Alta. veterinarians in uproar over legislative changes

Alberta veterinarians have taken issue with proposed provincial government legislative changes that they say were made without consultation and that they fear will negatively affect animal care and welfare.

The changes include the option for veterinary practices to advertise their fees, a requirement that they disclose all fees before treating pets and that they acquire customer consent before undertaking treatment or procedures.

Bill 31, A Better Deal for Consumers and Businesses Act, was introduced for debate two weeks ago and is up for third reading this week, after which the session adjourns.

Changes for veterinarians were included in the wide-ranging bill, which also addressed ticket scalpers, automotive repairs and high-cost credit businesses.

The Alberta Veterinary Medical Association (ABVMA) called on Service Alberta Minister Stephanie McLean to withdraw the bill’s amendments to the Veterinary Profession Act.

Dr. Phil Buote, deputy registrar and complaints director for the ABVMA, said the legislation is not needed, some of the changes duplicate what veterinarians already do and some of them have potential to reduce the quality of pet care.

“We see it as an intrusion, we view it as unnecessary and we see it as an overreach with no justification into the ABVMA’s privilege, if you will, and or authority granted under this legislation,” said Buote.

“We have been presented with no evidence that the ABVMA has not appropriately discharged its duties. We have been undertaking all of our obligations responsibly and in the interest of protecting the public, and so we have no reason why the government would say we need to do this to your legislation without involving you in the process to try to improve things.”

Service Alberta undertook a public consultation about treatment of consumers this summer with an online survey and several open-house events. That process revealed some customers’ desires for posted veterinary fees and cost estimates on pet care before treatment is provided.

In a statement, McLean said Bill 31 addressed those concerns.

“We have also heard from ordinary Albertans who told us they want to be better informed when looking for veterinary services for their pets. That’s why we’re proposing reasonable new rules requiring fee disclosers that are in line with other provinces, like British Columbia and Ontario.”

McLean also said the changes apply to treatment of dogs, cats and other domestic pets to be specified, and do not involve veterinary treatment of livestock.

On the advertising issue, Buote said the council of the ABVMA has discussed whether to allow veterinarians to advertise their fees, but there are restrictions because it is difficult to accurately predict costs until the pet has been examined and its needs identified.

“In addition, there is a concern that certain members may take advantage of a competitive marketplace that’s driven by fees that would … lower the standards of care.

“There’s only so many ways that a service can be delivered at a cheaper cost and that is to start cutting corners where perhaps the proper drugs for something like pain control, or the use of unregistered untrained (personnel), can result in a lowering of the quality of care provided and impact animal health and welfare.”

Bill 31 would require customer approval of treatment with exceptions in cases of emergency.

Buote said veterinarians are now required to obtain approval for treatment including emergencies, so the bill’s provisions are actually a downgrade.

The minister said changes in the bill were made after consultation with veterinarians, but Buote disputed that assertion.

He said a Nov. 2 letter and a Nov. 10 phone call to the ABVMA provided no indication that legislation was pending. On Nov. 28 it was advised that legislation would be tabled the following day.

“We found ourselves in a position of requesting, at that late hour, to even see a draft copy of the proposed amendments, which was denied.”

Buote said the association falls under the department of labour and it had a good relationship with Labour Minister Christina Gray.

“We don’t have clarity as to why the ministry of Service Alberta has been able to make these proposed amendments and we have not been consulted even from our own minister,” he said.

Tina Fais, press secretary for McLean, said the ABVMA remains under the labour department, but Bill 31 is a broader strategy aimed at consumer protection.

Portions of the bill pertaining to veterinarians were the subject of lengthy discussion in the legislature Dec. 4.

Dr. Richard Starke, MLA for Vermilion-Lloydminster and a member of the ABVMA though not in active practice, said the bill is an attack on the veterinary profession.

“It’s a little bit offensive when our proud profession is lumped in with ticket scalpers, curbers and loan sharks, Mr. Speaker, but that’s what this bill does,” said Starke.

He said consultation on the bill was lacking and the bill essentially strips the profession of the privilege of self-governance. Starke added that he had received hundreds of emails from ABVMA members since details of the bill became known, many of them stating the proposals were invasive and infuriating.

Contact barb.glen@producer.com

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