“Plain brown envelope” + a press club anthem

A plain brown envelope with highly sensitive and embarrassing contents that will disgrace a politician by exposing malfeasance or egregious behaviour by the powerful is mostly the stuff of journalistic fiction and conspiracy theories concocted at the press club where alcohol is the fuel of braggadocio.

[Bonus paragraph at the end: words to the Winnipeg Press Club’s anthem, sung to the tune, “There will always be an England.”]

As a journalist at the Winnipeg Tribune, I reported on the Manitoba Legislature, provincial politics and Winnipeg city council. For five years I waited and waited in vain to receive the fabled plain brown envelope. It never arrived.

So, a recent email will have to serve as the next, best thing even though it didn’t even have an attachment, i.e., a plain brown envelope, to open. “Report to Albertans” obviously is not confidential. Even though it’s a decade old, the document is highly relevant to the anti-privatization, health-care agenda of today’s Alberta Government.

Health Minister Sarah Hoffman says she doesn’t want to engage in “costly experiments in privatization.” She has not, however, provided the evidence and business case to support her unionized option. Not surprisingly, unions applaud the minister.

Government targets have included:

  • Cancelling a contract with Edmonton-based K-Bro Linen Systems to provide laundry services. Saskatchewan, on the other hand, signed a 10-year contract with K-Bro that is expected to save Alberta’s next-door neighbor at least $93 million.
  • Cancelling a $3-billion, 15-year contract with an Australian company to provide laboratory services for Edmonton and Northern Alberta. This may cost Alberta taxpayers a penalty of at least $300 million.

An email masquerading as a plain brown envelope

In 2006, Paddy Meade, then the Deputy Minister of Alberta Health, released her “rationale for approval” to have orthopedic services contracted out under the provisions of the Health Care Protection Act. It states:

“The expected average cost of a hospital stay per arthroplasty performed  in a hospital in the CHR [Calgary Health Region] is $9,263 — excluding physician fees and prosthesis costs.

“The comparable contracted price for arthroplasties performed at HRC [a private facility] is $7,724 per procedure for the first 1,000 procedures and $7,442 for 1,001 to 1,500 procedures.

“CHR’s calculations indicate that it costs the region approximately $1,539 less per procedure to perform arthroplasties at HRC.”

  • Worth Noting: Alberta Health’s calculation of $9,263 apparently did not include Alberta Health’s cost of capital, amortization and taxes; for HRC it did. So, the cost advantage is even greater than presented.

Ms. Meade concludes:

“I am satisfied that this extension meets the requirements of the Health Care Protection Act, provides a public benefit, and shows no adverse impact on our public health system or our ability to comply with the Canada Health Act.

“The provision of uninsured orthopedic surgical procedures at HRC reduces the number of these procedures that would be performed in the public sector. The public health system benefits by providing increased operating room time in the public sector. This is important as it allows the major centres in the Region to concentrate on other services to better serve the needs of Albertans.”

In two research papers, Janice MacKinnon has documented how the Saskatchewan Government utilized the private sector to reduce “wait times for elective surgery” to become “among the shortest in Canada.”

Noting “the government saved money by having procedures performed in the clinics rather than in hospitals,” Ms. MacKinnon concludes: “After years of living with long waits for treatment, people in Saskatchewan were prepared to set aside ideology and willing to judge the clinics on their results.”


For years “Beer and Skits” was the signature event of the Winnipeg Press Club. It skewered politicians, business leaders, union honchos, dilettantes, innocent bystanders and anyone who got caught in the headlights. Raunchy and sexist were among its “good” qualities, where upon it could become outright nasty and somewhat vulgar. Tickets were always in short supply; the beer wasn’t.

Winnipeg Press Club Anthem

There will always be a press club

As long as writers drink.

They’ve got to have some alcohol

To mix with printers’ ink.

[Second verse: can’t remember; too much beer]







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