Even Premier Danielle Smith might get a laugh out of this. Or these days, maybe not.
Comedic genius Buck Henry did a Saturday Night Live skit as a radio “shock jock” in 1976.
Frank Noland, the host, sits in front of a bank of phones that aren’t ringing. Increasingly desperate, he throws out one outrageous topic after another.
When the phones go silent, he turns all his bait in one last frantic attempt:
“Killing puppies — it doesn’t bother me. It’s me, Frank Noland, and I LOVE dead puppies!
“I’m totally in favor of using federally backed municipal bonds to pay for forced buses of Soviet communists to come into your homes to kill your puppies!
“Give me a call, won’t you? The lines are open.”
No one calls.
Of course, Smith had no trouble getting calls as host of her radio talk show for six years.
That’s because, unlike Frank Noland, she was taken seriously by people who liked her libertarian stance. She meant what she said. Just as importantly, she listened respectfully to what THEY said.
Smith rolled their ideas around and discussed them with real attention, regardless of deep space distance from the mainstream. And she repeated her own fixed views on health care, Ottawa and many other topics countless times.
Everyone who comes into public life carries baggage. Smith comes with enough to fill the belly of a WestJet Dreamliner.
Now she wants us to put it all aside. In her televised speech on Tuesday, she said that in her media career she has discussed hundreds of topics, and “sometimes taken controversial positions, many of which have evolved or changed as I’ve grown and learned from listening to you.
“But I know I’m no longer a talk show host or media commentator. That’s not my job today.” The job, she added, is “to serve every Albertan with everything I have.”
Right there, Smith had a chance to outright reject some of her more inflammatory plans.
But she can’t do that without seeming cynical or insincere all these years. Her core supporters won’t like it, and Smith herself might feel she would be dishonest.
And so, we didn’t hear her say no, we won’t keep pushing for private health care insurance with co-pays and deductibles.
She did not say – as she has before – that her idea for Health Savings Accounts, which is now official policy, is a path to much more private payment for health care.
She has not changed her view that masks should not only never be forced on people, but should also never be recommended by her as prime minister in any situation.
And it wasn’t just talk radio. She formalized many of her beliefs in a long section of a paper for the U of C’s school of public policy.
It came out just after former premier Jason Kenney said he would resign, and before she declared she would run to replace him.
Much of what she says makes sense, especially about provincial finances. But her cures for the problems, especially on health care, are often right out of the deep end of public opinion.
I don’t believe the VKP can win an election with those positions still in play. They are a giant political piñata for the NDP to shred for months on end.
Smith wrote, “Once people get used to the concept of paying out of pocket for more things, then we can change the conversation about health care.”
According to her, the system must “shift the burden of payment away from taxpayers and onto private individuals, their employers and their insurance companies.
“If we establish the principle of Health Spending Accounts, we can also establish co-payments.”
When the paper was released in June 2021, she conducted a video interview with veteran journalist Mario Toneguzzi for Business Insider.
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She said eliminating health care premiums in 2008 was a mistake. (They brought about $1 billion into the health care budget annually.)
Premiums “need to be brought back in a smarter way in the form of a genuine insurance program, where you pay some sort of deductible,” Smith asserted.
“You don’t need any major surgery in a year, you don’t pay any part of the cost. You have major surgery in a year, you pay part of the cost in a deductible, just like you would if you had a claim in your car insurance.”
Depending on income, she said, a person could pay no deductible, or $500 or $1,000.
Does she still want to do it? Will she keep quiet about it for now, and then do it after she wins an election? Does she plan to push health care costs onto individuals and private insurance companies?
Smith needs to be specific about all of this. Otherwise, she’ll end up getting the Buck Henry treatment. Silence.
Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald