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New health ministers in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia

NB replaces health minister in midst of crisis
After a calamitous and bruising weeks-long battle with the province's physicians, New Brunswick Health Minister Mike Murphy has been removed from the health ministry and sent to run the justice department.

Mary Schryer (left) has been named the new health minister. [CBC News]

Of course, that's hardly a demotion or a sign that Premier Shawn Graham is going to reverse the decision that precipitated the fight with the doctors -- the government's recent recession-influenced decision not to honour the agreement on raises it came to with the doctors' union last year -- and it appears so far that Mr Murphy's departure is unlikely to change the situation. But the appointment of a new health minister is at the very least a sign that Mr Graham and perhaps even Mr Murphy as well recognized that Mr Murphy's relationship with the medical community was irrecoverably damaged.

"Michael Murphy's departure from the Department of Health is welcome," commented the Telegraph-Journal. "A lawyer by profession and debater by temperament, he was never suited for a portfolio that must be above partisan politics. It's not surprising that his most prominent reforms have drawn threats of legal challenge." As for Mr Schryer, the newspaper remarked, "She'll have her hands full trying to re-open negotiations with physicians, address the doctor shortage, and bring order to a health system so overloaded that patients are being housed in shower stalls." [Saint John Telegraph-Journal]

Ms Schryer was a financial planner and a director on the board of the Atlantic Health Sciences Corporation before entering politics.

But while Mr Murphy's exit from the health portfolio might be seen as a positive development in what must inevitably be some variety of reconciliation between doctors and the government, there's no guarantee that as justice minister he will be, as the Daily Gleaner put it, be "in less of a position to trample all over people the way he did with the doctors' wage freeze fiasco." [Fredericton Daily Gleaner] The reason for that is because there is a strong possibility that he could end up directly involved with the doctors once again, since the New Brunswick Medical Society has now threatened to take the government to court over its decision to break the deal it had promised to the society last year.

Perhaps it will not come to that, however. Mr Graham appears to have gradually come to realize the folly of angering nearly the entire medical profession in one fell swoop and he has made some initial overtures to the medical society, saying he would like to reopen negotiations. [Moncton Times & Transcript] So far, the NBMS has refused to return to the table. [Fredericton Daily Gleaner]

But Bill 93, the legislation essentially authorizing the government to ignore the commitment it made last year, has indeed been passed by parliament but it has not been proclaimed yet, leaving open some potential room for Mr Graham and Ms Schryer to maneuver.

Nova Scotia also gets new health minister
New NDP premier Darrell Dexter named Maureen MacDonald the province's health minister. [Government of Nova Scotia] Ms MacDonald was a social work professor at Dalhousie before entering politics. [Canadian Press] She also worked as a community health educator, a legal aid worker, and a journalist. [Maureen MacDonald]

Just before Ms MacDonald's name was announced, the Chronicle Herald's Ralph Surette penned a column with his advice for the new minister. He advised her, "you don’t have to overhaul the general policy direction... Indeed, the only policy challenge you have is to reverse your party’s crazy promise to keep all rural ERs open all the time. In order to keep that vow, you’d have to strip the primary care system of doctors, pay doctors more than they make in their offices to staff ERs overnight, when in fact there’s very little business and the ambulances take real emergencies elsewhere. This is not just bad policy, it’s nuts. You’d be paying doctors a fortune for basically doing nothing." [Halifax Chronicle Herald]

Former health minister Karen Casey, meanwhile, took over as interim PC leader as defeated premier Rodney MacDonald stepped down. [CBC News]

Ontario opts not to replace health minister
In a move that surprised some in Ontario, Premier Dalton McGuinty shuffled his cabinet slightly but chose not to appoint a new health minister to replace the embattled David Caplan, who has been under fire from opposition members for several weeks in relation to the untendered contracts handed out by the eHealth Ontario agency.

BC health minister still getting acclimated
BC Health Minister Kevin Falcon, who has only been on the job for about two weeks since being switched over from the ministry of transportation, offered a rather confused analysis of public-private balance before calling a Vancouver Sun reporter back to explain himself. [Vancouver Sun] Our guess: don't read too much into this exchange. We figure Mr Falcon was just trying to keep up with an experienced reporter and let his mouth get ahead of his brain. It's doubtful he was forming new policy on the fly.

In a new article, Canadian Healthcare Technology wondered if new Mr Falcon will opt for the same kind of de-regionalization, or at least a limited variant thereof, that Alberta and New Brunswick have experimented with in recent years. [Canadian Healthcare Technology]

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  1. sharon26 June, 2009 9:00 AM

    RE: Schryer apointment and Atlantic Canada news

    Wow! a pretty "broadbrush" approach to employment equity in her past work.

    Physician's need to ensure:

    SHE understands the difference between, equity, "employment" equity ( much more limited scope than human rights), equality and equitable . There are great differences here.

    NOTE: A danger signal emerging from her past posting is a report entitled ' Equality in the Workplace'

    THEY ( physicians) understand:

    1." voter's paradox" ( Condorcet's) which under argument by the right legal minds could pit physician's against each other.

    2. precedent setting in the law

    It is pretty hard to ask a patient to "forgive" mistakes made to avoid litigation... but not apply the same principle to those who wrong "you".
    If an apology is offered... be smart.... take it!

    RE:staffing rural ER's at night

    The night shift in ER is not just a benefit to the outer society... it is a benefit to the " inner" hospital society.

    RE: use of physicians

    There are many issues physicians could solve for each other around inpatient needs..( under some benefit arrangement)..... to shorten inpatient stay times.

    RE: use of nurses

    E.R. nursing staff are highly skilled in technical areas and can provide services throughout the hospital in nighttime hours that totally change the daytime workload demand for several disciplines ( lab/clerical/minor surgical procedures )