Alberta has confirmed plans to reform health care by opening the door for private insurance, letting patients pay for faster access to some procedures and allowing doctors to work in both the public and for-profit systems.
"What we're looking for is some middle ground that accounts for capacity to keep the public system strong and protected by sufficient doctors," Health Minister Iris Evans said as she introduced Premier Ralph Klein's so-called Third Way on health-care reform.
"You can talk about it being two-tiered, but it's no different than what's going on in Quebec. It's no different that what's going on in every place they have private clinics.
"It's people making choices for themselves."
The media hopes that Klein's announcement will be a banana peel for Stephen Harper to slip on, just as similar musings about health care reform were in the 2004 election:
Harper's caution on health care is borne out of experience. Many Conservatives believe Klein's musings about medicare gave the Liberals the opening they needed to sow fear of Harper into the minds of voters during the 2004 election.
Similar questions raised by the Liberals were blunted by Harper's unequivocal support for the Canada Health Act during this winter's campaign.
The act has traditionally been enforced by withholding transfer payments from provinces breaking the rules.
Harper seemed to place his hopes in Albertans themselves.
"My understanding is that the Alberta government is not just committed to the Canada Health Act, but the Alberta government has enshrined the Canada Health Act in Alberta's own legislation.''
But 2006 is not 2004. The Chaoulli decision has gone a long way towards desanctifying the public health care monopoly in the eyes of its elite defenders, who once unanimously regarded it as the public's patriotic duty to suffer and die on waiting lines while they themselves went stateside for treatment.
The five principles of the Canada Health Act can be opened to the broadest interpretation now--and monopoly has never been one of them.
There will be no great showdown between Harper and Klein, to the disappointment of the media and the Liberals. The reforms will go ahead, the sky will not have fallen in, and Harper will have fulfilled one of his greater promises: to let the provinces do what they will in their sphere of proper jurisdiction.