ALBERTA

Brian Jean Says Fixing Health System A Top Priority For Wildrose

04/07/2015 02:18 EDT | Updated 06/07/2015 05:59 EDT
EDMONTON - The new leader of Alberta's Wildrose party has returned to public life to fix what he calls a dysfunctional health system where means have become ends with tragic consequences.

Two weeks ago, as Brian Jean completed his successful run for the job, his son died after being diagnosed with lymphoma.

"The system is broken," said Jean, 52.

"We have the most expensive health care in Canada, we have the youngest population, and yet we get one of the worst results. It's unbelievable."

Michael, 24, had been in and out of hospital for a year with maladies that flummoxed doctors, taking up a $10,000-a-day-hospital bed while waiting for red tape to clear on a $2,000 test.

"They would rather have you take up a hospital bed and treat you than to actually find out what is wrong with you and cure you," said Jean.

"I hear these stories three or four times a day by people all over the province."

Jean has much in common with his main rival, Premier Jim Prentice.

Both were businessmen and lawyers, involved with the federal Conservative party early in life. Both were elected to Parliament in 2004 and served under Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Prentice served as cabinet minister in multiple portfolios before retiring in 2010 to join CIBC as a senior executive.

Jean was a backbencher, representing Fort McMurray-Athabasca and serving for a stretch as parliamentary secretary to the transport minister before stepping down last year to spend more time with his family.

Fort McMurray is home, but Jean was born in Kelowna, B.C., the youngest of 11. His family moved to the oilsands hub when he was four. He went abroad for his education, first to Warner Pacific College in Oregon, and then to Bond University in Australia for his law degree.

Jean has been a longtime Wildrose member, but last year thought Prentice was the answer for Alberta, donating $10,000 to his leadership campaign.

He had misgivings, however, which he said were confirmed by last month's high debt budget. Now he believes that a self-proclaimed fiscal conservative is determined to make big government bigger.

Jean said the Tories also can't turn the page on past mistakes such as exorbitant severance payouts and health care mismanagement simply by changing the face at the top.

"We have a bureaucracy that is bloated and fat and inefficient and we are seeing a government that professes to be conservative and yet they are raising 59 new taxes."

Jean won't run far from home. He'll take on Advanced Education Minister Don Scott in the riding of Fort McMurray-Conklin. He would like to form the government, but his aim is to bring his party back as the official Opposition.

The Wildrose is scrambling after former leader Danielle Smith led eight members of the 17-strong caucus across the floor to join Prentice in December. They joined two others who had walked away earlier.

Jean said Wildrose will run on a platform of low taxes and less government.

"It's going to turn on trust, that's the biggest issue," he said. "We have no record of constant financial failure and breaking promises."

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