait lists.

The total surgical wait list is pegged at just over 70,000.

Copping said having the work done through public clinics saves money, but the Opposition NDP said it’s actually more expensive and inefficient in the long run.

“The UCP has provided no reason why new surgery facilities cannot be built in and operated in the public system,” said health critic David Shepherd.

“The UCP’s surgical initiative provides public dollars to help private companies profit, while deliberately neglecting Alberta’s public health care.

“The UCP’s mismanagement of health care and neglect of the public system has caused partial closures in more than 20 hospitals across Alberta.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 1, 2022.

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Alberta

Smith won’t seek early vote if she wins UCP leadership, becomes next Alberta premier

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United Conservative Party leadership candidate Danielle Smith says if she wins this week’s vote and becomes the next Alberta premier, she would not call an early election to seek a broad mandate on her policy ideas.

Smith, the perceived front-runner in the race, says the public tends to punish leaders who call an early election.

She says she would wait until the next scheduled election in May 2023, but believes she has a mandate now to proceed with her plans.

Smith has said she would immediately pass an Alberta sovereignty act, which would allow the province to ignore federal laws and court rulings deemed not in its interest.

Legal experts, some of Smith’s leadership rivals and Premier Jason Kenney have labelled the act not only illegal but a recipe for constitutional and economic chaos.

Smith has also talked about revamping the health system by using health spending accounts and firing the board of Alberta Health Services, which oversees the front-line delivery of care.

Today is the last day for advance voting, as seven candidates dig in for the final campaign push before UCP members select a new leader to replace Kenney on Thursday.

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Alberta

Alberta commits $20.8 million over the next four years to fight human trafficking

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By Rob Drinkwater in Edmonton

The Alberta government is providing $20.8 million over the next four years to implement recommendations from a star-led task force on human trafficking.

Country singer Paul Brandt, chair of the Alberta Human Trafficking Task Force, personally thanked Premier Jason Kenney during the funding announcement Sunday at Edmonton International Airport for his willingness to prioritize the issue, and for putting faith in Brandt to lead the group.

“Premier Kenney’s longtime personal dedication and commitment to the issue of human trafficking is authentic and is admirable,” Brandt said.

“He’s the only political leader I’ve met in my 17 years of advocating for trafficking victims and survivors who took the time and initiative to personally write a plan to address this horrific crime.”

The money will establish an office to combat trafficking as well as a centre of excellence for research and data collection — recommendations the government accepted when the task force presented its report in March.

Justice Minister Tyler Shandro said the goal is to launch the office by next summer.

Other task force recommendations that will be supported include a new grant for community projects and Indigenous-led and culturally appropriate services. Civilian positions that will focus on supporting victims and survivors throughout human trafficking investigations will also be funded.

“Human trafficking is far more prevalent — way more common — than the stats would suggest because it’s a hidden crime,” Kenney said at the announcement.

“It festers in the dark. There are victims who face fear, shame and self-doubt and some who will never report what they’ve gone through.”

The task force was appointed in May 2020 and engaged with nearly 100 experts and survivors of trafficking to provide guidance on how to best implement the government’s action plan to fight human trafficking.

The government has said human trafficking includes sexual exploitation, forced labour trafficking and trafficking in human organs or tissues.

Kenney, who will be replaced as premier when his United Conservative Party selects a new leader on Thursday, noted he started fighting human trafficking over 20 years ago when he was an MP and joined a group of international parliamentarians on a coalition to fight the practice.

Later as Canada’s immigration minister, he said he took steps to make it easier for human trafficking victims who had migrated to Canada to obtain safety and protection.

In winter 2019, he said he committed the UCP to a nine-point action plan to combat human trafficking, which led to the Protecting Survivors of Human Trafficking Act, which took effect in May 2020.

Brandt said it was exciting to be part of the funding commitment at the airport, where he said he stood in 2019 for a partnership with the facility and other groups in the Edmonton region to fight trafficking, which he called “modern day slavery.”

“It has been our dream that special focus and permanent funding would one day become a reality. Today is that day,” Brandt said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 2, 2022.

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