From 1992 to 2000, Ralph Klein devoted much of his attention to eliminating Alberta’s deficit. Citing health care, education and social services as areas that had to be constrained, Klein oversaw cuts to the health budget that meant per capita spending declined from $1,393 in 1992 to $1,156 in 1995. This was matched by the elimination of or reduction of hours for 14,753 positions in health care. Regionalization of Alberta’s health care was intended to rationalize health services, but the Calgary Regional Health Authority, for example, opted to close three downtown hospitals in order to concentrate services at more modern facilities. One of the hospitals was leased to an American for-profit health group, while the old Calgary General Hospital was blown up in October 1998. Such dramatic evidence of the shift to alternative forms of health care did not resonate with the many Calgarians who were left without access to emergency care in the downtown core.
But underpinning the Klein revolution was a firm belief in the role that private interests could and should play in the delivery of health services. In 1999, the Klein government prepared legislation to permit regional health authorities to purchase health services from private providers. During fevered debates on the issue, Klein consistently refused to discuss the objections raised by the Alberta Friends of Medicare, unions and concerned citizens and, with his majority, Bill 11, the Health Care Protection Act, passed. This immediately prompted the federal Minister of Health, Allan Rock, to express his concern and to remind the Alberta premier of his obligation to meet the requirements of the Canada Health Act. Given the cuts to federal funding that had resulted from the Canada Health and Social Transfer and Western opposition to Ottawa’s intervention in an area of exclusive provincial jurisdiction, Klein was willing to join his Ontario and Quebec colleagues in calling for increased federal funding “with no strings attached.”