The privatization conspiracy theory, Oberg, Jivraj, and inside baseball
April 14, 2012 1 Comment
Before I begin this post, I want to emphasize that I am not wading into a public policy debate here. The private versus public health care debate has been done enough times that my input would add little to that conversation. Instead, I want to discuss inside baseball and the privatization of public health care conspiracy theory.
The PCs have been running firmly in the centre throughout this entire election campaign. Alison Redford’s tactics in the debate have matched the campaign’s strategy of portraying the Wildrose as an untested commodity that, if elected, will take Alberta back to the past, threaten the rights of gays and women, and privatize health care. Their latest offensive against the Wildrose attacks Danielle Smith’s ties to former PC MLA-turned-health-care-entrepreneur Lyle Oberg. Oberg had a rocky relationship with his former party, having famously alleged that he knew where the skeletons were in the government’s closet, only to be subsequently suspended from the PC caucus. That, in addition to the fact that he was one of the more right-leaning PCs, meant it was not much of a surprise when he jumped to the Wildrose. (Incidentally, Oberg’s wife works for Wildrose MLA Guy Boutilier, who supported Oberg’s failed leadership bid back in 2006). Anyway, the point is, Oberg, a doctor, is now in the for-profit health care business, which, given his ties to the Wildrose, gives further proof of the Wildrose’s plan to privatize health care. Right? Sure, why not?
Except, I am not sure this argument will fly, especially given the messenger. In Calgary, where the PCs are far behind, most people either do not buy the privatization conspiracy theory or they support it. At least that was the case several years ago when I was campaigning for the Liberals, and the privatization conspiracy was standard Liberal messaging du jour. Given that much of Calgary supports the Wildrose, who has labelled Redford a Liberal, I do not think the simple privatization conspiracy line would work again, even if it were the PCs using it.
So, if not Calgary, then perhaps it would work in Edmonton? In the capital, the PCs have a ten point lead at 33 percent, with the New Democrats and Wildrose tied at around 23 percent. The Liberals are in third at 15 percent, and both the Liberals and the NDs have momentum, whereas the Wildrose is static, and PCs are slipping. Bringing up the Wildrose’s hidden privatization agenda will at least hurt the Wildrose, which could be enough to help the PCs, even if it does not actually bump up the PCs numbers.
So if it could help the PCs in Edmonton, then what is the problem? The problem is inside baseball.
“Inside baseball” is a term used to describe issues that politicos and pundits care about, but that are largely irrelevant to the average citizen–like a complicated web of backroom connections. However, it is not just that the average person does not care about inside baseball, but that the Tories have their own inside baseball issues that pertain to private health care.
During the PC leadership race, many donations were made by numbered corporations. Among these, were three donations of amounts of $10,000, $12,500, and $12,500 made to three different leadership campaigns (including that of Alison Redford) made by three different numbered companies controlled by Dr. Kabir Jivraj. Jivraj is the managing director of AgeCare, which is a company that operates for-profit long-term seniors care facilities across the province. Jivraj and his companies have also donated close to $16,000 to the PCs from 2004 to 2009. Jivraj was also a principal shareholder of Surgical Centres Inc., a private surgery clinic operating out of Calgary. Moreover, Redford is a proponent of the “aging-in-place” concept for seniors’ care, which, is the same model used by the private company AgeCare–a model that critics allege will lead to increased privatization. Surely, this link between Redford, the PCs, and private health care providers is just as good, if not better than the link between Smith, Oberg and private health care providers. In a final parallel, both Redford and Smith have denied being influenced by Jivraj and Oberg, respectively. There are enough parallels that a cynic might wonder if anyone would be able to distinguish one case from the either, if all of the names were stripped from the story.
This leads me back to my original point about inside baseball and whether Redford’s use of the privatization conspiracy against Smith will work. To the average voter, this intricate web of backroom ties is irrelevant, which means that the average voter likely does not even know about Lyle Oberg or Kabir Jivraj’s private health care operations, let alone care. However, anyone who follows inside baseball would likely know both cases and be able to see the parallels. Furthermore, the inside baseball fans on the left probably think that both Oberg and Jivarj and their respective political allies are all dangers to public health care.
To most people, Redford’s use of the privatization conspiracy theory is just too much inside baseball, and, many people who follow inside baseball already believe that the PCs have been part of that conspiracy all along.