Protesters temporarily derailed a UCP campaign event led by Danielle Smith on Thursday.
Three people carried signs and shouted health care concerns as the Conservative leader was escorted out of the room.
It all happened during an announcement about a discount to help Alberta seniors with various registry services and other fees.
“Hospitals are not for sale,” one of the protesters said as others waved “For Sale” signs with health facility names written on them.
The demonstration appeared to be an attack on comments Smith made in 2021, proposing that Calgary’s Rockyview General Hospital, Peter Lougheed Centre and South Health Campus all be sold to private operators.
Patrick King, one of the protesters involved, told CTV News after the event that he hopes health care is an important issue for undecided Albertan voters heading into the election.
“I think when someone shows you who they are, you gotta believe them,” King said.
After a few minutes on stage, the protesters left the media availability and Smith returned to the podium.
She placed blame for the disruption squarely on the NDP.
“Well, I know what the NDP’s first question is going to be,” she said.
When it came time to answer questions at the event, Smith immediately responded to anyone on the call inquiring about her previous comments.
“One of the things our government did when we got elected was we began a process using chartered surgical centres, which are doctor-run surgical centres,” she said.
“They bill our government, they are paid directly, no one pays out of pocket for treatment. It’s exactly the way doctor’s offices work.”
Smith says under a re-elected UCP government, no one will pay for a family doctor or hospital services in Alberta.
“Activists like we just saw here, and the NDP, keep trying to confuse the issue. They are completely different issues.
“Having somebody who sets up a chartered, surgical services centre to do specialized services actually saves money, reduces wait times and, for the people I’ve spoken with, it’s a really positive experience.”
Lethbridge-West NDP candidate Shannon Phillips said emergency rooms were overused because many people lack access to a family doctor
Lethbridge NDP candidate Shannon Phillips disputes those claims.
“There is no way that that is the way to attract and retain health care workers from across the country,” she told CTV News. “People are paying attention. To put their fingers in their ears and claim that somehow the health system is fixed is contradictory to all available reality and evidence.”
The three protesters all say they’re concerned about privatization, despite Smith backtracking on her 2021 comments.
“I think that speaks much, much more to the truth of her beliefs than a highly scripted, highly guarded press event.”
King ran for the federal NDP in the 2021 election, but says he is now unaffiliated with a specific party.
While both front runners in May’s election have condemned the protest, some within the UCP are placing the blame on New Democrat shoulders.
Earlier in the day, the NDP sent out a tweet saying Smith would be speaking near the South Health Campus hospital. While no specifics were included — the event was held in a nearby hotel conference room — some believe the post was what tipped off the protesters.
With files from the Canadian Press