Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Thoughts on "Unbreakable Bo", Fort McMurray and the Alberta Government

I suspect if one were to stop at a certain spot in Beechwood Cemetery in Ottawa today you may hear a small noise. Should one press their ear to the ground at this spot I imagine it would sound a bit like a whirring noise as the inhabitant of the grave in question is likely spinning at a fairly rapid rate.

Who is currently rotating in this fashion and why? I would venture it is Tommy Douglas, someone I consider a Canadian icon and hero, and founder of the concept of universal health care in our country. And why is he spinning in his grave? Most likely due to the news that a Canadian and Albertan citizen, denied funding by the Albertan NDP government for experimental treatment for an aggressive and deadly form of cancer, has just learned that he has been accepted into a clinical trial in Maryland – and that the American government, not usually known for generosity in their health care system, will apparently be funding at least a portion of his treatment.
Before I go much further I should make some points abundantly clear:

1.       I am deeply relieved and delighted that Fort McMurray firefighter Bo Cooper has been accepted into this clinical trial and that he will be the recipient of some funding through the American government

2.       I am deeply proud of our community and how it has come together to raise an astonishing amount of money in an incredibly short time frame, despite the economic climate and the challenges we have faced

3.       I believe this story is one of the most incredible I have ever witnessed and will carry it with me forever

4.       I am also, quite frankly, angry as hell.
Bo Cooper is 26 years old, born and raised in Fort McMurray. He is also a firefighter – you know, the guys who risk their lives to save us when our lives are in danger? Bo is now on his third round of a fight with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, and his last hope is the still-experimental but incredibly promising Car T Cell Therapy being developed and clinically tested in the United States. When Bo’s Canadian physicians began to point him in that direction there was only one problem: the Albertan government, which we elected less than a year ago on a platform of change, declined to fund the American treatment.

Oh, they gave the usual bureaucratic reasons. The treatment was still experimental and not approved in Canada. There wasn’t “enough evidence the treatment is safe or effective” (this despite some reports coming from the USA trials of success rates approaching 90%). They “empathized” with the family.
Cold comfort given the fact that the Albertan government appeared to be fundamentally okay with sentencing a 26 year-old man to death.

As most know I lean left politically. In fact I grew up in NDP Saskatchewan and am proud of that fact, as I believe it helped to shape who I am. One of the things I believed always true of the NDP is a commitment to compassion and the value of human life, but in the case of the Alberta NDP it appears I miscalculated gravely.
I emailed Sarah Hoffman, our AB Minister of Health, one month ago. I have yet to receive a response to my email, and in our Twitter interactions she basically put the blame on her team for the delayed reply, as well as indicating it “takes a village”, one of the most absurd things I have ever read coming from a government minister. The Ministry of Health has a “village” of well-paid communications professionals who apparently cannot respond to emails in a timely fashion, and if I were to do similar in my professional role I could and should be fired. But then again fobbing off responsibility appears to be her style, as when questioned about the decision to fund Bo Cooper’s treatment she indicated these decisions were reviewed by a panel of doctors who needed to make the decisions, and not her.

Except there is one problem: we didn’t elect a panel of doctors. We elected Ms. Hoffman and her colleagues to make these decisions, including on occasion perhaps even going against the panels of experts and making decisions that are brave, bold, innovative and compassionate. After all, that is what one would expect from a government of change.
But there is no change here. Ms. Hoffman made the same kind of tired, bureaucratic decision lacking in compassion that many Ministers before her would have likely made. No bold strides here, no courage, no willingness to show compassion to a 26 year old man (not much younger than the Minister herself, incidentally).

To say I am disappointed would be mild. I am outraged. The American government is helping to fund the treatment for an Albertan that his own government denied. There are those coming out of this looking like heroes: Bo, his family, his friends, his colleagues, this community, all those who have fought for him and now the American government. There is one entity coming out looking like the villain, and it is our own provincial government, the one we elected on the promise of change.
I sincerely doubt you would find one Albertan who would begrudge using some of our health care dollars to fund promising, if experimental, treatment for a 26-year old man with his entire life ahead of him. To make such a decision would be compassionate, brave and forward thinking – and apparently completely beyond our government.

A cynic might say the government refused the funding because this is Fort McMurray and there is no political gain to be made from funding the treatment of Bo Cooper. However I think what should be clear is this could happen to any of us or our children, and we too could find ourselves denied assistance from the very government on which we rely. The sentence of death they pronounced so glibly could one day be directed at any Albertan, and should we not have the kind of amazing community support we have shown for Bo Cooper the outcome could be a very different one indeed.
I believe in happy endings. I am steadfast in my belief that Bo Cooper, “unbreakable Bo” as he is called, will triumph. I believe his wife, his parents, his extended family, his friends, his colleagues and this entire community will celebrate when he conquers this cancer yet again and becomes the new success story of a treatment that will quite likely become standard instead of experimental if results to date are any indication.

There will be a huge welcome home party when that moment arrives, but there is one group who will not be invited to attend. The NDP government will be shut out in the cold, just as they shut out Bo, his family and this community when they declined to fund his treatment. I can guarantee that nobody in this community will ever, ever forget how they turned their back on one of us, because in doing so they turned their back on all of us. And in Fort McMurray? Well, we have generous spirits, warm hearts, compassionate souls….and very, very long memories.


  1. Truer Words were never spoken.

  2. Truer Words were never spoken

  3. Let's not forget the time in 2010 when we didn't have enough oncologists in Edmonton and cancer patients had to be denied treatment. Was this the NDPs fault too?

    1. Well that should be fairly easy to answer through the responses to a couple of questions:

      1) Were the NDP forming the Alberta government in 2010?
      2) Did the NDP make a decision in 2010 that led to a lack of oncologists?

      Given that the answer to these is no, then of course I do not blame them. Do I hold to account the current NDP government for this decision, one which they made and which impacted a member of my community?


  4. At age 25, my niece had hep C (from a trip to Asia, not some of the risky ways of extracting the disease) and she was required to pay more than $2000 per month for her meds to attempt and knock it from her beautiful body. Not she, her mom or me could afford to pay for the drug alone. None of us. But each of us did our part as much as we could. Because she was such a clean living young woman, her doctor asked the drug company for her drugs to be paid for. After 6 months, she was selected for a trial so her drugs were paid for. The first 6 months were well over $12,000. and while that might seem to be a minimal amount to those who it can seem to be a minimal amount to, it was a heavy load for the three of us. Finding blame somewhere for some government to try and pay the load for an unregulated trial drug is a normal part of grieving, but Terry Fox reminds me that there are people out there who get short changed. Blaming the NDP is plain stupid. Just saying.

    1. An opinion to which you are entitled - just as I am to mine, which includes holding the NDP government to account for a decision lacking in compassion.

  5. I find it difficult to comment of much of anything this government does these days without launching into a string of expletives so I will dig down really deep and just say that I am extremely disgusted and disappointed in this government's sheer lack of humanity and ethics.