10/22/2014 10:07 EDT | Updated 12/22/2014 05:59 EST

Health Minister Mandel Catches Earful At Edmonton-Whitemud Debate

Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel announced his plans to retire after three-terms in office.

EDMONTON - Alberta Health Minister Stephen Mandel caught an earful Wednesday from rival candidates over allowing boutique health-care clinics to operate.

"It's nice to be picked on, but that's OK," Mandel told more than 300 people who jammed the pews and doorways of a west-end church at an Edmonton-Whitemud candidate health-care forum.

"I also agree (with critics) that there's no place in our system for privatization. They (doctors) can be in or they can be out."

Mandel responded after four of the five rival candidates criticized his Progressive Conservative government for trumpeting public care while allowing the boutiques to operate.

Critics say doctors employed by the clinics give clients who pay an annual fee faster access to care while still billing taxpayers for basic health services.

Liberal candidate Donna Wilson, a professor of nursing, replied, "Mr. Mandel I do not feel sorry for you at all.

"You have chosen to join that (Progressive Conservative) club. And it is a club that has made our health system cost a great deal more than it ever did — and it is failing."

Wilson also reminded the audience that Premier Jim Prentice, who has publicly advocated publicly delivered care, previously sat on a board overseeing a boutique clinic.

NDP candidate Bob Turner, an oncologist, said "concierge medicine has to be stopped."

"The Conservatives have known about this for ages, and they actually tolerate it. In fact, I think they enable it," he said.

He pointed out the recent case of questions raised over the Copeman Clinic.

Earlier this week, Turner said he had documents that showed a provincial audit of Copeman found “there is not a clear distinction between (publicly) insured and uninsured services." He also said the audit also showed the clinic doesn’t record how much time doctors spend delivering private versus public care.

"Why doesn't the minister stop it (the Copeman) today?" asked Turner.

"He has the power to withdraw the billing privileges of the physicians working at the Copeman Clinic. And I think he has lots of evidence to do that."

Mandel told the audience he is waiting for reports back on the Copeman situation before taking action.

William Munsey, the Alberta Party candidate, said he questions whether the concierge clinics are even legal under the Canada Health Act.

"It (the act) provides for universality, and these (clinics), I think, don't," said Munsey.

Rene Malenfant of the Green Party agreed that the clinics need to be either public or private, but can't work with one foot in each system.

"A single clinic cannot offer both private and public services," said Malenfant.

Tim Grover, the Wildrose candidate, declined to address the issue, but after the forum, he told reporters his party also favours a sharp delineation between public and private clinics.

Voters go to the polls on Monday in Edmonton-Whitemud, Calgary-Elbow, Calgary-Foothills, and Calgary-West.

Premier Jim Prentice is running in Calgary-Foothills, Education Minister Gordon Dirks is trying for a seat in Calgary-Elbow, and a Calgary police sergeant, Mike Ellis, is the Tory candidate in Calgary-West.

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